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"My first thought was for my poor father’s people, how I could do them good in a very small way."
"My mother was a wild Indian, and was born in Albany, of copper colour, and with straight, black hair. There she made and sold moccasins. My father, who was a negro, and a gentleman's servant, saw her and married her."
"There is nothing so beautiful as the free forest. To catch a fish when you are hungry, cut the boughs of a tree, make fire to roast it, and eat it in the open air, is the greatest of all luxuries. I would not stay a week pent up in cities, if it were not for my passion for Art."
"I was delighted to learn – very eager. I had never learned anything."
"I felt the strangest sensations in putting on dresses. I had never worn anything but blankets. (Laughing) You see I had good opportunities for studying the nude."
"I was ... declared to be wild -- they could do nothing with me. Often they said to me, 'Here is your book, the book of Nature; come and study it.'"
"I know praise is not good for me. Some praise me because I am a colored girl, and I don’t want that kind of praise. I had rather you would point out my defects, for that will teach me something."
"I thought of returning to wild life again; but my love of sculpture forbade it."
"I thought I knew everything when I came to Rome, but I soon found that I had everything to learn."
"I have a strong sympathy for all women who have struggled and suffered. For this reason the Virgin Mary is very dear to me."
When questioned how she became an artist, she replied: "well, it was a strange selection for a poor girl to make, wasn’t it? I suppose it was in me ... I became almost crazy to make something like the thing which fascinated me."
"It would have done your heart good to see what a friendly welcome I received ... How much I have thought about that encouraging reception. It is a great example for the US Government to follow in her treatment of a poor people struggling to rise out of degradation."
"How strange the Great Spirit has led me on without father or mother."
"I was practically driven to Rome in order to obtain the opportunities for art culture, and to find a social atmosphere where I was not constantly reminded of my color. The land of liberty had not room for a colored sculptor."
On surviving cholera: "I kept up my pluck with a bible and brandy bottle beside my bed, so that if one gave out she might take to the other."
"Today is pay-day and pay-day is always an unpleasant time ... we must sell our work if we want to live."
"Americans are a queer people. Don’t you think a lady – a rich lady, too – came to me and said ‘Miss Lewis, that is a very beautiful statue, but don’t you think it would have been more proper to drape it? Clothing is necessary to Christian art.'
"I responded, 'Madame, that is not modesty in you. That is worse than mock modesty. You see and think only of evil not intended. Your mind, Madame, is not as pure, I fear, as my statue.'"
“I guess I was just like Topsy, I just growed up,”
I never hear of [racist snipes in Rome]. Why, I am invited everywhere, and am treated just as nicely as if the bluest of blue blood flowed through my veins. I number among my patrons the Marquis of Bute, Lady Ashburton and other members of the nobility.
Sometimes the times were dark and the outlook was lonesome, but where there is a will, there is a way. I pitched in and dug at my work until now I am where I am. It was hard work though, but with color and sex against me, I have achieved success. That is what I tell my people whenever I meet them, that they must not be discouraged, but work ahead until the world is bound to respect them for what they have accomplished.
"I am going back to Italy to do something for the race – something that will excite the admiration of the other races of the earth."
"I shall never live in America."
“The Good Spirit always sends me friends.”
These and more quotations appear in The Indomitable Sprit of Edmonia Lewis, A Narrative Biography, by Harry Henderson and Albert Henderson.
Last updated 07/07/2014