Edmonia Lewis: Wildfire in Marble

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9780382397134: Edmonia Lewis: Wildfire in Marble

Edmonia Lewis endured prejudice throughout her life from those who saw her as a savage native or a poor, uneducated black woman. Undaunted she worked on--and the statues she produced today salute important events in American history.

Of two cultures, Chippewa, African American, Edmonia Lewis was orphaned at nine. With her brother paying the tuition she entered Oberlin College in Ohio, to attend preparatory courses (at age 15) where she took courses in Botany, Algebra, Composition, Rhetorical Literature and Bible Study. During this time her talent for drawing emerged.

Edmonia Lewis created The Death of Cleopatra in 1876 for America's First Centennial celebration.

After this 3,015 pound sculpture was stored, it eventually reappeared in a Chicago saloon in 1892. Later, it became the headstone for a race horse named Cleopatra and then weathered several other adventures before it surfaced again in 1996. Today it can be seen at the National Museum of American Art (Smithsonian).

Written from over 60 sources and after extensive research, Edmonia Lewis: Wildfire In Marble is the first book on Edmonia's life. With faith in her ideals, Edmonia honored former slaves, the cause of freedom, and the nation's courageous men and women who pushed to obtain human rights for everyone. Her statues express her deep gratitude for the gift of life. A woman ahead of her time, Edmonia Lewis was the first African American-Chippewa artist to receive international recognition and support herself through her art. EXCERPT: Forever Free was the first statue of an African American family. Again Edmonia's kneeling slave woman is thanking God for her delivery from bondage. The man stands tall. A broken chain is wrapped around his upraised forearm. His other arm comforts the woman. The man's pose is similar to that of a Greek sculpture (Laocoon) in the Vatican Museum. The woman's pose was inspired by an abolitionist emblem entitled "Am I not a woman and a sister?" The couple seem dazed, as though not totally understanding that the Emancipation Proclamation had declared them forever free.

Surprisingly, except for the man's thick, curly hair, the couple did not resemble African Americans. A few critics thought their limbs awkward and not well proportioned. This statue indicated changes to come in neoclassical sculpture.

Sometimes Edmonia hired stonecutters to help produce her larger figures. She borrowed $800 to have Forever Free figures executed in marble.

Then she shipped the statue, along with the bills for materials and shipping costs, to the abolitionist lawyer Samuel E. Sewall in Boston. The statue's unexpected arrival shocked the abolitionists. Although Sewall had not commissioned, or given an order for the work, he paid a customs duty of $200 to prevent its being auctioned off.

In a letter to Maria Weston Chapman, aide to William Lloyd Garrison, on February 5, 1867, Edmonia wrote: "I will not take anything for my labor. Mr. Garrison has given his whole life for my father's people and I think I might give him a few months [of my] work."

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From the Publisher:

A committed artist and a complex personality born in 1844, Edmonia Lewis was the first African American artist to win international fame. Lewis's part-Chippewa heritage and upbringing instilled in her simple, spartan needs, and freed her to pursue her art--sculpture--in tough times (the late 19th century) and in challenging circumstances (as a lone African American woman in Europe). She gravely kept to her idealistic themes of religion and justice. And she had a knack for business--bartering tenaciously for the finest marble and winning commissions creatively.

Children, young adults and adults will be inspired by her life. Women and especially budding artists will take heart from her spirit and success. Many photographs of her work are included.

About the Author:

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Rinna Evelyn Wolfe received a BBA degree from City College of New York, and a MA in Creative Arts from San Francisco State University. She was a chain store buyer in New York before beginning a teaching career in Berkeley, California. She taught African American history to teachers and children (grades 2-8). During her tenure Mr. Wolfe received a fellowship and several grants to enrich children's sense of history. In 1973 she traveled with 33 students, ages 9 to 11, to Ensenada, Mexico, in a yellow school bus--a trip planned by the children. Rinna Wolfe is the author of The Singing Pope, Charles Richard Drew, M.D., Mary McLeod Bethune and the Calvin Simmons Story.

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