Black History Month Tribute: Edmonia Lewis

In honor of Black History Month, I’ve decided to share a few tidbits of knowledge about (Mary) Edmonia Lewis [July 4, 1844 – ~ 1911], the first African-American and Indigenous American woman to gain fame and acknowledgement as a sculpture in the “art world” (implicitly Euro & Euro-descended audience).  Her sculptures can be classified as neo-classicism.  Her works have primarily been displayed in the US and in Italy.

Born July 4, 1844 in Greenbush (now Rensselaer), NY to a Haitian father and an Ojibwe and African-descended mother, Edmonia Lewis went on to pursue her education at New York Central College [a radical center of abolitionism and coeducation in McGraw, New York] and Oberlin College [one of the first institutions of higher education in the US to accept non-whites and women, just outside of Cleveland, Ohio].  [Read more here about how white residents of Oberlin brutally attacked her in winter 1862 after two of her white, female colleagues fell ill after drinking spiced wine in her company- and about John Mercer Langston, the man who defended her against the charges.**]

Her artistic career spanned from 1863 to about 1890.  In her later years, she chose to live in Rome, rather than endure the prejudices against her race.  It is uncertain when she died.

I can neither find nor verify the title of this work... :(
I can neither find nor verify the title of this work… :(

These are quick snapshots I took of 2 of her works, which were featured in the Smithsonian.  These pictures were taken in March 2010.

The Death of Cleopatra, marble, 1876, American Art Museum, Smithsonian
The Death of Cleopatra, marble, 1876, American Art Museum, Smithsonian
**John Mercer Langston was an Oberlin College alumnus. Also, he was the only practicing African-American lawyer in Oberlin at the time (late 1862).

3 Comments

  1. I located the statue of the dying Indian you have posted. Alas, it’s not by Lewis. But on the subject of death, Lewis died in London in 1907.

    1. Oh wow! Thanks for clearing that up! I intended to revisit this post & correct that.

      Thank you.

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