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A Narrative Biography

by Harry HendersonAlbert Henderson

Pub Date: Sept. 8th, 2012
Publisher: Esquiline Hill Press

A new volume celebrates the life and work of African-American sculptor Edmonia Lewis, oppressed during her lifetime and almost forgotten by history.

This biography—the product of years of research and constructed over several decades by historian Harry Henderson (co-author: A History of African-American Artists from 1792 to the Present, 1993) and Albert Henderson—helps redeem the tribulations that Lewis experienced during her life as an artist. An internationally respected sculptor with a studio in Rome, she “raided a male profession…only recently disturbed by well-to-do white women.” Born in 1844 to an African-American father and a Chippewa mother, Lewis attended Oberlin College in Ohio, a racially integrated haven for abolitionists; later, while in Boston, she encountered a large, magnificent statue of Benjamin Franklin that would inspire her to become a sculptor. Although she was excluded from the upper echelons of elite society while living in Rome, Lewis there constructed a bust of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow without having her subject pose for her; instead, she made use of her own sightings of the man on the streets of the city. The Hendersons’ monument of research and craftsmanship seeks to give Lewis the consideration that she has been denied—not dissimilar to the artist’s own commitment to proving her competitors and critics wrong, demonstrating that a minority could take on the hegemonic tradition of fine arts. The book provides crystalline accounts of Lewis’ feuds and mentorships, as well as rich illustrations of the works being discussed throughout. Overall, the authors deliver a well-constructed mix of primary resources, critical analysis and literary flourishes.

A useful biography for anyone interested in a more complete history of African-American art and artists.