Edmonia Lewis, a female sculptor of African and Indian descent, succeeded at her craft when societal customs of the late 1800s prohibited women from gaining recognition, let alone respect, for their achievements. She overcame many obstacles on her quest to become an artist, which of course, makes for a great story.
In a time when women artists were only thought capable of being mere copyists, Edmonia Lewis courageously blazed her own path with a helping hand early on from a generous older brother. She rose from her background as an orphan, to a young woman wrongly kicked out of Oberlin College, to a largely self-taught sculptor who molded the word to fit her view rather than sacrifice her gift to satisfy the standards of the elite.
Albert Henderson has painstakingly finished decades of research started by his father Harry Henderson, a writer, and Romare Howard Bearden, an artist. The role of African Americans in art history has been previously overlooked until recent decades, and the authors certainly righted numerous omissions. The documentation of Edmonia’s life and achievements, as collected in this biography, certainly makes the case for her place in the canon.
Her fascinating story is documented by a wealth of primary and secondary sources. Numerous pictures of her sculptures appear throughout the book and bring her work to life for the reader. As someone trained in research methods, I can attest to the time and effort needed to bring this book to publication.
This biography is certainly for a specialized audience, but even for casual readers of biographies and memoirs, it holds a certain appeal. However, even though it is classified as a narrative biography, don’t expect to find extended scenes of improvised dialogue or re-imagined day to day occurrences fleshed out by artistic license. The book remains academic and serious in nature throughout, but with conjecture here and there concerning what Edmonia must have been thinking and feeling.
One thing is for certain, this biography is a story that needed to be told, and thanks to the diligence of the Albert Henderson, the story of Edmonia Lewis has been collected for ages to come, and her place in art history is now firmly secured.
You can connect with Albert Henderson on his website.
Are you familiar with Edmonia Lewis? What other biographies of artists have you read?
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