Sunday, April 5, 2009

Fame: Edmonia Lewis

I discovered Mary Edmonia Lewis while reading up on the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago (she was the only local artist who exhibited). Edmonia claimed she was born in Greenbush, NY on July 4th, 1844, but this may or may not be true. There's a discussion of her New York State connections in the Hudson River Bracketed blog: Inventing Edmonia Lewis and Inventing Edmonia Lewis II.

The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library says of her:
Riding the crest of the neoclassical revival in the 1870's, sculptress Edmonia Lewis attracted wide notice in a field generally dominated by men. She was, in fact, the first African American sculptor to achieve international distinction.
See some of her sculptures in this Smithsonian online exhibition: Cleopatra Lost & Found. ("Cleopatra" currently is displayed on the second floor of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, where we snuck this cell phone photo).

Cleopatra's story is told in Smithsonian magazine, September 1996: The Object at Hand:
The circuitous route of Edmonia Lewis' masterwork, a controversial portrayal of Cleopatra at the moment of death, included stints as decor in a Chicago saloon and as a grave marker for a racehorse
Another lost Lewis sculpture, "Veiled Bride of Spring", was found a few years ago in a public library in Kentucky (check your attic - you never know!).

UPDATE: See article "City of Rensselaer Awarded “Honor Roll of Abolitionists” on the last page of this PDF file of the Sept. 2007 The Informed Constituent.

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