Arts Entrepreneur: Edmonia Lewis (Approx. 1844-1911)
“Today is pay-day and pay-day is always an unpleasant time…we must sell our work if we want to live.”
Mary Edmonia Lewis was a sculptor whose work allowed her to travel the world. “Her first notable commercial success was a bust of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. Sales of copies of the bust allowed her to sail to Rome, Italy, where she mastered working in marble. She quickly achieved success as a sculptor,” reports Biography. Colonel Robert Shaw died leading the all-black 54th Massachusetts Regiment.
She is considered the first successful African-American and Native-American sculptor. Born in New York as daughter of a black father and part-Ojibwa mother, she was orphaned at a young age and during her childhood she roamed the woods with Chippewa Indians. With the help of an older, successful brother she attended Oberlin College in Ohio.
Unfortunately, her college years ended after she was beaten by a white mob. Finding her way to Boston, sculptor Edward A. Brackett took her under his wing.
Her works are now part of the permanent collections of the Howard University Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.