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Edmonia Lewis

Artist 176

Edmonia Lewis


Forgotten female artists from history

Mary Edmonia Lewis (born 1844) was an American sculptor who worked for most of her career in Rome, Italy.

Born free in New York, she was the first woman of African-American and Native American heritage to achieve international fame and recognition as a sculptor in the fine arts world.

Her work is known for incorporating themes relating to black people and indigenous peoples of the Americas into Neoclassical-style sculpture.

Lewis grew up while slavery was still legal in the United States, became known for her hand-carved, marble sculptures of influential abolitionists and mythological figures.

She began to gain prominence in the United States during the American Civil War; at the end of the 19th century, she remained the only black woman who had participated in and been recognized to any degree by the American artistic mainstream.

During her time in Boston Lewis was inspired by the lives of abolitionists and Civil War heroes. Her subjects in 1863 and 1864 included some of the most famous abolitionists of her day.

The success and popularity of these works in Boston allowed Lewis to bear the cost of a trip to Rome in 1866.

On her 1865 passport is written, "M. Edmonia Lewis is a Black girl sent by subscription to Italy having displayed great talents as a sculptor".

She entered a circle of expatriate artists and established her own space.

In Rome, Lewis enjoyed more social, spiritual, and artistic freedom than what she had had in the United States.

She began sculpting in marble, working within the neoclassical manner, but focusing on naturalism within themes and images relating to black and American Indian people.

The surroundings of the classical world greatly inspired her and influenced her work, in which she recreated the classical art art style.

Lewis was unique in the way she approached sculpting abroad. She insisted on enlarging her clay and wax models in marble herself. Male sculptors were largely skeptical of the talent of female sculptors, and often accused of not making their work.

Sources Consulted:…/e…/us_58a499b2e4b094a129f1513c/amp…


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