Edmonia Lewis

(c. 1844-1911)    

Edmonia Lewis (b. 1844), Anna Quincy Waterson, c.1866. Carved marble, 11 7/8x7 1/4x5 1/8in. (30.2x18.5x12.9cm). Smithsonian American Art Museum/Gift of Dr. Richard Frates. Accession #1983.95.818

The sculptor Mary Edmonia Lewis (c. 1844-1911) enjoyed some success during the vogue for neoclassicism in the 19th century. Of African American and Chippewa Indian descent, she attended Oberlin University on the largesse of a brother who had profited in the California goldfields. There, in a curious incident, she was accused of poisoning two white schoolmates, but the charges were dismissed. Lewis went to Boston, apprenticed to a sculptor there, and in 1865 moved to Rome, which she found to be less sexist in its attitudes. Lewis found patrons for her work, creating portrait busts and producing a number of larger works that drew upon her experience as a member of two racial minorities. Forever Free, originally titled The Freedwoman on First Hearing of Her Liberty, is in the collection of Howard University. Lewis's work was featured at the Centennial Exposition of 1876 in Philadelphia.    

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