November 29, 2022

Edmonia Lewis Bio Birth Death Family Education Career Works Exhibitions

Edmonia Lewis Biography

(Mary Edmonia Lewis) was an American sculptor who worked for most of her career in Rome, Italy. Born free in New York, she 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 work is known for incorporating themes relating to black people and indigenous peoples of the Americas into Neoclassical-style sculpture.

She began to gain prominence in the United States during the American Civil War. However, at the end of the 19th century, she remained the only black woman who had participated in and been recognized to any degree by the American artistic mainstream.

In 2002, the scholar Molefi Kete Asante named Edmonia Lewis on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.

Edmonia Birthday

July 4, 1844.


Lewis lived in the Hammersmith area of London, England, before her death on September 17, 1907, in the Hammersmith Borough Infirmary. 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.

There were earlier theories that Lewis died in Rome in 1907 or, alternatively, that she had died in Marin County, California, and was buried in an unmarked grave in San Francisco.

In 2017, a GoFundMe by East Greenbush Town Historian Bobbie Reno was successful, and Edmonia Lewis’s grave was restored. The work was done by the E M Lander Co. in London.

Lewis Family

Lewis never married and had no known children. Her half-brother Samuel became a barber in San Francisco, eventually moving to mine camps in Idaho and Montana. In 1868, he settled in the city of Bozeman, Montana, where he set up a barbershop on Main Street.

He prospered, eventually investing in commercial real estate, and subsequently built his own home which still stands at 308 South Bozeman Avenue. In 1999 the Samuel Lewis House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1884, he married Mrs. Melissa Railey Bruce, a widow with six children.

The couple had one son, Samuel E. Lewis (1886–1914), who married but died childlessly. The elder Lewis died after “a short illness” in 1896 and is buried in Sunset Hills Cemetery in Bozeman.

Edmonia Lewis Education

New York Central College, Oberlin College.

Edmonia Lewis Art Career

  • Boston
  • Rome
  • Later career
  • Reception

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Edmonia Lewis photo

Edmonia Lewis List Of Major Works

  • John Brown medallions, 1864–65
  • Colonel Robert Gould Shaw (plaster), 1864
  • Anne Quincy Waterston, 1866
  • A Freed Woman and Her Child, 1866
  • The Old Arrow-Maker and His Daughter, 1866
  • The Marriage of Hiawatha, 1866–67
  • Forever Free, 1867
  • Colonel Robert Gould Shaw (marble), 1867–68
  • Hagar in the Wilderness, 1868
  • Madonna Holding the Christ Child, 1869
  • Hiawatha, collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1868
  • Minnehaha, collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1868
  • Indian Combat, Carrara marble, 30″ high, collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art, 1868
  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1869–71
  • Bust of Abraham Lincoln, 1870
  • Asleep, 1872
  • Awake, 1872
  • Poor Cupid, 1873
  • Moses, 1873
  • Bust of James Peck Thomas, 1874, collection of the Allen Memorial Art Museum, her only known portrait of a freed slave
  • Hygieia, 1874
  • Hagar, 1875
  • The Death of Cleopatra, marble, 1876, collection of Smithsonian American Art Museum
  • John Brown, 1876, Rome, plaster bust
  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1876, Rome, plaster bust
  • General Ulysses S. Grant, 1877–78
  • Veiled Bride of Spring, 1878
  • John Brown, 1878–79
  • The Adoration of the Magi, 1883
  • Charles Sumner, 1895

Edmonia Lewis Posthumous Exhibitions

  • Art of the American Negro Exhibition, Chicago, 1940.
  • Howard University, Washington, D.C., 1967.
  • Vassar College, New York, 1972.
  • Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, 2008.
  • Edmonia Lewis and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Images and Identities at the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 18 February–3 May 1995.
  • Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C., June 7, 1996 – April 14, 1997.
  • Wildfire Test Pit, Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio, August 30, 2016 – June 12, 2017.