Edmonia Lewis

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Edmonia Lewis
Motto edmonia lewis original.jpg
Birth name Edmonia Lewis
Born ca. (1844-07-04)July 4, 1844
Greenbush, New York, U.S.
Died September 17, 1907(1907-09-17) (aged 63)
London, England, UK
Nationality African American-Haitian-Mississaugas Ojibwe
Field Sculpture
Training Oberlin College
Movement Neoclassicism
Patrons Ulysses S. Grant

Edmonia Lewis (ca. July 4, 1844 – September 17, 1907) was an American sculptor who worked for most of her career in Rome. She gained fame and recognition as a sculptor in the international fine arts world.

Biography[edit]

Early life and education[edit]

Edmonia Lewis was born on July 4, 1844, in Greenbush, New York, which is now the city of Rensselaer.[1] Her father was Haitian of African descent, while her mother was of Mississauga Ojibwe and African-American descent.[2] Lewis's mother was known as an excellent weaver and craftswoman.[3] Her family background inspired Lewis in her later work.

When Lewis was about nine years old, both of her parents died within a year of each other.[4] Lewis and her older brother, Samuel, were taken in and lived with their mother’s sisters for the next three years. Lewis and her aunts sold Ojibwe baskets and other crafts to tourists visiting Niagara Falls, Toronto, and Buffalo.[5] Becoming a successful businessman and gold prospector, her brother Samuel paid for her tuition to the New York Central College.[5] Lewis was rebellious and did not learn English well, so Samuel suggested she transfer to Oberlin College, outside Cleveland, Ohio.[6]

At the time, Oberlin College was one of the first higher learning institutions in the United States to admit women and people of differing ethnicities. Lewis's decision to attend Oberlin was one that would significantly change her life, as that is where she began her art studies.[7]

Incident at Oberlin College[edit]

During the winter season of 1862, several months after the start of the Civil War, while Edmonia Lewis attended Oberlin College, an incident involved her and two classmates, Maria Miles and Christina Ennes. The three women, who boarded in the home of Oberlin trustee John Keep, planned to go sleigh riding with some young men later that day. Before the sleighing, Lewis served her friends a drink of spiced wine. Shortly after, Miles and Ennes fell severely ill. Doctors examined them and concluded that the two women had some sort of poison in their system, apparently cantharides, a reputed aphrodisiac. For a time it was not certain that they would survive. Days later, it became apparent that the two women would recover from the incident, and, because of their recovery, the authorities initially took no action.

Townspeople attacked Lewis. While she was walking home alone one night, she was dragged into an open field by unknown assailants and badly beaten.[8] Those responsible for her injuries were never found.[9] Due to the attack, local authorities arrested Lewis, charging her with poisoning her friends. The college defended their student throughout the trial. John Mercer Langston, an Oberlin College alumnus, and the only practicing African-American lawyer in Oberlin, represented Lewis during her trial. Although most witnesses spoke against her and she did not testify, the jury acquitted her of the charges.[8]

Art career[edit]

Minnehaha, marble, 1868, collection of the Newark Museum

After college, Lewis moved to Boston late in 1863.[10] She began to study under a well-known sculptor, Edward Augustus Brackett. Under his tutelage, she crafted her own sculpting tools and sold her first piece, a sculpture of a woman’s hand, for $8.[11] She opened her studio to the public in her first solo exhibition in 1864.[12]

Lewis was inspired by the lives of abolitionists and Civil War heroes. She met Union Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the commander of an African American Civil War regiment from Massachusetts. She was inspired to create a bust of his likeness, which impressed the Shaw family, who purchased her homage.[13] The poet Anna Quincy Waterston was inspired to write a poem about both Lewis and Shaw.[14]

Early works that proved highly popular included medallion portraits of the abolitionists John Brown and William Lloyd Garrison. Lewis also drew inspiration from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and his work, particularly his epic poem, The Song of Hiawatha. She made several busts of its leading characters, for which he drew from Ojibwe legend.

Lewis was determined to study in Rome and sailed there in 1865.[7][15] 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".[16] The established sculptor Hiram Powers gave her space to work in his studio.[15] She entered a circle of expatriate artists and established her own space within the former studio of 18th-century Italian sculptor Antonio Canova.[17]

While in Rome Edmonia Lewis adopted the neoclassical style of sculpture, as seen in this nude bust.[18] The Walters Art Museum.

Rome was where Lewis spent most of her adult career. Her studies there contributed to her neoclassical techniques and subject matter. The surroundings of the classical world greatly inspired her and influenced her work. She recreated the classical art style in her own work. For instance, she presented people in her sculptures as draped in robes rather than in contemporary clothing.[19]

Her work sold for large sums of money. In 1873 an article in the New Orleans Picayune stated, “Edmonia Lewis had snared two 50,000 dollar commissions.” Her new-found popularity made her studio a tourist destination.[20] Lewis had many major exhibitions during her rise to fame, including one in Chicago, Illinois in 1870, and in Rome in 1871.[7]

A major coup in her career was participating in the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.[21] For this, she created a monumental 3,015-pound marble sculpture, The Death of Cleopatra, which portrayed the queen in the throes of death.[22] Of the piece, J. S. Ingraham wrote that Cleopatra was “the most remarkable piece of sculpture in the American section” of the Exposition.[23] Much of the viewing public was shocked by Lewis’s frank portrayal of death, but the statue drew thousands of viewers.[24] After being placed in storage, the statue was lost, not to be found again until a century later in the mid-1980s in Chicago. According to George Gurney, Curator Emeritus at the Smithsonian American Art Museum,[25] the sculpture was in a race track in Forest Park, Illinois, during World War II, sitting on top of the grave of a horse named Cleopatra. The grounds later turned into military housing and was used for children's games before becoming a shopping mall, when the sculpture was moved to the work yard of one of the developers of the mall. At some point during this time, the Italian marble was painted over by a troop of well-meaning Boy Scouts. Finally, the sculpture became under the purview of the Forest Park Historical Society, who donated it to Smithsonian American Art Museum in 1994,[26] where conservators restored it to its near-original state.

A testament to Lewis's renown as an artist came in 1877, when former US President Ulysses S. Grant commissioned her to do his portrait. He sat for her as a model and was pleased with her finished piece.[27]

In the late 1880s, the neoclassical genre became less popular, and Lewis's popularity also declined. She continued to work in marble, increasingly creating altarpieces and other works for Roman Catholic patrons. In the art world, she became eclipsed by history and lost fame. The events of her later years are not known.[7]

Family[edit]

Lewis never married and had no known children.[28] Her brother Samuel became a barber in San Francisco, eventually moving to mining camps in Idaho and Montana. In 1868, he settled in the city of Bozeman, where he set up a barber shop on Main Street. He prospered, eventually investing in commercial real estate, and subsequently built his own home which still stands at 308 South Bozeman Avenue. In 1999 the Samuel Lewis House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1884, he married Mrs. Melissa Railey Bruce, a widow with six children; they had one son, Samuel E. Lewis (1886–1914), who married but died childless. The elder Lewis died after "a short illness" in 1896 and is buried in Sunset Hills Cemetery in Bozeman.[29]

Death[edit]

For years, the year of Edmonia Lewis’s death was speculated to be 1911 in Rome. An alternative view held that she died in Marin County, California, and was buried in an unmarked grave in San Francisco.[30] Recent scholarship has found that she lived in the Hammersmith area of London, England before her death on September 17, 1907, in the Hammersmith Borough Infirmary.[31]

In 2002, the scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Edmonia Lewis on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.[32]

Work[edit]

Descriptions of most popular works[edit]

Hiawatha, marble, 1868, Newark Museum

Forever Free, 1867
This sculpture is of white marble. It represents a man standing, staring up, and raising his left arm into the air. Wrapped around his left wrist is a chain; however, this chain is not restraining him. To his right is a woman kneeling with her hands held in a prayer position. The man’s right hand is gently placed on her right shoulder. Forever Free represents the emancipation of African-American slaves after the Civil War. Lewis attempted to break stereotypes of African-American women with this sculpture. For example, she portrayed the woman as completely dressed while the man was partially dressed. This drew attention away from the notion of African-American women being sexual figures. This sculpture also symbolizes the end of the Civil War. While African Americans were legally free, they continued to be restrained, shown by the fact that the couple had chains wrapped around their bodies. This piece is held by Howard University Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.[33]

Hagar, 1868
Inspired by a character from the Old Testament, this was made of white marble. It shows Hagar with her hands in prayer and staring slightly up but not straight across. Hagar was the handmaid or slave of Abraham's wife Sarah. Being unable to conceive a child, Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham so that he could have a son by her. Hagar gave birth to Abraham's firstborn son Ishmael. After Sarah gave birth to her own son Isaac, she resented Hagar and made Abraham “cast Hagar into the wilderness." Lewis uses Hagar to symbolize the African mother in the United States. She represented the abuse of African women. Lewis had a tendency to sculpt historically strong women. We see this not just in Hagar but also in Lewis's Cleopatra piece. Lewis also depicted regular women in great situations, emphasizing their strength.[28]

Old Arrow-Maker and his Daughter, 1866
This sculpture was inspired by Lewis's Native American heritage. An arrow-maker and his daughter sit on a round base. They are dressed in traditional Native American clothes and have recognizable Native American facial features. Lewis pushed the limits with the accuracy of her sculptures. She never generalized the appearance of those she sculpted. Instead, she found truth in the particular and used that in her work. She wanted to be as realistic as possible.[28]

List of major, known artworks[edit]

The Death of Cleopatra, detail, marble, 1867, collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum
  • John Brown medallions, 1864-5
  • Colonel Robert Gould Shaw (plaster), 1864
  • Anne Quincy Waterston, 1866
  • A Freed Woman and Her Child, 1866
  • The Old Arrow-Maker and His Daughter, 1866
  • The Marriage of Hiawatha, 1866-7
  • Forever Free, 1867
  • Colonel Robert Gould Shaw (marble), 1867-8
  • Hagar in the Wilderness, 1868
  • Madonna Holding the Christ Child, 1869
  • Hiawatha, collection of the Newark Museum, 1868[34]
  • Minnehaha, collection of the Newark Museum, 1868[34]
  • Indian Combat, Carrara marble, 30" high, collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art, 1868[35]
  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1869–1871
  • Bust of Abraham Lincoln, 1870 [36]
  • Asleep, 1872 [36]
  • Awake, 1872 [36]
  • Poor Cupid, 1873
  • Moses, 1873
  • Hygieia, 1874
  • Hagar, 1875
  • The Death of Cleopatra, marble, 1876, collection of Smithsonian American Art Museum
  • John Brown, 1876, Rome, plaster bust
  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1876, Rome, plaster bust
  • General Ulysses S. Grant, 1877–1878
  • Veiled Bride of Spring, 1878
  • John Brown, 1878–1879
  • The Adoration of the Magi, 1883[37]

Posthumous exhibitions[edit]

  • Art of the American Negro Exhibition, Chicago, 1940
  • Howard University, Washington D.C., 1967
  • Vassar College, New York, 1972
  • Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, 2008

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Passport application 21933, accessed on Ancestry.com on 1 November 2011.
  2. ^ Wolfe 12
  3. ^ Wolfe 15
  4. ^ Wolfe 18.
  5. ^ a b Wolfe 19
  6. ^ Wolfe 20
  7. ^ a b c d Plowden, Martha W. "Edmonia Lewis-Sculptor," Famous Firsts of Black Women. Gretna: Pelican Company, 1994.
  8. ^ a b Katz, William L. and Paula A. Franklin. "Edmonia Lewis: Sculptor," Proudly Red and Black. New York: Maxwell Macmillan, 1993.
  9. ^ Woods, Naurice F. "Mary Edmonia Lewis," Insuperable Obstacles, Cincinnati: Union Institute Graduate School, 1993
  10. ^ Wolfe 41
  11. ^ Wolfe 43
  12. ^ Wolfe 44
  13. ^ Wolfe 46-9
  14. ^ Wolfe 49
  15. ^ a b Wolfe 53
  16. ^ Passport application 21933 accessed on Ancestry.com on 1 November 2011.
  17. ^ Wolfe 55
  18. ^ "Bust of Dr Dio Lewis". The Walters Art Museum. 
  19. ^ Lewis, Samella. "The Diverse Quests for Professional Statues" in African American Art and Artists. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.
  20. ^ Tufts, Eleanor. "The Nineteenth Century", Our Hidden Heritage. New York: Paddington P, 1974.
  21. ^ Wolfe 93
  22. ^ Wolfe 97, 102
  23. ^ Wolfe 97-99
  24. ^ Wolfe 100
  25. ^ Kaplan, Howard, "Sculpting a Career with Curator George Gurney", Eye Level Blog, Smithsonian American Art Museum, September 29, 2011, accessed December 7, 2012
  26. ^ [1], Museum catalog record for The Death of Cleopatra on the Smithsonian American Art Museum website, accessed December 7, 2012
  27. ^ Wolfe 108-109
  28. ^ a b c Perry, Regenia A. "Edmonia Lewis", Free Within Ourselves. Washington D.C.: National Museum of American Art, 1992.
  29. ^ Pickett, Mary. "Samuel W. Lewis: Orphan leaves mark on Bozeman" originally published in the Billings (Mont.) Gazette March 2, 2002 (Retrieved August 26, 2013).
  30. ^ Wolfe 110
  31. ^ "Sculptor's Death Unearthed: Edmonia Lewis Died in London in 1907 ." Cowan's Auctions: News. (retrieved 14 March 2011).
  32. ^ Asante, Molefi Kete (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-963-8.
  33. ^ Collins, Lisa G. "Female Body in Art." The Art of History. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2002.
  34. ^ a b According to the Newark Museum; 1869–1871, according to Wolfe, 120.
  35. ^ "Newly Discovered Indian Combat by Edmonia Lewis acquired by the Cleveland Museum of Art." Art Daily. 19 Nov 2011 (retrieved 19 Nov 2011).
  36. ^ a b c The original sculpture is housed in the California Room of the San Jose Public Library. The statues "Awake (1872)," "Asleep (1872)," and "Bust of Abraham Lincoln (1870)" were purchased in 1873 by the San Jose Library Association (a forerunner to the San Jose Public Library) and were transferred to the San Jose Public Library. SJPL: Edmonia Lewis Sculptures
  37. ^ Wolfe 120

References[edit]

  • Romare Bearden and Henderson, Harry. A History of African-American Artists (From 1792 to the Present). Pantheon Books (Random House), 1993. ISBN 0-394-57016-2.
  • Buick, Kirsten Pai. Child of the Fire: Mary Edmonia Lewis and the Problem of Art History's Black and Indian Subject. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-8223-4266-3.
  • Collins, Lisa G. "Female Body in Art." The Art of History. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2002.
  • Katz, William L., and Paula A. Franklin. "Edmonia Lewis: Sculptor." Proudly Red and Black. New York: Maxwell Macmillan, 1993.
  • Lewis, Samella. "The Diverse Quests for Professional Statues" in African American Art and Artists. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.
  • Nelson, Charmaine A. "The Color of Stone: Sculpting the Black Female Subject in Nineteenth-Century America" Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.
  • Perry, Regenia A. "Edmonia Lewis". Free Within Ourselves. Washington D.C.: National Museum of American Art, 1992.
  • Plowden, Martha W. "Edmonia Lewis-Sculptor." Famous Firsts of Black Women. Gretna: Pelican Company, 1994.
  • Richardson, Marilyn, "Edmonia Lewis' The Death Of Cleopatra: Myth And Identity, The International Review of African American Art, Vol. 12, No. 2, July 1995.
  • Richardson, Marilyn,“Sculptor’s Death Unearthed: Edmonia Lewis Died in 1907,” ARTFIXdaily, 9 January 2011, www.artfixdaily.com
  • Tufts, Eleanor. "The Nineteenth Century." Our Hidden Heritage. New York: Paddington Press, 1974.
  • Wolfe, Rinna Evelyn. ‘’Edmonia Lewis: Wildfire in Marble.’’ Parsippany, New Jersey, 1998. ISBN 0-382-39714-2.
  • Woods, Naurice F. "Mary Edmonia Lewis." Insuperable Obstacles. Cincinnati: Union Institute Graduate School, 1993.

Further reading[edit]

  • Richardson, Marilyn. "Vita: Edmonia Lewis." Harvard Magazine, 1986.
  • Richardson, Marilyn, "Edmonia Lewis." American National Biography, National Council of Learned Societies, 1999.
  • Richardson, Marilyn, "Edmonia Lewis." Encyclopedia of African American Culture and History. Columbia University, 1996.

External links[edit]