Edmonia Lewis (c) A. Henderson      


NOW AVAILABLE: The Indomitable Spirit of Edmonia Lewis. A Narrative Biography,  by Harry Henderson ( co-author of A History of African American Art from 1792 to the Present) and Albert Henderson, winner of the eLit GOLD award: "Illuminating Digital Publishing Excellence." Independent Opinion:  "The Hendersonsí monument of research and craftsmanship seeks to give Lewis the consideration that she has been deniedónot dissimilar to the artistís own commitment to proving her competitors and critics wrong, demonstrating that a minority could take on the hegemonic tradition of fine arts. The book provides crystalline accounts of Lewisís feuds and mentorships, as well as rich illustrations of the works being discussed throughout. Overall, the authors deliver a well-constructed mix of primary resources, critical analysis and literary flourishes." - Kirkus Reviews. "Thank you so much for your excellent research ... Your work on Edmonia Lewis will be used for many years to come by scholars, art historians, art collectors and anyone interested in knowing more about this outstanding woman"  - Dr. Sheryl Colyer.  "Lewisís story is all at once interesting and sad. Her life, while forgotten for a while is now making a come back among art historians and this immense work helps to secure her artistic legacy." Lifelong Dewey   "A key acquisition for any arts or African-American history holding. The authors' attention to precise scholarship provides all the details of a solid linear history and biography but the end result is anything but dry: it reads with the passion and drama of good literature." Midwest Book Review  "A definitive biography" Washington Times  "5.0 of 5 stars" - Links Goodreads

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Biography - Chronology. Outline of Mary Edmonia Lewis's life and art 

For a chronological list of Edmonia Lewis's works, see THE Indomitable Spirit of Edmonia Lewis. A Narrative Biography. 


1844 - 1858

Born Mary Edmonia Lewis, she claimed birth "on or about" July 4, in Greenbush (now Rensselaer), NY, on her 1865 application for a passport.

The Indomitable Sprit of Edmonia Lewis, A Narrative Biography analyzes her conflicting references to this period and her family in light of her brother's accounts and other documentation. Her brother was born in Haiti, but it seems likely her father was from Newark NJ.

She attended New York Central College at McGraw NY 1856-1858, until it failed financially.[See our Blog.]


Entered Oberlin College, Oberlin Ohio as Mary E. Lewis.


Asked to be called M. Edmonia Lewis for the new term.


January 27: Accused of poisoning white boarders. Racial tensions flared.

January 31: Savagely assaulted at night. 

February 26: Defended by colored attorney John Mercer Langston at judicial hearing. Exonerated

September: Her earliest known surviving work, a drawing of an antique statue, is signed "Edmonia Lewis," and reproduced in The Indomitable Sprit of Edmonia Lewis.


[January 1: Emancipation Proclamation declared slaves in rebelling states to be forever free.]  

February:  Accused of stealing brushes and paints, then accused of stealing a picture frame. Charges were quickly dismissed. However, Oberlin College denied Edmonia her final term and graduation. 

Frederick Douglass met Edmonia in Oberlin and advised her to go east.

Visited New York and proceeded to Boston with letters of introduction to William Lloyd Garrison.

Encouraged by abolitionist sculptor Edward A. Brackett.

Produced medallions of John Brown and other celebrated abolitionists.

[July: Boston's Colonel Robert Gould Shaw was martyred with his colored troops as they charged Fort Wagner.].


January: Met Lydia Maria Child, a feminist and founder of the New England abolition movement. Mrs. Child recognized and soon began to publicize Edmonia's talent.

August: Anne Whitney and others helped Edmonia with her bust of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw -- against the wishes of Mrs. Child. Edmonia had never met Shaw and composed his portrait from photographs.

October: Previewed her bust of Colonel Shaw to Mrs. Child and Maria Weston Chapman in her studio. She also had a statuette of Sergeant William H. Carney, another hero of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment. 

November 15: After experiencing production problems, Edmonia finally showed the Shaw bust in public at the National Sailors' Fair -- establishing her as a portrait artist. She would sell one hundred plaster copies and some photos with the blessing of the Shaw family. The Indomitable Sprit of Edmonia Lewis, reproduces a rare photo of the plaster bust and a photo of Col. Shaw. 

December: Anna Q. Waterston published a poem about Edmonia and her bust of Col. Shaw.


January: Mrs. Child publicized the Shaw bust in The National Anti-Slavery Standard and The Liberator.

February: Made a plaster bust of Maria Weston Chapman.

[April: Civil War ended.]

July: Headed to Richmond, Va., to teach freed slaves.

August: Sailed for Europe with commissions for marble copies of busts of Shaw, Abraham Lincoln, Horace Mann, and others.

September: Having arrived in Florence, Italy, Edmonia found encouragement by America's most famous sculptor, Hiram Powers, and others.

[December: Ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment banned slavery throughout the United States.]


January: Moved from Florence to Rome, Italy.

With the help of Harriet Hosmer, Lewis rented the historic studio once occupied by the famous neoclassical sculptor Antonio Canova; Retired actress Charlotte Cushman introduced her to her circle of feminist artists -- later called "strange sisterhood" and "white marmorian flock" by Henry James -- and began to promote her work.

February: Created the first Emancipation statue by an African American, the prayerful Freedwoman and Her Child. The Indomitable Sprit of Edmonia Lewis provides descriptions and outlines the circumstances surrounding the fate of this historic work, which we believe was never rendered in marble in spite of a fleeting success and historic recognition in the press.

Sculpted the Old Arrow-Maker and His Daughter (Wooing of Hiawatha), and the Marriage of Hiawatha

March: Featured in English periodicals, Athenśum and Art-Journal. Newspapers and magazines across Europe and North America reprinted or adapted the story of "A Negro Sculptress."

Summer: Began a second Emancipation statue (originally called The Morning of Liberty), Forever Free, in which the image of a prayerful freedwoman is toned down and accompanied by a protective man -- reflecting the ideal Victorian family. 


May: Charlotte Cushman decided to raise funds to donate Wooing of Hiawatha to the Boston YMCA.

Opened shop briefly on Via della Frezza, Rome. 

Tuckermanís Book of the Artists praised her.

Murray's Handbook of Rome and Its Environs listed her as one of "the most celebrated artists of Rome."

March: Made a marble bust of Helen Ruthven Waterson, late daughter of her benefactors, Rev. and Mrs. Robert C. Waterson.

Moved her studio to Via di San Nicola da Tolentino, Rome. The Indomitable Sprit of Edmonia Lewis -- illustrated with maps -- suggests how the new location was strategically important to her success.

October: She sent a marble bust of Dioclesian Lewis to Boston where it was exhibited at A. A. Childs in Boston to great acclaim.

She produced marble copy of the Shaw bust -- illustrated in A History of African American Artists from 1792 to the Present -- for a member of the Shaw family -- and shipped it from Rome.

Completed Forever Free (representing a freed woman and man) in marble and shipped it to abolitionist Samuel Sewall in Boston. Now at Howard University, it is the earliest surviving Emancipation sculpture by an African-American artist.


February: She received Roman Catholic baptism as an adult and revealed her new affiliation to Whitney.  Forever Free arrived "collect" in Boston to the consternation of Samuel Sewall, who consigned it to the A. A. Childs Gallery. The Indomitable Sprit of Edmonia Lewis, A Narrative Biography, marks this as a turning point in her relationship with Mrs.Child.

Modeled Hiawatha and Minnehaha busts, and Indians in Combat.  Hagar in the Wilderness was her third vision of the prayerful freedwoman.

August: Frank Leslieís Illustrated News pictured Edmonia and the Old Arrowmaker and His Daughter (Wooing of Hiawatha).

Winter: Modeled bust of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow from glimpses of him on the street. Why none of her celebrity friends introduced her to the poet, and how they finally met, is taken up in The Indomitable Sprit of Edmonia Lewis, A Narrative Biography.  


February: Marquess of Bute, one of the richest men in the world, made the first of several large purchases, helping to resolve Lewis's financial dilemma.

July: Sailed on the SS Tripoli. Returned to Boston where she was honored by the Freedmen's Union; She raised funds to donate Forever Free and Longfellow. 

Visited her aunt near Niagara Falls. 

Denied accommodations in upstate New York, she was forced to seek shelter from a stranger.

August 29: Visited Saint Francis Xavier Church in Baltimore and offered them a Madonna.

October 18: After more than a year of controversy, Edmonia Lewis received honors at Boston's Tremont Temple with the presentation of Forever Free to Rev. Leonard Grimes, a leading black abolitionist. Attending the reception were Rev. J. D. Fulton, Rev. Robert C. Waterson, William Lloyd Garrison, William Craft and William Wells Brown. Not reported in attendance: Wendell Phillips, Mr. and Mrs. Samuel E. Sewall, and Lydia Maria Child. 


Isabel Cholmeley, her best friend, sculpted a portrait bust in which she symbolically represented two racial legacies with Edmonia's hair.

Dr. Harriot K. Hunt commissioned Hygeia for her grave in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge MA.

August:  Exhibited Hagar in the Wilderness in Chicago where she advertised as "The Young and Gifted Colored Sculptor." 

Printed souvenir carte-de-visite photos that she sold and gave away to fans. Her photos were done by Chicago portraitist Henry Rocher.

Printed "How Edmonia Lewis Became an Artist."


Medallion of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Laura Curtis Bullard interviewed Edmonia for The Revolution magazine.

Began a life-size statue of John Brown for the Union League Club of New York City.


Spring: Won a gold medal for Asleep and a certificate of excellence for Love Caught in a Trap at the National Exposition of Paintings and Sculpture. Academy of Arts and Sciences, Naples.  

August / September: visited Gerrit Smith in Peterboro NY where she designed "clasped hands" based on a plaster cast of Smith and his wife.

September / October: visited New York City to promote use of her bust of Horace Greeley (who was running for president) by Leslie's Illustrated News. 


Spring: Sold a copy of antique Young Augustus (Young Octavian) to feminist Elizabeth Buffum Chace. 

May: Headed for California. On her way, she delivered an elaborate Lincoln bust to Central Park in New York City.

July: Her confrontation with a racist editor in New York City is analyzed in detail in The Indomitable Sprit of Edmonia Lewis. 

August/September: First internationally renowned woman sculptor to exhibit in San Francisco and San Jose. Showed Asleep, Awake, Cupid Caught, Lincoln, and The Marriage of Hiawatha. 

November: Visited Saint Louis MO where she received commissions from former slave James Peck Thomas and his heiress wife.


January: Feted in New York before her return to Rome. 

William Wells Brown profiled her in the Rising Son. Details are discussed in The Indomitable Sprit of Edmonia Lewis.


Sailed to New York on the SS Ville de Paris. July: Sold copies of Senator Charles Sumner in New York and Albany.

October: Placed several statues on exhibition in Saint Paul, Minnesota.  The Indomitable Sprit of Edmonia Lewis discusses her circumstances and the likelihood she used the show in St. Paul to visit her brother on the frontier, to ask his help in financing her secret Centennial project.


Sailed to New York on the SS City of Chester.

May: Exhibited The Death of Cleopatra, The Old Arrow-maker and his Daughter, and plaster portraits John Brown, Charles Sumner, and Longfellow at the International Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. The Indomitable Sprit of Edmonia Lewis covers her at the Centennial -- visitors, critics, judges, and interviews -- in more detail than ever.


Modeled busts of John Cardinal McCloskey, and former President U. S. Grant in Rome.

September: Exhibited the Death of Cleopatra and her portrait busts in Chicago at the Interstate Industrial Exposition.

Made bust of Chicago Bishop Thomas Patrick Roger Foley. 

Visited Indianapolis with her bust of Grant.

Left Death of Cleopatra in storage in Chicago.

December: The NY Times and other newspapers reported she presented a bust of John Brown to Rev. Henry Highland Garnet in New York. Their interview quoted her saying she would not live in America because of its racism ("the land of liberty had no room for a colored sculptor").


January: Suit against James Peck Thomas and his wife went to court in Saint Louis

Fall: Exhibited the 'Veiled' Bride of Spring in Syracuse, New York, and Cincinnati

Another hostile interview occurred, not published until 1880 -- analyzed in The Indomitable Sprit of Edmonia Lewis,.


Prepared a bas-relief altarpiece representing the Adoration of the Magi for the Protestant Episcopal Chapel of St. Mary the Virgin, Baltimore, and a statue of the Holy Virgin for the Marquess of Bute.


Joined other American artists in Rome to sign petitions to protest U.S. tariffs on art.


Met Frederick Douglass and his wife in Rome and accompanied them to Naples.


The Death of Cleopatra was reported decorating a Chicago saloon. 


Living in Paris, France, she created a bronze Phillis Wheatley for exhibit at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. New Yorkers exhibited her bust of Hiawatha there.


Bust of Charles Sumner was exhibited at Atlanta World's Fair by one of her fans.


Edmonia's brother died in Bozeman MT, leaving her a sum of money. She gave her address as "c/o U.S. Consul Paris, France."


September: Visited New York, NY. 


Spring: Visited Chicago


Lived in London, England. The Indomitable Sprit of Edmonia Lewis follows her moves within London, the preparation of her will in 1905, and opines as to her likely friends and neighbors.


Made her will in London, England.


Checked into Hammersmith Infirmary as "Mary Lewis, age 42." September 17: Died in London, England. Death notice goes unnoticed for more than a century.


Bogus news story claimed, "she is still with us," misleading fans for decades.


Gambler and art collector John Condon died, leaving The Death of Cleopatra to mark the grave of his beloved racehorse forever, according to the deed to his racetrack.


A fire inspector rescued The Death of Cleopatra from a Chicago scrap yard.


Smithsonian American Art Museum acquired and restored The Death of Cleopatra.


Searching for the Last Days: Death record discovered, verified, and reported.


Publication of The Indomitable Sprit of Edmonia Lewis, A Narrative Biography, by Harry Henderson and Albert Henderson.


Edmonia Lewis's grave finally receives a marker.

























last updated 04/23/2019 © 2005, 2012, 2013, 2014 A.K.H.