(1844 – 1907)
“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.”
Edmonia Lewis was the first professional female sculptor of color to achieve success for her work.
Born in Greenbush, New York, Lewis was the daughter of a Haitian father and Mississauga Ojibwa mother. With the support and encouragement of her older brother Samuel, who was born in Haiti to Lewis’s father and his first wife, Lewis attended Oberlin College in Ohio where she emerged as a talented artist.
Thereafter, she was forced to relocate to Boston, Massachusetts after facing severe discrimination and persecution. In Boston, Edward A. Bracket, a renowned sculptor, took her under his tutelage and helped Lewis set up her own studio. Her work paid homage to abolitionists and Civil War heroes, including John Brown and Colonel Robert Gould Shaw.
With her success, Lewis was able to travel to Rome, Italy, where she began sculpting in marble, focusing on naturalism and themes relating to African-American and Native-American people. Her work commanded large sums of money, and she continued to receive international acclaim until her death in 1907.