Iconic Fine Arts Sculptor Edmonia Lewis Honored In Google Doodle

Posted in Articles, Arts, Biography, History, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2017-02-03 01:01Z by Steven

Iconic Fine Arts Sculptor Edmonia Lewis Honored In Google Doodle

The Huffington Post
2017-02-01

Zahara Hill, Black Voices Editorial Fellow


Sophie Diao
The artist’s dedication to portraying her African-American and Native-American ancestry separated her from other sculptors. 

Black History Month began with the art of this lesser-known black icon.

In honor of the start of Black History Month on Wednesday, Google Doodle paid tribute to Edmonia Lewis, who is considered to be the first woman of African-American and Native American descent to earn global recognition as a fine arts sculptor.

Lewis, who was born in Greenbush, New York in 1844, is particularly known for sculpting on “The Death of Cleopatra,” which is a graphic but highly praised depiction of the death of the former Egyptian Queen. Google Doodler Sophie Diao told HuffPost she drew the illustration on Google’s homepage in homage to Lewis because she has always been inspired by her work…

Read the entire article here.

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The Indomitable Spirit of Edmonia Lewis. A Narrative Biography

Posted in Arts, Biography, Books, Media Archive, Monographs, Native Americans/First Nation, United States, Women on 2015-02-03 02:41Z by Steven

The Indomitable Spirit of Edmonia Lewis. A Narrative Biography

Esquiline Hill Press
2012
567 pages (est.)
mobi ISBN: 978-1-58863-450-4
PDF ISBN: 978-1-58863-451-1
ePub ISBN: 978-1-58863-452-8

Harry Henderson

Albert Henderson

Edmonia Lewis was the first famous “colored sculptor” and the first to idealize her African and American Indian heritages in stone. She flourished from 1864 through 1878, and, as an artist, was a rare instrument for social change in the aftermath of the Civil War. She pressed her case for equality from her studio in Rome, Italy, and with annual tours of the United States.

Our new narrative of Lewis’s life and art updates many “established facts” – well beyond erroneous birth and death dates – with more than 100,000 words, 50 illustrations, 800 references, bibliography, index, and a reference list of more than 100 works with notes on museum holdings. It is based on private letters, public documents, essays, hundreds of news items, reviews of her work, museum collections, and more than two dozen published interviews. It reveals how a world biased against her color, class, gender and religion received her. Of special interest to African-American and American-Indian studies, as well as art, women’s, and American history, the narrative opens an abundance of previously unrecognized sources, reinterprets important relationships, names missing works, and corrects the identification of an important portrait. Students of the nineteenth century will find it a cool counterpoint to the bitter rage of Civil War and Reconstruction.

Readers familiar with her legendary icons of race may be surprised by her many portraits and her untold moves to Paris and London. They will also find answers to long-standing questions: Where, when, and how did she die? Why did her encounter with a bronze Ben Franklin leave her reeling? Why did she idealize a woman with African features only once in her career? Why did she never cite the now-famous Forever Free after her first interviews in Rome? Why did she have to stalk Henry Wadsworth Longfellow through the streets to make his portrait? Where was her studio? How often did she tour America? How did she enter her work in the 1876 Centennial expo, which had barred colored people absolutely? What were her relationships with fans, mentors, and fellow sculptors? Who were her rivals, her best friends, and her worst enemies? Fresh evidence, never before collected and collated, argues a novel motive for her erotic masterwork, the Death of Cleopatra, which sits apart in her œuvre like a hussy in a small town church. Newly realized sources also change our view of her childhood and provide ample support to refute distortions of her personal character, sexuality, and appearance.

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Child of the Fire: Mary Edmonia Lewis and the Problem of Art History’s Black and Indian Subject

Posted in Biography, Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Monographs, Native Americans/First Nation, Women on 2014-04-04 18:10Z by Steven

Child of the Fire: Mary Edmonia Lewis and the Problem of Art History’s Black and Indian Subject

Duke University Press
2010
344 pages
51 illustrations, incl. 18 in color
Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4247-2
Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8223-4266-3

Kirsten Pai Buick, Associate Professor of Art History
University of New Mexico

Child of the Fire is the first book-length examination of the career of the nineteenth-century artist Mary Edmonia Lewis, best known for her sculptures inspired by historical and biblical themes. Throughout this richly illustrated study, Kirsten Pai Buick investigates how Lewis and her work were perceived, and their meanings manipulated, by others and the sculptor herself. She argues against the racialist art discourse that has long cast Lewis’s sculptures as reflections of her identity as an African American and Native American woman who lived most of her life abroad. Instead, by seeking to reveal Lewis’s intentions through analyses of her career and artwork, Buick illuminates Lewis’s fraught but active participation in the creation of a distinct “American” national art, one dominated by themes of indigeneity, sentimentality, gender, and race. In so doing, she shows that the sculptor variously complicated and facilitated the dominant ideologies of the vanishing American (the notion that Native Americans were a dying race), sentimentality, and true womanhood.

Buick considers the institutions and people that supported Lewis’s career—including Oberlin College, abolitionists in Boston, and American expatriates in Italy—and she explores how their agendas affected the way they perceived and described the artist. Analyzing four of Lewis’s most popular sculptures, each created between 1866 and 1876, Buick discusses interpretations of Hiawatha in terms of the cultural impact of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem The Song of Hiawatha; Forever Free and Hagar in the Wilderness in light of art historians’ assumptions that artworks created by African American artists necessarily reflect African American themes; and The Death of Cleopatra in relation to broader problems of reading art as a reflection of identity.

Table of Contents

  • Illustrations
  • Preface. Framing the Problem: American Africanisms, American Indianisms, and the Processes of Art History
  • Acknowledgments
  • 1. Inventing the Artist: Locating the Black and Catholic Subject
  • 2. The “Problem” of Art History’s Black Subject
  • 3. Longfellow, Lewis, and the Cultural Work of Hiawatha
  • 4. Identity, Tautology, and The Death of Cleopatra
  • Conclusion. Separate and Unequal: Toward a More Responsive and Responsible Art History
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
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Re-Visioning Wildfire: Historical Interpretations of the Life and Art of Edmonia Lewis

Posted in Biography, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, Papers/Presentations, United States, Women on 2013-04-16 01:50Z by Steven

Re-Visioning Wildfire: Historical Interpretations of the Life and Art of Edmonia Lewis

Southeastern Oklahoma University
Native American Symposium
2005-Proceedings of the Sixth Native American Symposium
pages 31-39

Julieanna Frost
Concordia University

As a feminist historian, one of my major goals is to reclaim the histories of women and to broadcast the diversity of the female experience. In many ways creating a multicultural curriculum is a form of political activism for me. Regarding inclusive history, I strongly agree with Gloria Joseph, who stated that learning history “will help to shatter the prevailing mythology that inhibits so many from acting more decisively for social change and to create a more just society and viable future for all.” My first brief introduction to Edmonia Lewis came in the article “Object Into Subject: Some Thoughts on the Work of Black Women Artists” by Michelle Cliff, which was included in the anthology Making Face, Making Soul: Creative and Critical Perspectives by Feminists of Color. This piece created a desire for me to learn more about the life and work of Wildfire Mary Edmonia Lewis (ca. 1843 – ca. 1911).

In art encyclopedias and critiques, Lewis is often noted as the first African American female sculptor. To be more accurate, her father was African American and her mother was Anishinabe. Orphaned as a child, she was raised among her mother’s people. The majority of her work was accomplished between 1866 and 1876. Her art has primarily been read as a representation of her Black heritage, ignoring her strong connection to her Native American heritage. In an attempt to rectify this oversight, this paper will examine how her Anishinabe ancestry influenced Lewis’s life and artwork, and explain why scholars tend to ignore this ancestry.

Much of Lewis’s early life and later life went unrecorded. It is believed that she was born near Albany, New York around 1843 and named Wildfire. Her father was a free Black and her mother was Anishinabe. Lewis also had a brother, Sunrise. It appears that Lewis spent most of her early years with the Anishinabe. In an interview, Lewis related,

Mother was a wild Indian and was born in Albany, of copper color and with straight black hair. There she made and sold moccasins. My father, who was a Negro, and a gentleman’s servant, saw her and married her … Mother often left home and wandered with her people, whose habits she could not forget, and thus we were brought up in the same wild manner. Until I was twelve years old, I led this wandering life, fishing and swimming … and making moccasins.

In 1849, Lewis’s mother died and her maternal aunts took her in and raised her. Lewis recalled, “when my mother was dying, she wanted me to promise that I would live three years with her people, and I did.”…

…One reason Lewis is viewed as an African American artist is based upon the social construction of race, as it existed during her lifetime. Dating back to the 17th century, laws that affected Africans and a small number of Native Americans were passed in the English colonies that made slavery an inheritable condition that passed from mother to child. To make the institutionalization of slavery complete, most English colonies outlawed intermarriage between whites and “colored” people by the 18th century. In addition, the legal system did not recognize marriages between “colored” people, although such common law arrangements existed from the colonial period when Blacks and Indians were utilized as indentured servants and later as slaves for life. Nash noted that, “institutions created by white Americans have disguised the degree of red-black intermixing by defining the children of mixed red-black ancestry as black and using the term mulatto in many cases to define half-African, half-Indian persons.” This typology served the economic interests of the ruling class, since classifying these people as Black typically bestowed slave status upon them. Additionally, this classification decreased the population of Native American nations because whites did not acknowledge Black Indians as belonging to the tribe. In contrast to the white practice of racial classification, most of the Native American nations granted full tribal membership to mixed race people if the mother was a member of the tribe. At the time of her birth the Anishinabe also accepted mixed-bloods into the tribe. Although Lewis had an Anishinabe mother and lived among this nation during her formative years, white society classified her as black…

Read the entire paper here.

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Searching for the authentic Red-Black self: Depictions of African-Native subjectivity in literature, visual art, and film

Posted in Anthropology, Dissertations, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, Slavery, United States on 2010-09-10 21:11Z by Steven

Searching for the authentic Red-Black self: Depictions of African-Native subjectivity in literature, visual art, and film

University of California, Berkeley
2005
235 pages
AAT 3186996
ISBN: 9780542292071

Sarita Nyasha Cannon, Associate Professor of English
San Francisco State University

In this dissertation, I explore representations of a largely invisible multiracial group: people of Native American and African-American descent. Relying upon the two theoretical frameworks of cultural studies and multiculturalism outlined in Chapter 1, I analyze texts from various genres in order to understand the construction of Black-Red subjectivity. In Chapter 2, I examine the 1848 slave narrative/native autobiography The Life of Dr. Okah Tubbee. Written by a mulatto who passed as the son of a Choctaw chief in order to escape the slavery, this text exemplifies the performative possibilities of autobiography as well as Tubbee’s simultaneous rejection of Blackness and embrace of stereotypical ideas of Indian-ness. In Chapter 3, I look at another figure that straddles African American and Native American cultures, the fictional character of Rayona in Michael Dorris’ 1988 novel A Yellow Raft in Blue Water. Like Tubbee, Rayona negotiates various identities. However, rather than being a somewhat tragic trickster figure who rejects Blackness as Tubbee does, Rayona is able to embrace her multiple subject positions in a variety of contexts. In Chapter 4, I focus on visual representations of African-Native Americans in the sculpture of African-Chippewa artist Edmonia Lewis and in the portraits of African-Choctaw photographer Valena Broussard Dismukes. I argue that despite Lewis’ familiarity with Native culture, she deploys stereotypes about American Indians in an attempt to gain a mainstream audience. Dismukes, on the other hand, creates portraits of contemporary Black Indians who can express their mixed heritage on their own terms. Finally, in Chapter 5, I explore two contemporary documentary films that reflect two opposite narratives of the history of Black-Native subjectivity. Steven Rich Heape’s film Black Indians celebrates people with African-Native heritage and elevates them to a special status. On the other hand, Long Lance, a documentary about a mixed-race man’s rejection of the one-drop rule and his fabrication of various Native American identities, emphasizes the tragic nature of “passing.” Implicit within my exploration of these cultural representations of Black Indians is the elusive quest for racial or cultural “authenticity,” a problematic goal that often unconsciously panders to an essentialized notion of identity. In their attempts to render authentic images of Blacks, Native Americans, and Black-Native Americans, these authors and artists often reinscribe stereotypes about these groups and thus reinforce the very racial and social hierarchies they intend to question.

Purchase the dissertation here.

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