In 1865, Edmonia Lewis set sail for Rome. On her passport it was written, M. Edmonia Lewis is a Black girl sent by subscription to Italy having displayed great talents as a sculptor. Lewis was the first African-American woman to be recognized as a sculptor. Throughout her life and career, Lewis often said, I dont want you to praise me...Some praise me because I am a colored girl, and I dont want that kind of praise.
I had rather you would point out my defects, for that will teach me something. Throughout Lewis career as a sculptor, she was always searching for inspiration from society. And to many poets and other visual artists, Lewis offered a wealth of influence.
Lewis was born in Greenbush, N.Y. on July 4, 1844. Lewis father was of Haitian descent. Lewis mother, a woman of Missauga Ojibwe and African descent, was a weaver and created crafts. Lewis said that her familys background influenced much of her work. By Lewis ninth birthday, both of her parents were deceased. Lewis and her older brother, Samuel, lived with their maternal aunts. Throughout her childhood, Lewis created and sold Ojibwe crafts to people visiting in Niagara Falls.
Lewis attended New York Central College for a brief time before transferring to Oberlin College where she began to study visual art.
Following her graduation from Oberlin College, Lewis moved to Boston in 1863 and studied under the sculptor Edward Augustus Brackett.
Brackett helped Lewis develop her sculpting tools. Soon after, Lewis sold her first piece of art--a womans hand for $8. In 1864, Lewis hosted her first solo exhibit at her public studio.
While living in Boston, Lewis became inspired by the work of abolitionists such as Robert Gould Shaw, a colonial in the Union Army and commander of the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts.
As a result, Lewis created a bust of Shaw, which was purchased by his family. Lewis’ bust of Shaw was so popular that she sold 100 plaster copies of the original. As a result, she was commissioned for more work. Lewis went on to create