Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Black Native American: Edmonia Lewis, Sculptor

Edmonia Lewis attended Oberlin College, a school and town known for abolitionist activity.  She was of Chippewa and African American descent, her mother being native American and her father a freed former slave.  While at school she was accused of poisoning two classmates with wine.  They both became ill after drinking wine she had given them.  However she was found not guilty as her lawyer argued there was no evidence that the women were poisoned.  Lewis moved to Boston after the trial, without graduating.  She says she always wanted to make the forms of things.  With a letter of introduction to William Lloyd Garrison, a famous abolitionist she told him of her desire to "make forms."  Garrison in turn introduced her to Edmund Brackett, a Boston Sculpture.  Brackett took her under his wing, and slowly her work showed promise.  She made a medallion with the bust of John Brown.
Then she made a bust of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, who had led a regiment of Black soldiers.  She sold 100 copies of this sculpture.  She relocated to Rome, Italy in 1865, where she would live the remainder of her life.  She visited America frequently.  She continued to make sculptures that appealed to an American audience.  she used the neoclassical style, an updated version of classical art.
"Forever Free" is a famous work showing the emancipation.
Her most famous work is "The Death of Cleopatra."
She also took on Native American subjects, including "The Old Arrow Maker and his Daughter."  She also did a version of Hiawatha.
Moving to Rome allowed her to pursue her art as a woman, as their were a group of women there who supported each other.  Also her African and Native heritage was not a roadblock there.

Information is gleaned from the book Proudly Red and Black: Stories of African and Native Americans, William Loren Katz and Paula A Franklin, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1993.

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