Edmonia Lewis (c) A. Henderson      

NOW AVAILABLE: The Indomitable Spirit of Edmonia Lewis. A Narrative Biography,  by Harry Henderson (co-author of A History of African American Art from 1792 to the Present) and Albert Henderson, winner of the eLit GOLD award: "Illuminating Digital Publishing Excellence." Independent Opinion:  "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’s 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." - Kirkus Reviews. "Thank you so much for your excellent research ... Your work on Edmonia Lewis will be used for many years to come by scholars, art historians, art collectors and anyone interested in knowing more about this outstanding woman"  - Dr. Sheryl Colyer.  "Lewis’s story is all at once interesting and sad. Her life, while forgotten for a while is now making a come back among art historians and this immense work helps to secure her artistic legacy." Lifelong Dewey   "A key acquisition for any arts or African-American history holding. The authors' attention to precise scholarship provides all the details of a solid linear history and biography but the end result is anything but dry: it reads with the passion and drama of good literature." Midwest Book Review  "A definitive biography" Washington Times  "5.0 of 5 stars" - Links Goodreads

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Three Words


Nature / Nurture


St. Louis Globe






Discovery News 

Earliest Portrait


A Minefield of Misinformation

Spirit Day 2013

Bigotry in Rome

Phantom Memorial

Jeri Walker-Bickett Interview

McGraw Records

Dead Ends II

HBCU Marketing

Emancipation Themes

Thanks for 2012

Bearden & Henderson

"L'Edmonia" Award

Dead Ends I

E-books and Apple Pie

The Colored Soldiers Fair

Family Tree

Spirit Day, 2012

Tremont Temple - Oct. 18, 1869

Searching for the Last Days


BLOG - Searching for Edmonia Lewis

Three words - The 1890 US Census

Three words – “mulatto,” “quadroon,” and “octoroon,” each defining fractions of African blood – made their way into the official 1890 U. S. census form. The idea was that the survey would provide new proof of white advantage in statistical form.[ 710] There was no plan. The data defied analysis in spite of the new Hollerith system with punch cards and electric tabulation machines.

The honest details of forebears, however, threatened a forest of family trees. The 1890 data barely endured fires in 1896 and 1921. The records finally vanished, destroyed without a blink in 1933 as “papers no longer necessary for current business.”[ 711]

-- from: The Indomitable Spirit of Edmonia Lewis. A Narrative Biography. By Harry Henderson and Albert Henderson (Kindle Locations 7591-7599). Esquiline Hill Press. 2012


Thanks to @MarilynElaine  for noting the charming marble medallion portrait of young George Scott Winslow by Edmonia Lewis, 1866. The subject was the son of a merchant from a prominent Boston family. @NMAAHC

Nature / Nurture

I enjoy watching Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., host his fascinating TV series, “Finding Your Roots.”  ‘Tho Edmonia Lewis be deceased for a century, I wonder what her DNA might tell him (if he could extract it from her grave).

Inconsistencies, obvious errors (see Minefield, below), and difficulties backing up details from interviews have led scholars to wring their hands and question the factual basis of many of her claims. In some respects, she seemed to appear a young woman fully-formed – and then to disappear (although her grave has finally been located and marked).

Alas, few written records support her “born in a wigwam” and “wild Indian” stories. Wouldn’t DNA analysis provide scientific proof of “a full-blooded Negro" and “a full-blooded Chippewa” that joined to produce her (Child, Liberator, 1864)?  That Edmonia claimed birth in Greenbush (now part of Rensselaer, NY) on the Hudson River and her mother in nearby Albany (Wreford, 1866) always raised questions. Both are far from any Native American settlement.  Her brother was born in Haiti, but probably not her father. We found likely traces of her father in city directories and censuses of Newark, NJ. (Henderson & Henderson, 2012, “Venial Sins and Family Secrets” below. Of her mother, we lack a name and any useful connections.

Orphaned early, how did she know her origin? Many folks today must invest in professional help to learn their heritage. Or, had she simply adapted the popular notion of “full-blooded” parents to explain her unusual looks and place in society?  Would DNA analysis produce a genetic link to some other celebrity?

Is the idea of “full-blooded” even realistic?  Historically, most populations around the world crossed bounderies for hundreds of years. Indeed, the parenthood of Ishmael in Genesis turns on such a match. Schoolcraft (Notes on the Iroquois, 1847, 128-129) noted a mandatory mingling. Further, he noted, “the ancient rule interdicts all intermarriage between persons of the same clan.” Tribal historian Darren Bonaparte (“King without a Crown. Land where the Partridge Drums. A History of the Akwesasne Mohawk Nation” Indian Time, Dec. 17, 1993.) agrees, adding the tribe kidnapped and adopted English children in the 18th century. He commented, “The oral tradition tells us that native people often took in orphans and abandoned children and raised them as their own.” Re-examinations of Chippewa data (“Franz Boas data”) reveal patterns of intermarriage that introduced European genes. Were Edmonia’s “aunts” related to her by blood? Or by choice?

There is no doubt that DNA carries forward physical traits and intangible potentials – but subject to unexpected mutation. Cultural influences can be more clearly drawn. Edmonia Lewis credited her mother’s skill with crafts for her own artistic bent. Her adult baptismal name, “Maria Ignatia,” and other elements make reference to the Jesuit missionaries of her childhood. The “black-robes" who taught her prayers as a child (Interview, NY Daily Graphic, July 10, 1873) had founded the St. Regis mission to Mohawk Indians at Akwesasne in 1752. They were accompanied by images of their saints and a martyred Savior. Perhaps even Edmonia’s interest in statues (rather than the woven baskets, etc., made by her mother) sprung from her childhood impressions of Roman Catholic artifacts. Bear in mind, a Puritan rigor in the rest of New England where she grew up shunned statuary and all but the most spare style and décor.

The Chippewa Enigma

In our opinion, Edmonia also exhibited Mohawk influences, although she identified herself as Chippewa. Chippewa society is patrilineal, like European norms, with men inheriting leadership. In contrast, Mohawk are matrilineal, giving women a central role in defining social norms. Buick (2010, 51) noted, “she was opposite everything that Victorian culture defined as the ‘true woman,’ … pious, submissive, domestic, and obedient.” She dared to travel the United States and Europe for years alone, as a single woman of color, challenging European myths of race and gender in spite of great personal risk and memories of a terrible assault at Oberlin. As a female artist, Edmonia emphasized women freed of bondage – images not found in the work of any other artist of the era. She was also an entrepreneur and a celebrity without a man. She took an aggressive leadership role – more Mohawk, may I say, than Chippewa.

Mohawk are known as fearless: warriors of yesterday, ironworkers who build modern bridges and skyscrapers in the clouds (Schoolcraft, ibid., 72-75, etc. Gay Talese, The Bridge, 2003). She described traveling across New York State, something St. Regis Mohawks did annually, raising money and connecting with the Six Nations near Niagara Falls. Traditionally, Mohawk were called, “the people of the flint,” i.e., people who make fire. Edmonia’s Chippewa name “Suhkuhegarequa” (reported by a Canadian anthropologist) translates to “fire-making girl;” or, as she romanticized in English, “Wildfire.”

This combination of Jesuit and Mohawk references pointed us to St. Regis / Akwesasne, far from Chippewa settlements, Akwesasne straddles the St. Lawrence River and the New York / Canadian border.  It is hundreds of miles east of the Six Nations of the Grand River reserve on the Niagara peninsula and the Mississauga Chippewa. 

How could Edmonia Lewis sustain her Chippewa identity while absorbing Mohawk virtues?  We found no independent documents placing her with her “mother’s people.” Census reports may not be always conclusive, but they can offer data to shed convincing circumstantial evidence. (Payment data in Canadian government archives found decades ago turned out to be misleading. (Henderson & Henderson, 2012, Note 22)) The 1850 US Census ignored the majority of Akeswasne’s people, who lived on the New York side of the reservation.

Thanks to Canadian scholar Eric Pouliot-Thisdale, we have studies that can address her circumstances. Sorting through hard-to-find 19th-century Canadian censuses of tribal settlements around Akwesasne, he counted many indigenous inhabitants, including Chippewa, living in harmony with the dominant Mohawk, much as Italians live in Greece. The 1861 Canadian census of Akwesasne, Dundee, St. Regis Mission, noted 850 people. Among them were 20 basket makers and 9 needle workers (reminding us of Edmonia’s mother), as well as farmers, hunters, laborers, etc. and more than 300 children. By this time, Edmonia was at Oberlin – but not named in its 1860 US Census. Neighboring Mohawk settlements also included hundreds of Chippewa and members of other tribes.

© Albert Henderson 2021


Edmonia Lewis visited Cincinnati, Ohio, as summarized by this article by @QueensOfCincy, UPDATED Feb 2021..


Newly ID’d (TY @MarilynElaine) bust of Bishop Daniel Payne @AMNH library (illus. in THE INDOMITABLE SPIRIT OF EDMONIA LEWIS.  – October 2019.

St. Louis Globe Interview

The Indomitable Spirit of Edmonia Lewis  recounts the unusual circumstances of 1873 that led to her visit with Antoinette and James Peck Thomas in St. Louis, Missouri, and to the terrible aftermath that dogged their good intentions. Edmonia Lewis's portrait bust of J.P. Thomas, which is now at Oberlin College's Allen Art Museum, has been well known for many years. However, the circumstances of its origin have been a mystery. After years of searching, we discovered the 'lost' text of an interview done in the Thomas home. A good deal of the article appears to have been lifted from HOW EDMONIA LEWIS BECAME AN ARTIST.  But its uniqueness is evident in the excerpts:

 Our reporter was shown into the parlor by Mr. Thomas and soon seated himself on a sofa near the blazing hearth. The room was lit by gas, elegantly furnished, and about as pleasant a place for a gossipy talk as could be desired. Miss Lewis entered the room in a few minutes, and sat down on a chair near the fireside. Without putting any more directed questions than were necessary, the Globe man induced Miss Lewis to speak of her early days, her first leaning toward art, and her crowning triumphs. …

[William Lloyd Garrison] gave me an introduction to Mr. Brackett, an artist, and he gave me a lump of clay and a little baby’s foot. He asked me to work at it. I asked if I might stay there, and he said “No.” I went to my little room and made a foot out of the clay as well as I could. I took it to Mr. Brackett, and every time I did so he broke it up, until three weeks had passed. He then seemed really pleased with my work, and gave me a lady’s hand to do. I worked on the lady’s hand, and got on nicely. Then I worked on a medallion. I had medallions of John Brown, and sold them at anti-slavery meetings. Dr. Bowdrege [Henry I Bowditch], of Boston, gave me an order to make a medallion of his father, who was an old navigator. He gave me twenty-five dollars for it. It was my first order. Then I made a bust of Voltaire. About that time I got a studio,


And called myself an artist, although my friends laughed at me for it. I then made a bust of Colonel Shaw, the first officer who led the colored troops South. He fell at Fort Wagner. I made that bust from photographs, and the family were very much pleased with it…..

Miss Lewis is below the medium height, and is rather heavy set, though well proportioned. She has rather a full face, good-natured features, which are radiant with the smiles of a pleasant disposition. The simplicity and artlessness of her nature are apparent in all she says. Her conversation is affable, graceful and winning…..

Miss Lewis has recently returned from California, and will soon proceed to Rome, where she has a studio, and where she keeps four workmen regularly employed in preparing the marble for her statuary. In conversation she expressed her earnest sympathy with the colored people in their aspirations for the attainment of intelligent progress. She made some mirthful illusions to the squaws that she saw on the plains in coming from California, and said she would have been pleased to go with them if she could have followed her profession. She was afraid, however, that they would have broken her statuary as soon as they had a war dance. The lady has crossed the Atlantic eight times and does not seen appalled at the prospect of having to sail over its stormy waters once more, even at the depth of winter. Our reporter brought his visit to a close, after having spent a half hour in a most agreeable conversation.

In conclusion, it may be added that Miss Lewis has been engaged to furnish a statue of the Blessed Virgin in marble for St. Elizabeth’s Church, in this city.


Note: St. Elizabeth’s Church was organized by Bishop Patrick Ryan to serve St. Louis African-American Catholics citywide. The 1st building was dedicated on May 18, 1873, at Fourteenth and Gay Streets. J.P. Thomas and his wife [who served as the first Parish organist] were probably founding members. In 1912, it moved to 2721 Pine Street where the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament opened a school nearby.  The Parish no longer exists. The Archdiocese of St. Louis Archives could not provide documents concerning the ***"Blessed Virgin***". However, the St. Louis County Library furnished a 1939 photo from the Parish’s Diamond Jubilee wherein such a statue appears behind the Sisters. Detail of the photo appears from time to time on our Twitter feed @andthatrhymeswi.

 Referring to another statue of the Virgin by Edmonia Lewis, a Baltimore newspaper reported, “the sculptor’s idea in having the arm pointing down was to show that the Virgin looks after the women of the world.”

Note: “The Woman Who Sculpts. An Interview with Edmonia Lewis, the Colored Artiste,” Cincinnati Daily Enquirer, Monday, Nov 24, 1873, Cincinnati, OH, p. 2 (From the St. Louis Globe).  

©  Albert Henderson 2019

Frederick Douglass 1873

Frederick Douglass met Edmonia Lewis during her college days and followed her career for the rest of his life. Eventually, on a tour of Europe and North Africa with his wife, he found her in Rome  [1883] and made a special note of her address in his diary. Notably, he left us an editorial about her, written in 1873, the year she went to California.

Bozeman, Montana

In researching Edmonia Lewis’s brother, Samuel, we reported 1870 US census data showing he shared his dwelling with a woman named Lizzie Williams.  This corroborated Edmonia’s complaint to Anne Whitney described in our biography. The Bozeman Daily Chronicle recently learned what happened to Lizzie Williams. The Chronicle further revealed she became one of Edmonia’s benefactors.

Then, what happened to the house Edmonia's brother built and lived in?

“ Discovering Lizzie Williams and Bozeman’s lost black history”


Samuel W. Lewis’s historic house and Eileen Tenney

AH. 2017 

 Discovery News: Edmonia Lewis’s work dedicated to Gerrit Smith found in upstate New York.

*** “The Clasped Hands of Gerrit and Ann Smith”*** (marble) have been identified as the work of Edmonia Lewis, based on diary entries made by Gerrit Smith in the summer of 1872.  For decades, the work was mis-attributed to “an escaped slave who credited the Smiths for his freedom.”

Gerrit Smith was one of the wealthiest men in New York State, an Underground Railroader, and an abolitionist who gave generously to anti-slavery interests, including the colleges Edmonia attended at McGraw and Oberlin.

On June 7, 1872, Edmonia Lewis sailed into New York harbor aboard the French Line SS St. Laurent. She would return to Rome, as noted in our biography, in mid-Fall. From Smith’s diary* we see Edmonia visited him for more than a week in August at Peterboro, NY. She had been encouraged by Smith's friends to sculpt his portrait but found him surprised and uncomfortable with the idea. Instead, they agreed to a cast of the hands of Smith and his wife [the former Ann Carroll Fitzhugh]. After Edmonia returned to Rome, she carved it in marble. 

According to the 1878 biography of Smith, by O. B. Frothingham, “Hand in hand [Smith and his wife] went through life together, sharing and counseling, and supporting. The union was perfect.” William Lloyd Garrison eulogized, “If ever two souls were perfectly mated, it was surely so with them.”

The clasped hands are at the Madison County Historical Society (MCHS), 435 Main Street, Oneida, NY 13421 (315-363-4136). Thanks to Donna Burdick, Smithfield Town Historian, for her valuable assistance in assembling these facts.

*"A Great Citizen. The Life of Gerrit Smith," by Charles Edwin Perkins. Chapter 28. Unity: Freedom, Fellowship and Character in Religion. (Chicago) Vol. 75, March 25, 1915. p. 58-61.

 © July 19, 2016 Albert Henderson

Insolent Discovery

From Athens OH, August 8th, 1876 … re: Miss Edmonia Lewis. "This lady can be seen in the building at almost any time. She is Italian and African and has become very independent and somewhat insolent. She asks $30,000 for this piece. . . ."

“Centennial – Retrospectively,” by Marsh, Athens OH Messenger, August 27, 1876.

Poets and Edmonia Lewis

 Edmonia Lewis often connected with poets and poetry — an aspirational ideal of her neoclassical cohort.. Early on, in 1864, she inspired poet Anna Quincy Waterson to publish a sonnet titled “EDMONIA LEWIS, (The young colored woman who has successfully modelled the bust of Colonel Shaw).”  It began: “She has wrought well with her unpractised hand.” The line was soon quoted by Lydia Maria Child in the National Anti-Slavery Standard. Lewis remained friends with Waterston and her husband for many years, eventually producing a small memorial bust of their daughter, Helen. It's all in our biography of Lewis.

Soon, the best-selling epic poem, "The Song of Hiawatha," by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow inspired the sculptor. Upon her arrival in Rome, she illustrated it with two groups, "The Old Arrow-Maker and his Daughter" (also called “The Wooing of Hiawatha”), and “The Wedding of Hiawatha” (both 1866). Two years later, she extended the line with “Hiawatha” and “Minnehaha” as marble busts. According to critic Tuckerman, these were considered the authentic product of “the Indian girl” who toiled with hammer and chisel. The most popular and commercially successful of Lewis’s works, they can be found in many collections today. In 1869, Longfellow visited Rome. Lacking a formal introduction, Lewis captured his image as he made his way in public places.

In Paris, 1893, Lewis produced a life-size bronze bust of Phillis Wheatley, commissioned by fans in Pittsburgh for the Columbian World's Fair.

More than 100 years after Lewis's death, Vivian Shipley found inspiration to ponder the artist's desire for respect. “How Edmonia Lewis's ‘Death of Cleopatra Speaks to Me’" was published in 2010 in “All Your Messages have been Erased.” (Louisiana Literature Press)

Most recently, Tyehimba Jess released a remarkable series of poems in an issue (38/3) of “Callaloo” a journal of literature, art, and culture of the African Diaspora. “Edmonia Lewis, Provenance and: Minnehaha, Marble, 1868, Edmonia Lewis and: Indian Combat, and: Indian Combat, Marble, 1868, Edmonia Lewis and: Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, Marble, 1864, Edmonia Lewis and: My Name is Sissieretta Jones, and: Sissieretta Jones, Carnegie Hall, 1902, O patria mia”  Some lines that caught my notice:

 “The enemy buried me with my brothers / in blue.”— from "Edmonia Lewis … Colonel Robert Gould Shaw."

"to resurrect our embattled / lives lived just as her own:" — from "Edmonia Lewis... Indian Combat."

“I’m her stone arrow, / her refusal to bow.” — from "Edmonia Lewis...Minnehaha."

More at

Two years earlier, Jess published a thoughtful consideration of Lewis’s “Hagar in the Wilderness: ” “My God is the living God, / God of the impertinent exile.” 

Check with our "links" page for online connections to Lewis's works.


The 2017 Pulitzer Prize Winner in  Poetry is Tyehimba Jess, for Olio, "a distinctive work that melds performance art with the deeper art of poetry to explore collective memory and challenge contemporary notions of race and identity." Many of the collected poems focus on Edmonia Lewis and her works.

Discovery News

1893: 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.

The scene depicts 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”)

Lewis worked with bronze around 1893, when she lived in Paris. (ibid. Colored Women Go to Chicago, 1893She made a life-size bronze bust of Phillis Wheatley for the Columbian Exposition. Perhaps Hoffman’s finds were prepared for that show, which catalogued her work merely as “statuettes.”  

Mr. Hoffman continues to research them.

1875: 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.

Writing 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.

Unfortunately, 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.

Thanks to the Library of Congress for “Chronicling America” and its coverage of rare newspapers.

1899: 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 Ave., Chicago.

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”). 

A.H. 5/1/14

Earliest Portrait of Edmonia Lewis

 The image on the cover of The Indomitable Spirit came from an etching published in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, Aug. 1, 1868. Leslie visited Rome soon after the 1867 Paris expo, according to records of his travels with Mr. and Mrs. E. George Squier.

The 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 where I came across it. An MHS librarian kindly described the logo on back of the photo. It reads, “Marshall Photographer 147 Tremont St. Boston.”

Augustus Marshall must have taken it no later than 1865, the year Lewis turned 21 and sailed for Europe. He and Lewis were neighbors at the Studio Building (Tremont and Bromfield). The 1865 Boston Directory put her in studio 89 and him next door in studio 90. Earlier, she hired him to make a photo of her bust of Col. Robert Gould Shaw, which she sold and/or gave away with the blessing of the Shaw family 1864-65.**

 Lewis did not return to Boston until 1869. Because Leslie rendered the image a year earlier, it should be considered the earliest image of her.

 Due to apparent deterioration of the image, we had an artist restore it. In particular, Lewis’s left eye was badly distorted. Having a copy of the original photo before us, we see part of the problem was Marshall’s original print, not just the paper. The left eye reflects the lighting, intensifying a normal asymmetry.

Thanks to MHS for preserving this photo and to Lewis-biographer Marilyn Richardson for finding and reproducing it.

* in Hope & Glory. Essays on the Legacy of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, ed. By M.H. Blatt, et al. (U. Mass. Press, 2001).

**preserved by MHS and reproduced in our book, fig. 4.

April 9, 2014

See also "Finding Edmonia Lewis," about a recent discovery by the Walters Museum

See also Auction Values March 29, 2018, Swann Galleries offering a previously unknown image of Lewis, apparently from around the same time as our "earliest."

Hygeia at Mount Auburn Cemetery

Edmonia Lewis’s Hygeia is the subject of a Preservation Award to Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge Ma, via a 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. The grant 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 fund 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 collection. See

 The project started in December, beginning with research and digitization of historic documents.

 “Hygeia” was commissioned by Boston’s first female physician, Harriot K. Hunt (d. 1875),

Feb. 1, 2014

A Minefield of Misinformation  

Foremost among my reasons for creating this free web site [] 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. 


We 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.


A 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.


Do 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 with care.

After 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, newspapers, and other sources remain to prove her enrollment there. 

In 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.





Lesser errors must also be noted:  

Several newspapers misreported her first sailing for Europe as August 1bullet9, 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.


A reporter 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. bullet

Even Lydia Maria Child erred, dating their first meeting as 1862 – a year when Lewis was still at Oberlin – in the Detroit Broken Fetter (1865). bullet

Her 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 stock. bullet

Oberlin College’s 75th anniversary 1833-1908 catalogue 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. 



Some credited William Wetmore Story with mentoring her in Rome. Nothing could be further from the truth.


Others suggested she carved the government-funded memorial bust of the AME Church founder, Richard Allen. A well-connected white businessman got the contract. bullet

Worse 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.



We 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.


I 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 

In 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 herself. 

The 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 way.

Edmonia 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.

The Edmonia 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, and language."

10/17/13 -- A. H.

Bigotry in 19th-Century Rome

 Today’s 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.

 Living 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 information, viz.,  

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.

Dead Ends? III A Phantom Memorial

Other 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 biography. 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.

Five 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?

If 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

Link to: Author interview with Jeri Walker-Bickett


“I was declared to be wild.” Mary E. Lewis’s grades at New York Central College, McGrawville, NY

 Being 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.


As 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 study it.’” 


Actually, her record at New York Central College, McGraw NY, reflected good behavior and earnest attention to her studies.


1856-7 Academics

Mary E. Lewis

            Subjects:          Standing                         3

                                    Conduct                       97

                                    Attendance                   99

                                    Grammar                      70

                                    Arithmetic                     96

                                    Reading                        99

                                    Gram. Of Comp.           90

                                    Declamation                 100


No date at top of page     

Mary E. Lewis

            Subjects:          Standing                          3

                                    Conduct                       100

                                    Attendance                   100

                                    Grammar                        85

                                    Gram. Of Comp.             90

                                    Declamation                  100


Summer term 1858    Academics

Mary E. Lewis

            Subject            Conduct                      100

                                    Arith.                              98.99

                                    Drawing                       100.100

                                    French                          100.100

                                    Composition                  100.100

                                    Declamation                  100.100


Fall term 1858              Academics

Miss Mary Lewis

            Subject            Conduct                     100

                                    Arith.                            96.100

                                    Latin                              95.98

                                    Composition                100.100

                                    Declamation                 100.100


 From:  The New York Central College register of students from 1854 – 1858, Courtesy of Mary Kimberly, village historian, Village of McGraw, NY             


Dead Ends? II 

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 "M. Edmonia Lewis," soon to drop the "M." )


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. bullet

Another colored 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 bullet

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.  bullet

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

Capt. 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.

  1. 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.

  2. A 52-year old Methodist farmer named Sela Mills living with his large family in nearby Norfolk County.

  3. 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 a "Mary."

The 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 boarders.

A.H. 2/18/13

Addendum – HBCU Marketing in 1876

The 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.


Today we add a late citation, with comment, by blog, to The Indomitable Spirit of Edmonia Lewis.


Add to note 581:


Memphis (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.”


Based 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 these busts.


A.H. Feb. 11, 2013

Edmonia Lewis Celebrated Emancipation Three Times

Henry Wreford (Athenæum, Mar.  3, 1866) described the first Emancipation statue sculpted by an African-American artist:


“Her 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 painful story.”


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.


Lewis’s 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.

There is much more research into, reflection on, and appreciation of Lewis's engagement with her heritage in our book.

A.H. Jan. 23, 2013

Thanks for 2012

Winding up 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.

Romare H. Bearden and Harry B. Henderson, Jr.  

By 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.*

 In 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 unpublished.**

 Letters 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 purposes.”

*See and

**See 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

According 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 Bath-Schéba Makoumbou. 

"L'Edmonia is assigned to the Afro-descendant woman artist, sculptor or painter who works by her attempts to raise awareness of Africa in general, African women, or the lives of Africans in the Diaspora," say the promoters of this new award.

Congratulations, Ms. Makoumbou!

MORE, from ECAir inflight magazine:

Rhode Bath-Schéba 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.’

Research note: 

Dead Ends I?   

Why 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.

But what about the researchers – like me? I have lost count of the costs of drilling down on dead ends. For example:


Looking for 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. bullet

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.” bullet

We eventually 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. bullet

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. bullet

Neither the 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.

To 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

E-Books 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, 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 to:

A manual transmission in a car, bullet

Live performances, bullet

Black-and-white 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 scroll.

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

Research note:

Trivia- The Colored Soldiers Fair 

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. 

But 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. 

On Nov. 14, the Transcript published a correction, noting that production problems had delayed its appearance. 

On Nov. 15, 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. 

Lewis 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.

The 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

Research note:

Family Tree

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 by her after 1862, was "Mary." Thankfully, the name “Edmonia” was relatively special.

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 in our 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 possibility.

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 expected.

– A.H. Nov. 1, 2012

Hats off to the Edmonia Lewis Center on Spirit Day, 2012

The Edmonia 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. 18, 1869

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. Sewall. 

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.

Forever Free (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.

–  A. H.

Research note:

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 our 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 calamity.

 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 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 name "Kennedy."  

> 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 Bright’s disease.

> The diocesan archivist could give me some history about Rev. Charles Cox (1853-1916), a serious musician who served at historic 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 worth £20,000.  

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 Tablet.

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 be 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 carriage...."  

St. 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. Eventually Edmonia's grave (350C) would be located, listed in the Cemetery's records as "Mary Lewis."

The death 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 rather than prolong the agony for others by forcing them to replicate my work.

We include 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.

– A.H. 

PS October, 2017: Bobbie Reno provided photos, before and after, of Edmonia Lewis's grave in London, England.  Congratulations to Bobbie and to all who contributed and cheered her onward!



"In 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 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."

*(from The Indomitable Sprit of Edmonia Lewis, A Narrative Biography)





Last updated 06/20/2020 ©  2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 A.K.H.