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

Home Bio- Chronology   Auctions   Bibliography    Links   Becoming an Artist  Quotes  Critics  1883 Magi   Who's Who   Blog  

#Tweet Edmonia Lewis's biographer @andthatrhymeswi 

The Death of Mary Edmonia Lewis

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 a row 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 checked into the infirmary, 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 America? 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

stopped there.


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 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.

Finally, a marker appears on Lewis's grave, crowd-sourced in 2017 by Bobbie Reno et al.






© 2011, 2017 A.K.H