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Thursday, February 17, 2011

My Black History Month Journey of Celebrating Women in the Arts: Edmonia Lewis

  • Mary Edmonia Lewis (ca. July 4, 1845 – ca. 1911) was the first African American and Native American woman to gain fame and recognition as a sculptor in the international fine arts world. She was of African American, Haitian and Ojibwe descent.
  • Lewis crafted her own sculpting tools and sold her first piece, a sculpture of a woman’s hand, for $8. She opened her studio to the public in her first solo exhibit in 1864.
  • A major coup in her career was participating in the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. For this, she created a monumental 3,015-pound marble sculpture, The Death of Cleopatra, which dramatically portrayed the queen in the throes of death. Of the piece, J. S. Ingraham wrote that Cleopatra was “the most remarkable piece of sculpture in the American section” of the Exposition. Much of the viewing public was shocked by Lewis’ frank portrayal of death, but the statue drew thousands of viewers. After being placed in storage, the statue was lost. After 120 years, it was discovered in a Sotheby’s auction. After authentication, it was donated to the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

1 comment:

  1. Lewis also showed "The Death of Cleopatra" in Chicago's 1878 expo where she and it drew nearly 12,000 paying customers. Yes, she was part of the attraction.

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