Celebrating Edmonia Lewis

Edmonia Lewis wasn’t afraid to reshape convention. As the first woman of African American and Native American heritage to achieve international fame as a sculptor, Lewis is known for incorporating African American and Native American cultural themes into her Neoclassical style sculpture.

Born in New York in 1844 to a father of Afro-Haitian descent and a mother of Mississauga Ojibwe and African American descent, Lewis was adopted by her maternal aunts after her parents’ death when she was nine years old. At age 15, Lewis enrolled in Oberlin College, which is where she became passionate about art. Unfortunately however, her time at Oberlin was fraught with discrimination by many of her peers and the surrounding community. It was due to this that she was prevented from enrolling in her final term, and therefore was unable to receive her degree.

After her time at Oberlin, Lewis moved to Boston in 1864 to pursue a career as a sculptor. She was consistently denied apprenticeship until she met Edward A. Brackett, a sculptor whose clients included some of the most well-known abolitionists of the time. Lewis worked under Brackett until 1864, when she launched her first solo exhibition. Her work paid homage to the abolitionists and Civil War heroes of her day, including John Brown and Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. Her work was very well received and with her success, she traveled to Rome, Italy.

In Rome, Lewis joined a circle of expat artists and established her own studio. During this time, Lewis began sculpting in marble, focusing on naturalism and themes relating to African American and Native American people. Her work commanded large sums of money, and she continued to receive international acclaim until her death in 1911.

Today’s Doodle art depicts Lewis sculpting one of her most famous works, The Death of Cleopatra, which is on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. Her realistic portrayal of Cleopatra’s death received acclaim from critics, who called it “the most remarkable piece of sculpture in the American section" of the show. The vibrant colors of the Google letters also pay tribute to Lewis’s Native American roots - her Native American name was Wildfire.

Decades later, Lewis’s legacy continues to thrive through her art and the path she helped forge for women and artists of color. Today, we celebrate her and what she stands for – self-expression through art, even in the face of adversary.

Doodle by Sophie Diao


Google Celebrates Sculptor Edmonia Lewis with New Doodle

On Feb. 1, Google will celebrate 19th century American sculptor Edmonia Lewis with a new Doodle, depicting her working on one of her defining pieces.

Born to a father of Afro-Haitian descent and a mother of Mississauga Ojibwe and African-American heritage in 1844, Lewis was considered the first woman of African-American and Native American heritage to become a globally renowned fine arts sculptor, according to Google.

"Today, we celebrate her and what she stands for — self-expression through art, even in the face of adversity," Google wrote.

Enrolled in Oberlin College at age 15 but unable to complete her degree because of the discrimination she faced, she later apprenticed under after Edward A. Brackett, a Boston sculptor who worked with some of the era's best-known abolitionists, and found success.

Later, she would be based in Rome, where she started sculpting with marble, and was known to fuse those cultural themes with the Neoclassical style in her works. She continued to win praise for her artwork until her death in 1907.

According to Google, Lewis is depicted in the process of sculpting The Death of Cleopatra — one of her best-known pieces, which received acclaim as "the most remarkable piece of sculpture in the American section" of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The vibrancy of the Google logo, meanwhile, reflects her Native American name, "Wildfire."Her life story, as well as her works on display in the Smithsonian, are now featured in Google Arts & Culture.

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