Hiawatha and Minnehaha by Edmonia Lewis

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Hiawatha and Minnehaha
Minnehaha MET DP371841.jpg
Artist Edmonia Lewis Edit this on Wikidata
Year 1868
Collection Metropolitan Museum of Art Edit this on Wikidata

Hiawatha and Minnehaha are 1868 sculptures by Edmonia Lewis. They are in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on view in gallery 759.[1][2]

Early history and creation[edit]

African-American, Haitian and Chippewa (Ojibwa) artist, Lewis, developed her neoclassical style of marble sculpture while working in Rome. Lewis was an admirer of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poetry, and in 1869 Longfellow visited her studio where he posed for one of her portraits which was shortly afterward acquired by Harvard University.[3]

Description and interpretation[edit]


Often working in themes that intersected her identity, Lewis focused a series of marble sculptures based on Longfellow’s much-referenced and best-selling poem “The Song of Hiawatha” (1855) about the Ojibwa warrior, Hiawatha's tragic story with his lover from a rival tribe, Minnehaha (Dakota).[4] There are three busts of Hiawatha in existence and four of the Minnehaha busts.

In addition to paying tribute to her heritage, Lewis also took agency by utilizing concepts of the Noble Savage in these works, idealizing and fantasizing the form and dress of the two fictional characters. Unlike other images of this theme and time, Lewis subversively focused not on their naked flesh, which historically attracted male collectors, but on decorating their bodies in clothing, which was intended to appeal to the women viewers.[5] The works became popular for collectors not only because of her high skill level, but also with the help of Lewis' tales, exaggerating her connection to her First Nations ancestry, having actually grown up in Newark, NJ, thus capitalizing on the popular culture's fascination with the "romantic primitive."[3]

Later history and influence[edit]

The pair of sculptures was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2015.[1][2][6]

In 2000 the Newark Museum acquired a separate pair[7][8] through Christie's Auction House for above their estimated bid prices of $60000 each.[3]

Aside from this pair of small busts, Lewis' series includes Wooing of Hiawatha (or The Old Arrowmaker and His Daughter),1866-1872, which one of six is in The Walter O. Evans Collection at the SCAD Museum of Art, and The Marriage of Hiawatha and Minnehaha (or Hiawatha's Marriage), 1866–1868, rediscovered in 1991, which one of two is in the collection of Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts.[3][9][10]

Hiawatha was included in a group exhibition in 2017 called On Such a Night as This at American Contemporary Art Galleries in New York surveying rare works by historic African American artists.[11][12]


  1. ^ a b "Edmonia Lewis | Hiawatha | The Met". The Metropolitan Museum of Art, i.e. The Met Museum. Retrieved 2017-05-21.
  2. ^ a b "Edmonia Lewis | Minnehaha | The Met". The Metropolitan Museum of Art, i.e. The Met Museum. Retrieved 2017-05-21.
  3. ^ a b c d "Hiawatha in Rome: Edmonia Lewis and Figures from Longfellow by user from Antiques & Fine Art magazine". antiquesandfineart.com. Retrieved 2017-05-21.
  4. ^ Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth (1857). The Song of Hiawatha.
  5. ^ Henderson, Harry Brinton; Henderson, Albert (2012). The Indomitable Spirit of Edmonia Lewis: A Narrative Biography. Untreed Reads. ISBN 9781588634528.
  6. ^ "Edmonia Lewis (1845-after 1911) , Minnehaha". www.christies.com. Retrieved 2017-05-21.
  7. ^ "Hiawatha". Newark Museum - Collection. Retrieved 2018-04-12.
  8. ^ "Hiawatha". Newark Museum - Collection. Retrieved 2018-04-12.
  9. ^ "Hiawatha's Marriage, Edmonia Lewis | Arts & Activities". artsandactivities.com. Retrieved 2017-05-21.
  10. ^ "Edmonia Lewis | Smithsonian American Art Museum". americanart.si.edu. Retrieved 2017-05-21.
  11. ^ "On Such a Night as This | ACA Galleries | Artsy". www.artsy.net. Retrieved 2017-05-21.
  12. ^ "A New York Gallery Unearths Rare Works By Historic African-American Artists". Artsy. 2016-12-21. Retrieved 2017-05-21.