A public radio segment about sculptor Edmonia Lewis (1845-ca. 1909) recently roused me to order a sheet of newly issued stamps honoring her and then to seek out the marble monument she made 150 years ago for a family lot in Mount Auburn Cemetery. Stories behind the new stamp and the long-standing sculpture led to more revelations about the artist’s life, through resources I will share here with quotes and links.
“This week, the U.S. Postal Service unveiled a Black Heritage “forever” stamp honoring Edmonia Lewis, who got her start in Boston and became the first Black and Native American sculptor to rise to international prominence.” (quote from NPR Morning Edition, January 28, 2022, report by Meghan Smith)
“Born in Greenbush, NY, Lewis spent most of her career in Rome, where her studio became a must-see attraction for American tourists. In addition to portrait busts of prominent people, Lewis’s work incorporated African American themes, including the celebration of newly won freedoms, and sensitively depicted her Native American heritage as peaceful and dignified.” ( quote from Background paragraphs on USPS National News)
“Lewis’ work is a highlight of Mount Auburn’s Significant Monument Collection with her 1872 marble sculpture of Hygeia, the Goddess of Health and Hygiene, commissioned by pioneering female physician and reformer Harriot Kezia Hunt for her family’s Lot 2630 Poplar Avenue. Historian Marilyn Richardson wrote, “The doctor and the sculptor chose to introduce a woman of ancient power and authority into Mount Auburn’s landscapes of influence, a woman who, in a place of loss and bereavement, they posed striding forth with the attributes of wisdom and well-being.””(quote from Mount Auburn Significant Monument collection, 2017)
“Anyone in the 1860s — from any country in the world, really — who had hopes of developing a professional career as a sculptor, had only one goal, and that was to get to Rome,” [Marilyn] Richardson said. “So Lewis succeeded where many, many others had to only look from a distance at that dream.”(quote from interview with Marilyn Richardson on Boston’s local NPR, Jan 28, 2022)
The following link will lead you to a five-minute video with scenes of this monument in different seasons and actors voicing statements of Edmonia Lewis and her contemporaries about her artistic work. earth.sky 2016: “An American in Rome” by Roberto Mighty as Mt. Auburn Cemetery Artist in Residence.
3. Harvard Art Museums: bust of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow by Edmonia Lewis, Photos of Edmonia Lewis by Henry Rocher