Edmonia Lewis

Do you know who Edmonia Lewis is? She studied in Italy and most of her work was done with marble. She was also of Haitian and American Indian lineage. To support her craft she sculpted medallion portraits featuring images of renowned abolitionists, including Garrison, John Brown and Wendell Phillips, an advocate for Native-Americans.

According to Smithsonian Magazine, “sculptors of that time traditionally paid Roman stone crafters to produce their works in marble, and this led to some questions about whether the true artists were the original sculptors or the stone crafters. Lewis, who often lacked the money to hire help, chiseled most of her own figures.”

According to Hermenia Powers, Digital Content Trainee at Art UK: “It is remarkable that Lewis was working on the cusp of and throughout the American Civil War (1861–1865); she would have been aware that her presence and talent undermined the racist ideas propagated by the white ruling-classes. Irrespective of her color, she became a symbol of fierce self-actualization in a time of prevalent racism.”

Her most famous work called The Death of Cleopatra. She actually paid to have this piece transported from Rome to the US to enter the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. “The art world had never seen such a realistic interpretation of the story, or such a 'morbid vision of death'. Overall it was widely respected as one of the best of its time. Importantly, Lewis' vision of Cleopatra rejected previous and more superficial portrayals of the queen.” By Hermenia Powers

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