Minefield of Misinformation
Spirit Day 2013
Dead Ends II
Temple - Oct. 18, 1869
for the Last Days
BLOG - Searching for
Noah G. Hoffman, director of the Mark Rothko Southwest History Project,
reported that while visiting a Chicago area shop, he discovered a pair
of previously undocumented statuettes that appear to be the work of
Edmonia Lewis. Ten inches tall and bronze, they show Indian hunters,
male and female. He observed initials that appear to be “EL” under
the base as well as a residue from plaster molds.
returning from a hunt. The male figure carries a small deer and a rabbit
over his shoulder. The female is touching an arrow, carried in a quiver
on her back, with her right hand. Although we are inclined to consider
these as a late extension of Lewis’s highly successful illustrations
(1866-1868) of Longfellow’s The
Song of Hiawatha, we note the poem did not portray women hunting
with men. Lewis, who claimed to have been born in a wigwam, often
emphasized her “wild” childhood. She also produced images of other
Indians, including “my uncle, Sunrise.”
(Cf. Henderson & Henderson, The
Indomitable Spirit … “6. THE HAITIAN CONNECTION”)
worked with bronze around 1893, when she lived in Paris. (ibid.
“Colored Women Go to Chicago, 1893”)
She made a
life-size bronze bust of Phillis Wheatley for the Columbia Exposition. Perhaps Hoffman’s finds were prepared for that show, which catalogued
her work merely as “statuettes.”
Hoffman continues to research them.
Referring to Edmonia Lewis’s 1875 American visit, we wrote, “We
found no further trace of the statues she brought to St. Paul.” (Cf.
Henderson & Henderson, The Indomitable Spirit … “Back to the Frontier – Saint Paul,
1875”). We can report a valuable breakthrough.
in the St. Paul Daily Globe in
1883, Minnesota journalist W. B. Wilcoxon briefly described one of the
works Edmonia Lewis left in Saint Paul: “An old friend in
‘Cold Beth’ a beautiful sculpture.” He reminisced,
“She exhibited her works or rather placed them on exhibition, but
no one came to see them” Then he noted two sales.
the papers of Archbishop John Ireland, who arranged Lewis’s exhibit,
were destroyed after his death. Newspapers
of the time gave us little. We can hope, however, for more
revelations from the Twin Cities.
to the Library of Congress for “Chronicling America” and its
coverage of rare newspapers.
The Saint Paul Appeal, A National Afro-American Newspaper, April
15, confirmed a visit by Edmonia Lewis to Chicago. Perhaps on her last
tour here, she stayed for a time with Mrs. Mary Washington, 2806 Wabash
We previously noted the arrival of "Miss E. Lewis, spinster"
on the Umbria (Cunard) at New York from Liverpool on Sept. 18, 1898. (Cf.
Henderson & Henderson, The Indomitable Spirit … “Brooklyn, New York – 1898”).
Earliest Portrait of Edmonia Lewis
Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) has a copy of the original photo,
part of its uncatalogued Carte de Visite
Collection. Marilyn Richardson reproduced it with her article,
“Taken from Life,”* which is how I came across it. An MHS librarian
kindly looked at it for us and described the logo on back of the photo.
It reads, “Marshall Photographer 147 Tremont St. Boston.”
Hygeia at Mount Auburn
Lewis’s Hygeia is the subject of a Preservation Award to
Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge Ma.
Federal grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)
for a two-year project focusing on the Cemetery's nationally significant
collection of outdoor funerary monuments.
provides the opportunity to study, document, and conduct condition
assessments for thirty of the Cemetery's most significant monuments. The
statue of Hygeia by Edmonia Lewis was
designated as one of these important works of art. In response to
increasingly widespread interest in the Cemetery's artistic monument
collections, the grant will
an online exhibition, website content, a film, public tours, a print
publication, and a one-day seminar. Building upon the documentation and
conditions assessments, the Cemetery is also planning a fundraising
initiative for conservation of the most threatened monuments in the
project started in December, beginning with research and digitization of
by Boston’s first female physician, Harriot K. Hunt (d. 1875),
A Minefield of Misinformation
among my reasons for creating this free web site [www.edmonialewis.com]
was to counter the minefield of misinformation we found on Edmonia Lewis. Widely celebrated in her
time (ca. 1864-1880), she toured the U.S. annually and gave many
interviews to the press, her work was taken up by critics, and a number
of letter writers reported conversations with her. By 1876, as a symbol
more powerful than her Emancipation themes carved in stone, she was the only person of color invited
to exhibit at the Centennial. Yet, her long correspondence
with her brother was not to be found. Few records confirmed her birth and
accounts of her early years. Her last years she shrouded in mystery. Her story has
been an elusive subject for everyone interested in her life.
could understand that 19th-century journalists working under deadline made
errors. Once printed, however, flubs spread worse
than gossip. “Fact checks” by editorial minions did not exist until
the mass-market magazines of the 20th century made them a point of pride.
Moreover, even modern historians missed corrections, such as the Boston
Transcript’s note that Lewis’s plaster portrait of Col. Shaw did
not appear on Nov. 11, 1864, but a few days later and at the National
Sailor’s Fair, not the Colored Soldiers’ Fair.
particular problem is an English writer’s reference to “Greenhigh in
Ohio” as Lewis’s place of birth. Originally titled “A
Negro Sculptress,” the article, which appeared 1866 in the Athenaeum,
was so sensational it was widely reprinted. There is no “Greenhigh in
Ohio!” “Greenbush, NY” appears on her sworn passport application and
is confirmed by references to nearby Albany in various interviews.
“Greenhigh” seems like typographic error combined
with confusion. Misbegotten in 1866, the typo spread like a drug-resistant
germ. Writers also mangled other
names, turning Edmonia into “Edmond,” “Ida-Ida,” “Endora,” “Edmorna,”
and “Demonia” -- even Lewis into “Lexis” and “Edwards.”
One made Wild Fire “Wildflower,” Other artists suffered as
well: Brackett was “Becket,” Tadolini became “Tadile,” Oberlin
became “Oblin.” Full-text OCR conversions of 19th-century publications
added captcha-like challenges to the mess.
not bother looking for a birth certificate. Greenbush Village (now part of
Rensselaer) did not start keeping such records until 1871, according to
local historian Charles Semowich. In the 1880s, a short biographical
article incorrectly gave 1845 as the year of her birth. The error was
repeated by others for more than 100 years. While Lewis
habitually misrepresented her age to sea captains and the press, she left
a sworn passport application with her approximate date of birth: “on or
about July 4, 1844.” A state census taken in May 1865 posted her age as
20, a confirmation of sorts but subject to miscalculation if not examined
her unfair scandals and dismissal, most of Oberlin College’s student files on Lewis
mysteriously disappeared, secretly burned to protect reputations, we suspect. Yet printed catalogs,
other sources remain to prove her enrollment there.
1907, Lewis quietly died as “Mary Lewis, age 42” in London, England.
She was one of
many “Mary Lewis’s” in the death index and of misleading age. Her death notice,
published in London’s weekly Catholic news, cited her origin as Rome
rather than the United States. Uninformed writers carelessly posted
“sightings” in 1909 and 1911, leading to the false death dates that
wormed their way into nearly all catalogs and reference books. Our
discovery of the truth, recounted elsewhere in this blog, was unexpected.
errors must also be noted:
newspapers misreported her first sailing for Europe as August 19,
1865. Yet her passport application was sworn days later, in Boston
on August 21! How
Edmonia Lewis Became an Artist,
Lewis’s promotional pamphlet, which we consider authentic and
accurate on this point, declared she sailed on August 26.
for the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin who wrote she spent her
first twelve years in Michigan
must have confused her with the Indian agent and author, H. R.
Schoolcroft, who inspired Longfellow’s epic poem. Her interviews
clearly refer to New York State and Canada.
Lydia Maria Child erred,
dating their first meeting as 1862 – a year when Lewis was still at
Oberlin – in the Detroit Broken Fetter (1865).
brother, Samuel, was born 1832 in Haiti, but we found no support for
claims that his father was born there or that she was of Haitian
College’s 75th anniversary 1833-1908 posted Lewis as married to an
older graduate who had vanished while she was still a child.
Add to these misdemeanors the
spontaneity that spun new yarn to advance agendas with smartly reasoned
connections. A host of partisans (for and against) used any assertion to
launch misleading, sarcastic, or (to our eyes)
obviously false information. Some recited slurs or accolades as gospel.
credited William Wetmore Story with mentoring her in Rome. Nothing
could be further from the truth.
suggested she carved the government-funded memorial bust of the AME Church
founder, Richard Allen. A well-connected white businessman got the
than errors were false “facts” with an air of malice against her
gender, color, class, and perhaps her religion. A series of false
reports -- $50,000 commissions, marriage, masculine appearance, gruff
voice, etc. -- are noted in the Epilogue, chapter 3 (“Spite”) of The Indomitable Spirit of Edmonia Lewis.
also confess to and apologize for an error based on vagaries of documents
studied in preparation for A History of African American Artists from 1792. Inferences drawn
from Canadian government records pointed to a likely grandfather -- “a
colr man named Lewis” -- who married a Mississauga woman named Mike. Far
too late to adjust that text, we found Jane and Catherine Mike, the
daughters of John and Caty Mike, at ages 15 and 6, respectively, in the
1851 Census. They were obviously too young to have married and borne a
child in 1844.
cannot claim our web site or biography has solved the problem. On August 8, 2008, Google
reported ‘“Greenhigh” + “Edmonia”’ got 30 results. As hardy as
the cockroach, the combination came up 374 times today! It seems growing
numbers of writers feel obliged to keep “Greenhigh” alive.
Hopefully, it also means more people have taken notice of our hero.
A. H. 1/7/14
Hats Off to
the Edmonia Lewis Center on Spirit Day
1862, Edmonia Lewis suffered a near-mortal beating near Oberlin College.
She was the lone colored student, an upper-classman among a dozen
boarders in the home of College founder Rev. John Keep. She had suffered
accusations by two freshman girls from nearby villages, fellow boarders,
of poisoning them with an aphrodisiac as they embarked on a romantic
hayride with two sailors. According to newspapers and other sources, she
had offered them wine before they departed, but she did not drink it
community was divided on the question of her guilt. According to John
Mercer Langston's biography, "The major part of the colored
people themselves ... did pronounce her guilty in advance." At
a hearing in front of two judges, he ably defended her she was acquitted of any crime for lack of
evidence. A year later, more accusations stymied her plans for
graduation as the college’s Lady Principal refused to readmit her for
the summer term. Frustrated, she hung around Oberlin for months, perhaps
hoping for reinstatement. Then she departed as more accusations came her
Lewis was an outsider all her life – but unstoppable thanks to what
one of her fans called her “indomitable spirit.” In spite of a
society that would deny her gifts (as a woman and person of color of low
birth), she opened a sculpture studio in Rome. She returned to the
United States annually with her art, determined to face down every
insult and intimidation – few of which were recorded. Her work today
appears in the collections of major museums and important collectors.
Lewis Center for Women and Transgender People at Oberlin
College was named after the former Oberlin student. It is "a
collective of students, staff, and administrators who strive to
transform existing systems of oppression based on sex, gender, race,
class, sexuality, age, ability, size, religion, nationality, ethnicity,
10/17/13 - A. H.
Bigotry in 19th-Century Rome
New York Times travel section
offers a long article on the Jewish area of Rome, Italy, an ancient
neighborhood decreed a ghetto in 1555 by Pope Paul IV and released in
1870 by Italian unification forces. The article concentrates on
today’s sights and, historically, contrasts horrors of World War II
with delights of today’s tourist attractions.
and working in Rome from 1866, Edmonia Lewis needed concern herself with
ill will toward her color only by Americans. Romans had long focused
upon Jews. Writing in 1868, Levina Buoncuore Urbino,
in An American
Woman in Europe (1869), investigated, disapproved, and described a
litany of restrictions. Many may seem similar to Jim Crow practices.
Some remarks upon the
oppression of the Jews in Rome, and their being obliged to pay a great
part of the expenses of the Carnival, led us to visit their quarters,
and inquire about them. Subsequently we gained the following
1. That they still inhabit the
quarter assigned them by Pope Paul IV in the middle of the sixteenth
century; that in 1847, being petitioned, Pius IX allowed some of them to
remove to the neighboring countries; that said favor was proclaimed to
them from the criminal tribunal.
2. That, in all that pertains
to their religion and exceptional state, they are under the immediate
jurisdiction of the supreme Inquisition.
3. They are not allowed to bear
witness in any civil matter against a Christian.
4. They are forbidden to own
real estate, even as guardians for women and children, within the
quarter assigned them by Paul IV., which, for the most part, is owned by
Catholic institutions and Catholics.
5. The being a Jew excludes
him, by prescription of law, from almost all civil rights, and deprives
him of a scientific, artistic, or literary career. He has no access to
academy, college, or lyceum, and is only admitted to the Roman
university by a special permission, and that by the medical faculty,
after having proved himself accomplished by means of private lessons
from professors duly authorized. When prepared for his profession, the
candidate is forbidden to practise among Christians, notwithstanding
that Sextus V. modified that law admitting Jewish physicians in perilous
times into the pontifical court, and even into the presence of the pope.
One of the most celebrated of these was the Rabbi Samuel Sarfadi,
physician to Pope Julius II.
Recently a scholar, having completed his course and passed his
examination very satisfactorily, received a diploma, but was forbidden
to practise among Christians, not only in Rome, but throughout all the
Ecclesiastical States. In 1805 and 1806 an Israelitish youth was
admitted to a course of mathematics in the university by a special favor
of the sovereign pontiff.
6. In addition to the
above, the Jew may not practise any art, nor have any profession; so
that he is absolutely reduced to obtain his living by trading. They are
stigmatized as a nation of merchants. What else can they be in Rome ?
7. The Jewish poor are not admitted into any of the benevolent
institutions of Rome, neither are they allowed to share in labors
destined to alleviate misery. The reigning pontiff, in the first years
of his pontificate, granted an annuity of three hundred dollars for the
relief of poor Israelites; but still they are forced either to collect
and sell rags and old clothes to gain a scanty livelihood, or become a
burden to their friends. The indigent poor who are succored by their
friends, above and beyond the pope's favor of three hundred dollars,
amount to twenty-two hundred, or about half the Jewish population.
8. Notwithstanding their limited means of support, the Jews are forced
to pay heavy taxes. These, and many other grievances, were told us by
those whose want of means alone prevented their leaving a home of
oppression, injustice, and injury.
7/14/2013 - A.H.
frustrating lines of inquiry concerned proposed commissions, such as a
soldiers’ memorial for Manchester VT and a memorial to John Brown,
Edmonia’s great hero, in Chicago. The latter we mentioned in our book.
Our investigation of the soldiers’ memorial for Manchester (Rutland
VT Daily Globe, Mar. 24, 1874) found Larkin G. Mead was also
interested (Daily Globe, Nov. 6, 1874) in the commission.
years later, a news story announced, “Six Knights Templar from our
village joined the procession at Manchester last week at the dedication
of the soldiers’ monument,” (Brattleboro Phoenix, Sept. 19,
1879). Unfortunately, details continue to elude us. The work of Italian
marble (initially proposed) may have deteriorated under harsh weather
conditions. And why Italian marble, when Vermont has an abundant supply?
Edmonia received the commission, her work must be lost. A granite figure
credited to local businessman W. H. Fullerton, erected in 1897 and
dedicated in 1905, stands on the Manchester VT town green, according to The
Mighty Fallen: Our Nation’s Greatest War Memorials, by Larry Bond
and f-stop Fitzgerald, HarperCollins, 2007.
-- A.H. 5/26/13
quirky when answering the public and the press is a defensive means to
deflect scrutiny and assert control. In recent times, Bob Dylan, the
Beatles, and others seemed to take pride in shooting down sincere (but
sometimes poorly worded) questions.
an ‘outsider’ wary of the press, but needing publicity, Edmonia
sometimes played the ‘noble savage.’ She emphasized her orphaned
childhood and early years among the Indians and earned the nickname
‘Indian girl.’ In Rome, 1866, she told the Englishman who
interviewed her, “I was … sent to school for three years in M’Graw,
but was declared to be wild – they could do nothing with me. Often
they said to me, ‘Here is your book, the book of Nature; come and
her record at New York Central College, McGraw NY, reflected good
behavior and earnest attention to her studies.
date at top of page
term 1858 Academics
term 1858 Academics
The New York Central College register of students from 1854 –
1858, Courtesy of Mary Kimberly, village historian, Village of McGraw,
Information is fundamental to discovery. Here are a
few more interesting dead ends from our investigations, published here
in hope of saving other researchers time and energy:
Mary E. Lewis was recorded by New York
Central College and Oberlin College records. (She emerged from Oberlin
College as Edmonia Lewis.)
Alaine Locke, in
The Negro in Art, suggested Edmonia Lewis was adopted from an
orphanage. She spoke often of losing her parents, and orphanages
were essential to a compassionate society. Oberlin College listed
her coming from New York City. The 1850 census shows a Mary E.
Lewis, 12 years of age (born about 1838 and therefore too old), at
the Colored Orphan Asylum, run by Quakers, in New York City. Its
records, now at the New York Historical Society, show her as Mary
Elizabeth Lewis indentured as a servant in Pennsylvania in 1853 –
confirmed by the 1860 census, where she appears as Elizabeth Lewis.
Mary Lewis appeared in the 1850 census as one of two servants living
with the young family of Abraham J. VanWinkle in New York City. At
age 13, she was also too old to be our subject
The 1860 US
census of Oberlin OH did not count students, thus Mary (as she
called herself then) does not appear in the large Keep household
even though she lived there throughout the year.
Neither the 1850
US nor the 1851 Canadian census has any record of our subject or her
brother. We believe she and her brother were living on tribal lands
in upstate New York, ignored by the census, at the time.
Capt. Mills looked after young Mary,
before she went to New York Central College
S. R. Mills, mentioned by her brother in his autobiographical essays,
remains another mystery. No such person appears in the 1840, 1850 or
1860 U.S. Census. The 1851-1852 Canadian Census lists three unlikely
possibilities on the Niagara Peninsula.
A 52-year old
Baptist farmer named Samuel Mills living with his family in
Brantford, Ontario (located near the modern Iroquois and Chippewa
settlements), on the Niagara peninsula.
A 52-year old
Methodist farmer named Sela Mills living with his large family in
nearby Norfolk County.
A 46-year old
Sam’l Mills, no occupation given by the census, with five Canadian
born children, a U.S.-born wife named Aurora, and three foreign-born
Catholic servants in St. George’s ward. None of the records lists
religious affiliations of the two farmers, Baptist and Methodist, do not
mesh with Edmonia’s assertions that “black robes” taught her
prayers before she moved to Albany. The third family, of Samuel Mills
(1806-1874), cites the Church of England, a possible alternative to the
Roman rite – but not to “black robes,” meaning Jesuits, that were
important to Edmonia. As a wealthy businessman, politician and bank
president, he also seems unlikely to have taken in and schooled
scholarly monograph of the past was incomplete without an “errata and
addenda” – cryptic entries printed on a slip of paper and
hand-inserted to challenge readers, booksellers, and library binders to
find and secure it. Whatever happened to this custom? There is always
some new finding.
we add a late citation, with comment, by blog, to The
Indomitable Spirit of Edmonia Lewis.
to note 581:
(TN) Daily Appeal, Local
Paragraphs, Oct. 19, 1876, 4: “Edmonia Lewis, the colored sculptor of
this country, has presented the Fisk university with terra cotta
busts of John Brown, Charles Sumner, and H. W. Longfellow. For some time
she has been in Rome, but is now in Philadelphia, attending the
exhibition of some of her statuary at the exposition.”
on the set of terra-cotta colored busts at Wilberforce University and a
letter by Edmonia to Samuel Chapman Armstrong at Hampton University, it
seems likely that Edmonia sent many more letters in 1876, that many sets
of fragile busts were presented, and most were lost. We had surveyed all
the historically black schools founded before 1876 without further
result. Thanks to the Library of Congress’s Chronicling America
program, we can add Fisk to the list of confirmed one-time owners of
Feb. 11, 2013
Celebrated Emancipation Three Times
first ideal group was to be executed under a promise for some gentlemen
in Boston, and, in the true spirit of a heroine, she has selected for
her subject ‘The Freedwoman on first hearing of her Liberty.’
She has thrown herself on her knees, and, with clasped hands and
uplifted eyes, she blesses God for her redemption. Her boy, ignorant of
the cause of her agitation, hangs over her knees and clings to her
waist. She wears the turban which was used when at work. Around her
wrists are the half-broken manacles, and the chain lies on the ground
attached to a large ball. ‘Yes,’ she observed, ‘so was my race
treated in the market and elsewhere.’ It tells, with much eloquence, a
dispute arose with her biggest booster in New England, Lydia Maria
Child. Mrs Child was one of several women to whom Lewis sent photographs
of her work. "The Freedwoman" was not seen again and was
rarely mentioned in later interviews. Edmonia went on to a second
Emancipation vision, which we now know as Forever Free. The
unfortunate conflict with Mrs. Child continued. Forever
Free found a home in
Boston without Mrs. Child's blessing. It is owned today by Howard
University in Washington DC.
third Emancipation theme was “Hagar,” the Biblical slave who was
freed to wander in the wilderness with her child. According to
interviews at the time, the work portrays the destitute woman as she met
the angel that saved her. By this time, Mrs. Child and Lewis were
estranged. The original work was destroyed in the 1871 Chicago Fire. A
copy dated 1875, and other works by Lewis, may be visited at the Smithsonian
American Art Museum in Washington DC.
is much more research into, reflection on, and appreciation of Lewis's
engagement with her heritage in our
A.H. Jan. 23, 2013
the year, I would like to acknowledge and express my appreciation for
stimulating comments, suggestions, answers, tweets, and other
encouragement. Good wishes and sincere interest mean more than I can
express in these few words. Thanks to: J. Adams, “AfricanBurialGround,”
N. Anderson, M. L. Ausfeld, J. Walker-Bickett, Black Artist News, C.
Clark, R. Cloud, S. Colyer, J. Copeland, M. R. Daniel, M. M. DeMenna, A.
C. DePietro, D. C. Driskell, V. P. Franklin, W. Freyer, N. Freeman, L.
M. Gilbert, C. Griswold, G. Gurney, J. Hartman, D. Hausler, A. H.
Hearth, E. Henderson, T. Henderson, History Detectives, J. Jefferson, E.
Johnston, E. Kahn, “Keri @ AWH,” T. Leininger-Miller, H. LeVine, “LiteraryWomen,”
J. Lockard, R. Makoumbou, A. Manuel, A. Meridith, National Women’s
History Museum, Native Encyclopedia, C. A. Nelson, Newark Museum, S.
Orndorff, B. and E. Osborn, M. W. Panhorst, Pequot Museum, “PublishedAuthors,”
Reynolda House, M. Richardson, J. Robinson, T. Sanders, J. Serwer, J.
Smiley, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and
Culture, F. Stewart, S. S. Sundman, S. Sweeney, J. Thorn, Ungaro, Walker
Art Gallery, C. B. Wilson, Women Organized Now, D. Yaron, P. Young. My
sincere apologies to anyone I may have overlooked.
Albert and Joseph Henderson, first published in Swann Galleries, 100
Fine Works on Paper including the Harry B. Henderson Collection of
Important Works by Romare Bearden, Sept. 15, 2005, opposite lot 66.
Harry and Romie were members of the
generation that grew up with ‘the War to End all Wars,’ the Roaring
20s, the Depression, the Ku Klux Klan, the WPA, World War II, the Cold
War, and the Civil Rights Movement. Like Romie, Harry had a wide
spectrum of interests and enthusiasms. When photographer Sam Shaw
introduced them, their affinity for each other was immediate. Both had
come to New York City from rural America in order to take part in the
mainstream. Both were fascinated with the social, economic, and cultural
developments of the time. Both liked to reflect in their work what they
heard and saw as well as to share their own ideas and interpretations.
While Romie struggled as an artist, Harry survived from article to essay
as a freelance writer for popular magazines.*
1969, Romie recruited Harry to coauthor a ‘History of Negro Artists in
America,’ based on “research, information and discussion carried out
together as much as possible.” For the two decades that followed,
Harry went to Romie’s studio every Wednesday night to review the work
in progress. In those early days of the discovery of African-Americans
by the media, they easily convinced Doubleday to take the project,
subject to the quick delivery of a ‘lite’ version. Six Black
Masters of American Art was published without fanfare in 1973
for Doubleday’s Zenith Books. The authors were disappointed to find
this imprint was aimed at the school library market and rarely appeared
in general outlets. Although Doubleday lost interest in the project,
they continued correspondence, library research, interviews, and
writing. They moved the project to Pantheon in early 1988. In 1993 their
landmark tome was finally published as A
History of African American Artists, five years after Romie had
passed away. Harry continued to uncover new details of the legendary 19th
century sculptor, Edmonia Lewis who was the subject of their third book.
Harry and Romie thought it would “be published without much
trouble.” Harry passed away in 2003. Unfortunately, it remains
reflect the resonance that animated their relationship. For example, in
1949 Romie wrote to Harry, “I read what you had to say about my work
with great interest, and my own feeling is that you’re about half
right. That is … your appraisal of the superficial elements in the
last work you saw is something with which I must now agree; however, I
believe that this feeling was due not such [sic] much to my having
eschewed certain positive, and socially meaningful themes, as it was for
a searching to grasp painterly certitude within that means. I can’t
help but feel that the great power of the painter lies in his ability to
show – and not to depict. While I confined this assertion to painting,
isn’t it true that the ‘Grapes of Wrath,’ ‘Native Son,’ and
other novels of such a character are less interesting to us now than
when they were published – and enjoyed a certain relevance in relation
to the social patterns of their times…. And now, I [am] inclined more
and more to believe that the serious artist, still attempting this
moribund craft of easel painting, will forsake all illustratory
The Indomitable Spirit
of Edmonia Lewis, published in Sepember 2012 near the
anniversaries of Romie’s and Harry’s birth dates.
"L'Edmonia" awarded in Brussels
to Star du Congo, Dec, 6, 2012, "L'Edmonia," an arts award
named after Edmonia Lewis by L’association Reines et Héroïnes d’Afrique
(Association for the Queens and Heroines of Africa), was awarded to
36-year old Congolese artist Rhode
assigned to the Afro-descendant
sculptor or painter
who works by her
attempts to raise awareness
of Africa in general,
or the lives of Africans
in the Diaspora,"
the promoters of this new award.
MORE, from ECAir
Makoumbou was a precocious artist. She was only 8 years old when she
became familiar to painting alongside her father, painter David
Makoumbou. Whereas at first the family studio was a playground for the
young girl, she quickly acquired an artistic disposition and developed a
passion for art. For all that, following her parents’ advice, she
didn’t give up her studies and undertook training as a journalist but
had to abandon it during the civil war (from 1997 to 1999).
In 2000, Rhode
Bath-Schéba Makoumbou returned to her first love: art. In order to
‘make a name for herself,’ she left her native Congo for Gabon, then
France, and finally Belgium where she now lives most of the time.
Leaving one’s country doesn’t mean disowning one’s roots, on the
contrary. If from 2003 Rhode became an internationally recognized
artist, she did so by asserting her African identity. She uses a knife
for painting, which enables her to achieve the thickness sought. As a
sculptress, she uses a metal structure covered with fabric on which she
applies a mixture of sawdust and wood glue. Her monumental structures
– some three metres high – are greatly influenced by traditional
African sculpture. Observant of the African way of life and mores, this
artist succeeds in rendering the light which is so specific to the
continent. Her sculptures, representing small trades which are dying
out, also reflect Congo’s social and cultural background. Western art
is not a closed book to Rhode Bath-Schéba Makoumbou and she admits
being influenced by realist, cubist and expressionist art.
The artist is
resolutely optimistic and her work imparts her values to the public.
Notably, she invites the youth of Africa not to give up and calls for
greater equality between men and women. The African woman, strong and
struggling daily to secure her children’s future – that is Rhode
Bath-Schéba Makoumbou’s prime source of inspiration. There is no
question of toning down her cultural identity. Rhode rebels against
standardisation of the art market. She sees herself as an authentic
African and ‘needs to know where she comes from in order to apprehend
the future better.’
Dead Ends I?
do we publish only the positive results of our research? “Positive”
is where the excitement is, of course, and positive results are what
most readers want to read.
what about the researchers – like me? I have lost count of the costs
of drilling down on dead ends. For example:
Edmonia Lewis’s grave in Rome, based on bogus reports published by
lazy writers and editors 100 years ago, was a complete waste. I
wasn’t the only one on that wild goose chase.
At one time, we
queried parish records in New York, New Jersey, and Canada. Many
archivists kindly searched their records, finding nothing. Others
advised me of records lost. We also found parish microfilms online,
enabling searches not only of baptisms but of deaths, looking for
anyone named “Lewis.”
deduced that Edmonia’s parents were not Catholic. Their
baptisms and deaths were thus unlikely to appear in parish records,
even though Edmonia referred to “black robes” of her childhood.
A member of the
black-robed “black Franciscans” in Rensselaer NY made the point
that his order did not come to the United States until after 1850.
Thus Franciscans could not be confused with the Jesuit missionaries
who taught Edmonia prayers.
Archivio del storico del Vicariato nor we were able to find any
record of Edmonia’s adult baptism in Rome. Some other diocese must
have a record. We applied to likely suspects, Venice and Sorrento,
but neither replied.
what extent did these fruitless searches follow in the footsteps of
others? It doesn’t matter. I hope this short article and other notes
will save other researchers valuable time.
– A. H. Nov. 30, 2012
and Apple Pie
Not surprisingly, friends and
family turned to “Real books” versus E-books after Thanksgiving
dinner this year. One after another said, in effect, “I don’t want
e-books. I like real books!”
Unhappily, we worried over the
sea changes in reading and buying behaviors. E-books are outselling
paperbacks. People with smartphones and other devices are downloading on
the fly and carrying dozens of books wherever they go. The Borders
chain, which had no foothold in e-books, closed hundreds of bookstores
and went out of business last year. The other big booksellers, Barnes
& Noble and Amazon.com, each have major investments in digital
readers. Why do we resist the inevitable?
I get it, of course. Not long
ago, I was squarely in the “real books” camp. I was born during the
Great Depression and raised to appreciate the simple life. I prefer the
familiar over the new, the commonplace to the novelty, and simple
mechanics rather than technology I don’t understand. I am also partial
manual transmission in a car,
photos and movies.
I keep my old Webster’s
New Collegiate Dictionary within arm’s reach. I can get a fair
definition more quickly online, but I tend to doubt the quality. My
office bookshelves, double deep floor to ceiling, barely leave room for doors and windows. Where would I put the dozens of books I read online?
Google Books offers full-text searches that help me find the books I
need, but with a “real book” I can keep a finger in the notes or
index as I gloss the text. I also get irritated with reading
‘portrait’-shaped pages with my ‘landscape’ computer screen. If
I really like a book that I find online, I will buy and add it to
my sagging shelves.
We cannot judge the promise of
e-books by old PDF files. Unlike ill-fitting scans of old tomes, the
“pure” e-book – made for the Kindle, the Nook, the Adobe Digital
Reader, etc, – fits the screen perfectly. They free your
finger-in-the-back-of-the-book as hyperlinks take you from text to note
and back with a click or two. You can annotate your copy (without
guilt), search for a word or phrase, and pull up a dictionary definition
with ease. The technology allows you to change the type size, lend your
copy, or borrow from a library.
The migration to e-books is not
like a choice of canned fruit over fresh. I learned to type on a
hand-me-down Royal portable, and my hands are stronger for it. Years
ago, however, I gave up the Royal (not to mention the white-out
correction fluid) when I learned how to use WordStar on an Osborne with
the CP/M operating system. I put the dear old Royal in a corner for a
while and finally took it to the dump. Eventually I also upgraded my
hardware and software. With little effort and no middlemen, I can now
publish on the Internet or in an online bookstore.
The past can be convincing as
prolog. Today’s Holy Bible originally existed as hand-written
scrolls rather than as mechanically-produced books. As a Jew, Jesus
Christ must have meant a scroll, not a book, when he referred to
scripture. Jews still use such scrolls for religious services. Yet,
Christians abandoned the scroll early on. They still apply words like
“biblio” [from the Greek βιβλίο]
and “volume” [from the Latin volvere (to roll)] when talking
and writing about books, even e-books.
Like Moore’s Law (that the
number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles periodically) the
technology of bookmaking has a record of exponential progress. The
“real” book took about three thousand years to develop from the
first handwritten scrolls. Another fifteen hundred years passed before
Gutenberg gave us the concept of mechanical printing. Now, about five
hundred years later, the e-book is here and claiming huge successes,
particularly with the younger generation. Few bibliophiles mourn the
Despite my stated preferences
for the familiar over the new, I don’t consider myself a hypocrite as
I drive a car with automatic transmission and enjoy recorded
performances – mostly in color. I spent decades years in the business
of publishing: dealing with printers, binders, warehouses, shippers,
booksellers, customs brokers, the postal service, and so on. Our new
e-books bypass all that, with savings in cost so huge they let us cut
retail prices by two thirds. More than that, they are virtually
weightless, collect no dust, will never go out-of-print, and will never
sag a shelf.
How could a reasonable person
argue against all that?
Please pass the pie.
– A. H. Nov. 23, 2012
Trivia- The Colored Soldiers
Most historical references point to Nov. 11, 1864, as
the date Edmonia Lewis’s historic plaster bust of Col. Robert Gould Shaw
launched her reputation as a portraitist at the Colored Soldiers’ Fair in Boston. After all, the Boston
Transcript raved about Lewis's work on that date.
the Colored Soldiers Fair, which was organized by the wife of colored
painter Edward M. Bannister, had occurred in mid-October. The story
in the Transcript (and later in the Liberator) was about the
National Sailors' Fair.
Nov. 14, the Transcript
published a correction, noting that production problems had delayed its
John Greenleaf Whittier, in a letter to Lydia Maria Child, noted he had
seen the bust that she had spoken to him about at the colored fair.
"It struck me as very excellent." We suggest Nov. 15 be
memorialized as the first public appearance of Edmonia Lewis's portrait
bust of Col. Shaw.
eventually sold (and gave away) 100 copies of the Shaw bust and received
commissions for other portraits, including Maria Weston Chapman, Horace
Mann, 'Dio' Lewis, and others.
National Sailors' Fair raised $247,000 to build a home for disabled
seamen. Whittier was on its editorial board and contributed a poem
titled 'The Boatswain's Whistle."
– A.H. Nov. 15, 2012,
Dec. 28, 2012
Everywhere in America, there seem to be people
named “Lewis” (first or last name) if not “Luis” or “Louis.”
It is a database searcher’s nightmare. Few are colored (usually noted
in 19th-century records), and fewer yet have a “Mary” and
“Samuel” in the same family – Edmonia’s father and brother both
were named “Samuel.” Edmonia's first name, rarely used after 1862,
was "Mary." Thankfully, the name “Edmonia” was relatively
Despite considerable efforts to uncover Edmonia
Lewis’s family tree, both online and off, most of it remains a
mystery. She visited with her brother in Boston, Chicago, somewhere west
of St. Paul, and probably Philadelphia. But she did not provide his name
or introduce him to anyone on the record. Discovery of his identity
seems miraculously connected to Haiti, the birthplace he kept secret
most of his life, as discussed in our
book. His autobiographical articles led us to her father, who, in
turn led us to Hannah Lewis, a likely earlier generation, in Newark, NJ.
Some database results remain of interest. Perhaps
more research will turn up clear connections. I can offer the interested
reader two examples:
“Hannah Lewis” appeared with "Samuel
Lewis," the name of Edmonia’s father, in Newark, NJ, as discussed
book. In a later (1860) census, Hannah S. Lewis – age 85 and
credited with real estate valued at $1200, personal property valued at
$100 – appeared at a Newark NJ house (but in a separate apartment
from) James H. Newman, age 25, who operated a store, and his
wife, also Hannah, 24. Because Edmonia and her brother made no further
reference to New Jersey, we did not follow up.
The 1850 census of Syracuse NY, where [Mary]
Edmonia stopped several times, is intriguing. The daughter of Fortune
Lewis was named “Mary” (age 3; born in Syracuse). Next door, the
family of Charley Lewis included another “Mary” (age 17;
birthplace not given) and a “Samuel” (age 22). Several of Charley's
children were born in New Jersey. Is it possible Edmonia was related to
this family of basket weavers through her father’s New Jersey traces?
Names often repeat within a family tree. Again, we did not pursue this
A more elusive reference to her aunt at Niagara
Falls is so vague it is unhelpful. Although Whitney (Dec. 12, 1869)
understood one aunt, “her old Aunt – her mother’s sister.” An
interview quotation (Daily Graphic), however, went plural, “My
Indian aunts took care of me.”
Or were there faults in transcriptions? “Aunt”
is a title often generously applied. Could her aunt(s) have not been
related by blood? Or did totem, a Chippewa form of kinship, play a part?
Edmonia understood her brother had been in touch with her aunt(s), but
they did not share her Chippewa mother.
Edmonia passed through the Albany and Niagara
regions on her way to Chicago, etc. She could have stopped many times,
but she reported only one visit with her aunt(s). We lack the maiden
name of Edmonia’s mother and no source tells us more. We contacted
many archivists in the Albany and Niagara regions, looking for school,
baptismal, and burial records that might have given up such information.
We found nothing.
Further inquiries seem impossible.
But, then, relatives may turn up when least
– A.H. Nov. 1, 2012
Hats off to the Edmonia Lewis
Center on Spirit Day, 2012
Lewis Center for Women and Transgender People at Oberlin College,
named after Mary Edmonia Lewis, is "a collective of students,
staff, and administrators who strive to transform existing systems of
oppression based on sex, gender, race, class, sexuality, age, ability,
size, religion, nationality, ethnicity, and language."
Oct. 19, 2012
Tremont Temple - Oct.
In January 1864, Lydia Maria Child met Edmonia Lewis at Tremont
Temple in Boston, where abolitionists -- white and African-American --
were celebrating the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Mrs. Child reported their meeting that February, in effect introducing
the "colored sculptor" to the readers of William Lloyd
Garrison's Liberator. The following year, she expanded the
interview for a Detroit newspaper.
Mrs. Child's enthusiasm was as unpredictable as the weather. Her
private letters and public essays reflect deep conflicts, one day joy,
another day remorse. She tried to stall Edmonia's ambition, first
objecting to the plan to memorialize the martyred Col. Robert Gould Shaw
-- later praising her work. She remarked kindly on a photo (sent from
Rome) of The Freedwoman and her Child in the New York
Independent but opposed raising money to put it into marble. Months
later, seeing a photo of Forever Free, she clearly praised it in
the Independent but complained rather bitterly about it when it
arrived in Boston.
Oct 18, 1869: After more than a year of controversy, Edmonia Lewis
returned to Boston and received honors
at Boston's Tremont Temple with the presentation of Forever
Free to Rev. Leonard Grimes. Grimes was a leading black
abolitionist and pastor of the 'Fugitive Slave Church.' He had
transported many fugitive slaves to safety and, when caught, spent time
in a Richmond jail. Attending the
reception were Rev. J. D. Fulton, Rev. Robert C. Waterston, William Lloyd
Garrison, William Craft and William Wells Brown. Not reported in attendance:
Mrs. Child and her dear friends, Wendell Phillips and Mr. and Mrs. Samuel E.
Ten years earlier on this date, John Brown had stormed the arsenal at
Harpers Ferry, hoping to start a slave rebellion. He was vilified and
hanged for his trouble.
(now at Howard University) is the earliest surviving Emancipation
work by an African-American artist.
By the time Forever Free arrived in Boston, Edmonia had
started her third and final symbolic Emancipation work, Hagar
(a version dated 1875 can be seen in the Smithsonian American Art
Museum). She sent a photo to Mrs. Child, but she had little hope of
restoring the support she once enjoyed.
More on all this in The
Indomitable Sprit of Edmonia Lewis, A Narrative Biography.
Searching for the Last Days.
Sept 30, 2012
The 100-year mystery of Edmonia Lewis’s disappearance can
be documented by the notices posted by her fans seeking her whereabouts, as discussed in
book. Her brother’s
will put her in Paris in 1896. Our last reliable record dated from 1901,
the English census, which found her living in the Bloomsbury area of
central London – a fact not widely known even today.
Countless 20th-century researchers looked for
traces of her in Rome, based on “sightings” now known to be false.
For decades, my father and I joined in, each of us going there, but also
hiring local researchers to look through Italian, French, and English
records at considerable expense. We found only more rumors. As more
vital records became available online and produced nothing, it seemed she must
have been lost at sea, while traveling rural America, or in some other
Imagine my excitement on the morning of Nov.
2, 2010, when I found a reference to “LEWIS, Mary Edmonia” in the
National Probate Calendar of England and Wales, a pay-per-view database
run by the British arm of Ancestry.com. It continued, “of 154
Blythe-road, Hammersmith Middlesex spinster died 17 September 1907 at
the Hammersmith-borough-infirmary Goldhawk-road Hammersmith
Probate London 12 November to the reverend Charles Cox clerk Effects £489
0s. 6d.” [“Middlesex
spinster” was a county that included Hammersmith and Fulham.]
We had seen “LEWIS, Mary” many times over in
the English death index, but never “LEWIS, Mary Edmonia.” It made little sense
to me that our subject could be in the probate index but not
in the other. I needed to verify just who this was.
Over the next few days, I contacted the Diocese of
Westminster in London, the Hammersmith & Fulham Archives (who kindly
directed me to the London Metropolitan Archives), Catholic cemeteries,
the Holy Trinity church in Hammersmith, and other potential sources of
information. Not all responded, as is so often the case with
long-distance inquiries about matters of historical interest.
However, results were more than satisfactory.
Within a month, at the cost of $8.10 for a draft in British pounds plus
a bank fee of $15.00, I had a copy of the will. I also obtained a copy
of the official death certificate. A page from a microfilm of the
Hammersmith Infirmary (no longer in existence) register of deaths cited
“Lewis, Mary” age 42, etc. on the date in question.
I had searched the England & Wales, Death
Index: 1837-1915 online and, earlier, in 2006, paid £44.50 for someone else
to search the records 1901 through 1940. No one could assure me that the
index included all deaths. Curiously, it listed the death of “Lewis, Mary,
42” at Fulham, rather than Hammersmith, on the date in question. A
patient English archivist explained over the telephone the obscure
administrative reasons why this had been done.
I also studied maps and other documents that could
provide information about the neighborhood, and I looked into the
people, such as Rev. Charles Cox, churches, and other places of relevant
interest. What I found was often interesting but not always of specific
interest to Edmonia Lewis’s life and art. I also traced a number of leads that appeared to be
of minor value.
> Google maps could take me
“street level” to the neighborhoods, some of which have
obviously changed a lot since 1907 -- others not so much.
> Rev. Cox lived near Our Lady of Victories church
in Kensington with two other priests, and three women: a cook, a parlourmaid, and a
housemaid, according to the 1901 census.
> According to the 1891 census, 154 Blythe Road had
20 residents in five households. The 1901 census described it as a
private house with 11 rooms and seven householders, many with the last
> A flat at 156a Blythe Road, which today appears in the same row
of seemingly identical houses as number 154, was for sale at the time. The
agent verified it was
"Victorian," built around the early 1900s. She sent a
description: 544 sq. ft. with a floor plan and some photos of the one
bedroom, reception room, kitchen, and patio garden. Obviously, the
kitchen and bathroom were modernized after World War II, but I
thought it comparable to many London flats I had seen.
> The cause of death given by the Hammersmith
Infirmary journal, “Bright thaemia,” was not rare then, but the term is archaic jargon today, according to the Wellcome Library in London.
> Wikipedia offers a list of notable deaths credited to
> The diocesan archivist could give me some history about Rev.
Charles Cox (1853-1916), a serious musician who served at Our Lady of
Victories at the time Edmonia wrote her will, but they
had nothing on the bulk of the Lewis estate, which was left to Rev. Cox.
Cox was credited with clearing the church's debt, and the Lewis bequest
may have helped.
> Lewis's personal effects and a small sum went to neighbor Virginia Lucy Gerres,
daughter of a German baker, who died unmarried in 1957 with an estate
By mid-December, with the aid of an earnest
librarian at one of the great American Catholic universities, I obtained
a copy of the official death notice published in The
The will specified, "I wish that on my decease
the usual preparations for burial may be carried out under the
supervision of a Catholic Nun and that my body be enclosed in a dark
walnut coloured coffin." It continued, "I desire that a
funeral service e carried out over my body in the Catholic Church of Our
Lady of Victories Kensington prior to its interment and that the body be
carried to the Kensal Green Catholic Cemetery on a hearse that shall be
draped so as to completely cover the coffin from view. I desire further
that my body be followed to the grave by two Catholic Nuns in a
Mary's Roman Catholic Cemetery at Kensal Green (also known as Kensal
Rise) is a 29 acre site up the hill from the much larger Kensal Green
Cemetery. St. Mary's did not reply to my several inquiries.
certificate, notice, and the will written in 1905 tell us that we
have the correct Mary Lewis. It seems clear that she covered her tracks
– but not why. Thanks to the thoroughness of English record-keeping
and the emergence of online databases, we finally know essential facts.
I had intended to hold this discovery for
publication of The
Indomitable Sprit of Edmonia Lewis, A Narrative Biography, which at the time
was under review by a traditional publisher. After seeing a press
release dated Jan 9, 2011, by Marilyn Richardson (who is also
preparing a biography of Edmonia Lewis), I decided she was right. I
published the documents and a
brief commentary the next day on www.edmonialewis.com rather than prolong the
agony for others by forcing them to replicate my work.
There is much more about Edmonia Lewis’s last
days in our book, of course, the
various places she lived, and the institutions and people who seemingly
played a role in her life.
an effort to counter 150 years of errors, confusion, and meanness, I
made a free web site filled with facts, links, quotations, and news of
auctions and museum acquisitions: “Edmonia Lewis: First
Internationally Acclaimed African-American Sculptor,” at
www.edmonialewis.com. I am pleased to report the number of visitors has
steadily risen each year. I encourage readers of this biography* to
check the site for copies of documents and other useful information as
well as to register to receive notice of
“Edmonia Lewis News” via email."
Indomitable Sprit of Edmonia Lewis, A Narrative Biography)
Last updated 05/01/2014
© 2012 A.K.H.