Edmonia Lewis Biography Part 1

In the past, we’ve celebrated painters here on Light Future Art. If you’d like to read about one such painter, check out last week’s blog post about Sofonisba Anguissola. Today, we’re going to celebrate a sculptor: Edmonia Lewis.

Edmonia Lewis Scultor
Edmonia Lewis

Lewis was born in 1844 in Albany, New York. She was raised, as far as historians can tell, rather well-off in New Jersey. Her father was African-American and her mother was Ojibwe. Lewis often told what she called “white lies” about her upbringing, frequently saying that she was raised in the wilderness and grew up around nature, which is untrue as far as records show. Her older brother had profited in the California gold rush, which allowed the family to live in moderate luxury. At the age of 12, though, Lewis was orphaned and went to live with her mother’s sisters.



At the age of 15, Lewis was admitted to Oberlin Academy Preparatory School, and later Oberlin Collegiate Institute, to study art. This college was one of the few at the time which taught women and people of color. Though, as part of her “white lies”, Lewis said that she performed poorly and her teachers declared that they couldn’t teach her, records show that she actually performed quite well. Unfortunately, due to numerous (and unfounded) criminal charges brought against Lewis, she was not able to complete her full four years of college, which perhaps is why she fabricated stories of being given up on by her teachers, to change events that had been quite unpleasant into something more to her liking.


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Hiawatha's Marriage by Edmonia Lewis
Hiawatha’s Marriage by Edmonia Lewis

After Oberlin in 1864, Lewis moved to Boston and began to study sculpture under the guidance of Edward Augustus Brackett. Brackett was an abolitionist and regularly sculpted busts of famous abolitionists such as John Brown and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. She remained as a sort of apprentice to Brackett for less than a year, after which time they parted on fairly unfriendly terms, the specifics of which have been lost to time. But Lewis didn’t need him as a teacher anymore; she was ready to open her first solo gallery!

Be sure to come back next week as we explore the rest of Edmonia Lewis’ life and legacy, including her work and acclaim in Rome! If you have any requests or questions, please feel free to leave them in a comment below. You can stay up to date with our blog on our Facebook, Twitter, and/or Pinterest. We publish a new blog about animals, fossils, or art every Tuesday and Friday, so until next time, thank you for reading and goodbye!

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