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#Tweet Edmonia Lewis's biographer @andthatrhymeswi
West of Kensington on London’s outskirts, a colony of Catholics likely attracted
her attention. At Brook Green, Hammersmith, an agricultural area, the community
had set up a church, several schools, a convent of teaching sisters, and an almshouse.
A mansion called Bute House stood nearby, suggesting some involvement of
Edmonia’s patron. Of most interest, given Edmonia’s history, would have been St.
Mary’s orphanage for girls next to the large gothic church.
Edmonia took a room ten minutes away in a three-story Victorian brick house at
154 Blythe Road, one of many that lined the north side of the street. She boarded
there, a mile and a half from her church, until, diagnosed with chronic Bright’s
disease (of the kidneys), she fell into a coma and died.
The official record of Edmonia’s death misstates her age and fails to use the name connected with her celebrity.
She was actually sixty-three years old.
Her death notice appeared in the Catholic weekly, The Tablet [see below]. Printed in a tiny
font and crowded into a page full of bold advertisements, it was as brief as it was humble:
LEWIS – On the 17th inst. at Hammersmith, Mary Edmonia Lewis, formerly of 7, Via Gregoriana, Rome. R.I.P.
The reference to Rome has some meaning for Catholics, but it misleads as to her origin. Why
was there no mention of her native land? Her will and her death certificate noted she was a
sculptor, but the notice did not. The editors failed to recognize her celebrity and the news
Her will specified a Catholic funeral and burial at Kensal Green, London. It named a Catholic
priest as her executor and main beneficiary. At the time of her death her estate was worth
about sixty thousand of today's dollars.
Was the age "42" an error or a joke? To mislead a bureaucrat about a one’s age was one of the
delights she shared with Hosmer and other members of the sisterhood. When someone
accepted her age less ten or twenty, she had something to laugh and smile about with friends.
Meanwhile, it is time for us to smile. We found her last days to be peaceful and prosperous.
Let us celebrate her lasting triumphs. As poet Vivian Shipley hoped,
“If her grave were found and marked today
the tombstone would have no hyphen, one title: SCULPTOR.”
A further eulogy came from sculptor Denise Ward Brown.
"If I could talk to her, I would just say 'thank you' and let her
know that every African American artist knows her name.
She did not live, she did not work in vain."
(cf. Blog: Searching for the Last Days)
Below: The death notice enlarged. The original page is roughly letter-size and difficult to read.
First posted Jan. 10, 2011 .
More detail appears in The Indomitable Sprit of Edmonia Lewis, A Narrative Biography, by Harry Henderson and Albert Henderson.
© 2011 A.K.H