1edmonia

I don’t know about you but I have become tired of the ‘just the way things are’ miasma surrounding our culture. In particular, I’m tired of the avarice of the ‘old white Christian male’ that has dominated our society for so long. This is not to say that ALL old white men are bad, or that Christianity, itself is bad. I am talking about the dogma of ‘old white Christian men’, one can be female and have this outlook, one can be of another race and have the attitude that they are dominant, of wealth at all cost, and of profit over humanity and environment mentality. There are many men of differing races and beliefs who join women in the Women’s March, supporting wives, sisters, mothers, cousins and female friends. One can be a very young man and have the philosophy of the OWCM (old white Christian male). It’s the philosophy and dominance that needs to change. Men are not the only ones that can create, write, earn, espouse their opinions, and make decisions, lead or act on behalf of the world at large. Women are just as capable. In fact, there is a plethora of documentation about the works of women in cultures that have been ignored by our history books and schools and while this is changing, of which I am happy to witness, we still have a long way to go before gender is not the first thing or even considered at all in who we hire, who we elect, who we worship and who we admire. I intend to use this space to bring women and their achievements to light. I will begin with Ms. Lewis.

Mary Edmonia Lewis (c. July 4, 1844 – September 17, 1907) was an American sculptor but worked for most of her career in Rome, Italy (probably a little less racist at that time than the US). She was born free in New York and was the first woman of African-American and Native American heritage to achieve international fame and recognition as a sculptor in the fine arts world. Her artwork focused on themes of black people and indigenous peoples of the Americas but in Neoclassical-style sculpture.

We don’t know a lot about her early life other than she was born free in Greenbush, New York on July 14, 1843 (this is up for debate) to a father of Afro-Haitian descent, a gentleman's servant, and her mother, Catherine Mike Lewis, of Mississauga Ojibwe and African-American descent, an excellent weaver and craftswoman. Lewis is considered the first woman sculptor of African American and Native American heritage. Both of her parents died by the time she was 9, she and her brother were adopted by their aunts. When she was twelve years old sent to school for three years in at New-York Central College, McGrawville, a Baptist abolitionist school, but was declared to be wild,—“they could do nothing with me.” It is difficult to not believe her skin color had something to do with her being considered ‘wild’ but that is speculation on my part.

2edmonia

Mary Edmonia began her education in 1859 at Oberlin College, the first college to accept black women in a co-educational environment, however, Lewis later said she was subject to daily racism and discrimination. She, and other female students, were rarely given the opportunity to participate in the classroom or speak at public meetings.

Unfortunately, while at Oberlin, Lewis was wrongly accused of theft and attempted murder. Despite being acquitted, the damage to her reputation had been done and she was prohibited from graduating. The incident occurred between Lewis and two women when she served her friends a drink of spiced wine. The two women fell severely ill and doctors who examined them concluded that the two women had been poisoned. It was later determined that the two women would recover from the incident and authorities initially took no action. When news of the incident spread through town Lewis was attacked by unknown assailants while walking home alone one night, dragged into an open field, badly beaten, and left for dead.

3edmonia

The rest of her time at Oberlin she was isolated by prejudice. A year later she was again accused of a crime, stealing artists' materials from the college, and again acquitted due to lack of evidence, but never fully cleared and forbidden from registering for her last term making it impossible to graduate, effectively forcing her from the school.

At the end of the 19th century, she remained the only black woman to be recognized by the American artistic mainstream, finally being recognized in 2002, by the scholar Molefi Kete Asante who put her on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.

In 1864 she moved to Boston, beginning her career as a sculptor where she was introduced to the moderately successful sculptor, Edward Augustus Brackett (1818–1908). Lewis opened her studio to the public in her first solo exhibition in 1864.

4edmonia

Inspired by the lives of abolitionists and Civil War heroes, her subjects in 1863 and 1864 included some of the most famous abolitionists of her day: John Brown and Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. The success and popularity of her work in Boston afforded her the cost of a trip to Rome in 1866. Rome was where Lewis spent most of her adult career because of less pronounced racism. While in Rome, Lewis continued to express her African-American and Native American heritage. This is where she created one of her most famous pieces, "Forever Free", a powerful message of an African American man and women emerging from the bonds of slavery.

5edmonia

While in Rome, Lewis adopted the neoclassical style of sculpture. However, in the late 1880s, neoclassicism declined in popularity, as did the popularity of Lewis's artwork. In 1901 she had moved to London, little is known of her later years. According to her death certificate, the cause of her death was chronic Bright's disease. She is buried in St. Mary's Roman Catholic Cemetery, in London.

Deborah Baron

Deborah Baron

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Recent Articles
Returning Women to Our Place in History
Women Are Equal
The Last Part
The Monster Within and Without
Still Trying, Still Hoping