Edmonia Lewis: The Braiding of Female, Native, and African American Identity

Jessica Mitchell Butler University
Faculty Sponsor(s): Peter Wang Butler University
Edmonia Lewis, or Wildfire, born between 1843 and 1845 in the United States, is an African American revolutionary of sculpture who changed how we think of African American and Native American art. Edmonia Lewis had the opportunity to attend college, but her studies were interrupted when Edmonia fell victim to an accusation that accused Edmonia of poisoning her two Caucasian roommates with laced wine. Edmonia studied the masters and copied their work to reconstruct the Neo-Classical style into her own personal native art. Both her identities with the African American and Native American communities braided together to creates a cultural representation that could not be achieved by her white western counterparts. The bright white marble sits like an oxymoron against the highly skin pigmented subject for her native inspired works. The Death of Cleopatra, carved in 1876, embodies a realistic passing of the late queen of Egypt while showing the strength and poise of the young African woman. Another sculpture, the Old Arrow Maker from 1866, is a translation from a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that depicts a beautiful moment between two Native Americans from different tribes. This elope pulls together two tribes and represents Edmonia’s experience during the Civil War when the North and the South joined together. Edmonia’s pieces have been lost for nearly a century over time, but the resurrection of her sculptures has brought a new perspective to events in civilizations timeline from the ancient times to Edmonia’s present time.
Art/Art History
Oral Presentation

When & Where

09:15 AM
Lilly Hall 141