Edmonia Lewis, Vitreous Painting on glass, 8 x 10”
Edmonia Lewis (1844-1911)
Edmonia Lewis was born in about 1844 of African (West Indies) and Chippewa heritage. An 1880 newspaper article states that she spent her first 14 years wandering the wilderness with her mothers Chippewa tribe until her brother was able to send her to school. She attended Oberlin College, the first coeducational and interracial college in the United States. However, other articles give a very different light to her childhood, showing that she was born to a financially stable and highly intelligent father, a historian, Robert Benjamin Lewis - author of "Light and Truth". However, the 1850 census suggests that this was NOT her father, as she is clearly not listed with the rest of his family, whom had lived in Maine for several years.
She later moved to Boston and began lessons with Anne Whitney and went on to produce portraits of John Brown, Garrison and other abolitionists, as well as a bust of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. She relocated to Rome in 1865 after selling one hundred plaster copies of her portrait bust of Col. Robert Gould Shaw. There she met Charlotte Cushman and her lover Harriet Hosmer as well as other feminists in their artistic lesbian circle.
At least one passenger record shows her returning to the United States on July 1, 1875 aboard the S.S. "Ville de Paris". She took a second class cabin, possibly with three other women. She listed her occupation as "sculptor". The manifest does not show who stayed in what room, but three single women were listed immediately after her. They were Miss Margaret States, dressmaker, age 24 and twin sisters Angelique and Ernestine Ebel, both 18 with no occupations. All three of the women were from Alsace, France and might not have known Edmonia.
Her work in the United States, however, did not end. That same year she completed a bust of General Grant who went to Rome to specifically sit for her. In 1880 she presented a work called "Bride of Spring" at a Roman Catholic fair in Cincinnati; at the 1893 World's Fair she presented a sculptor of the poet Phillis Wheatley and at the 1895 World's Fair in Chicago she presented a sculptor of Charles Sumner.
Edmonia Lewis was the first African American sculptor to be recognized internationally.
For more information on Edmonia Lewis, visit: http://www.edmonialewis.com/index.html
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