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[undated pamphlet; 1870 gift of Hon. Chas. Sumner of Boston to Harvard University AC85.A100.870h; Sabin 40794]
For discussion of this 8-page booklet (for example, why no mention is made of Forever Free, which was dedicated in 1869), read The Indomitable Sprit of Edmonia Lewis, A Narrative Biography, by Harry Henderson and Albert Henderson.
EDMONIA LEWIS was born in a wigwam, her mother being an Indian and her father a negro. When little Edmonia was only three years old her mother died, leaving her to the care of her Indian relatives; and at the grave of her dear mother she kissed her father good-by and has never seen him since. Her father died a year from the time of his wife’s death. Thus in one day she buried both father and mother from her sight. With the Indians she had a happy life – which was indeed a wild, roving one – hunting, fishing, and making moccasins. Her brother, who was at a school for Indian boys at the time of his mother’s death, soon finished his studies and went to California, where he was able in a few years to send money to his little orphan sister, that she might be sent to school. Money was sent, clothing bought, and the Indian girl dressed up in a civilized dress. How many times she wished for the Indian costume, as she felt so strange in her new dress! How many times she fell down stairs, and sometimes up, too! But she must bid farewell to her Chippewa dress. As soon as all was ready, Edmonia bade good-by to her Indian relatives, each one of whom asked the blessing of the Great Spirit upon the orphan girl, and thus “Wild Fire”* left her Indian home!
At school everything seemed strange and new to her; but Edmonia soon made friends, some of whom are proud of her to-day. Little they thought that their little friend, who was running about at play with them, would become an artist, and do so well, too. A few years were spent at school; from there she went to Boston, Mass., wishing to study music; but one day, as she was walking through School street, her eye caught sight of the statue of Benjamin Franklin. This was the first time in her life that she had ever seen anything in the line of sculpture. She said to herself: “Oh, how I should like to make something like that man standing there!” She asked questions, and found out that statues were first made out of clay. She got some clay from a very kind sculptor, and then she made some sticks and went to work on a little foot. How many times she took the foot to the sculptor to see it, that he might tell her what he thought of it; how many times was she obliged to do it over and over again; but finally she was successful in making it look like a foot. Next thing was a lady’s hand that she made a study from. After this she made a bust of Voltaire; this being finished, Edmonia received a commission to do a medallion, for which she received twenty dollars. This was the first money that Miss Lewis had ever earned for herself. Dear reader, how you would have laughed if you had seen the young artist early the next morning. She might have been seen standing at the door of the bank, ready to deposit her twenty dollars.
Three years from the time that she made the little foot, she had received orders enough to enable her to go to Italy. Miss Lewis packed her trunk, bidding her dear friends good-by, and sailed for Italy on the twenty-sixth of August, 1865. In Florence she saw Mr. [Hiram] Powers and Mr. [Joel] Hart, who were very kind to her. Miss Lewis remained in Florence six months, and then went to Rome. In Rome she soon opened a studio and there began to study from life – drawing part of the day, and the remainder she would model. During these few years all know how well the Indian girl has done. Her beautiful statue of Hagar is the result of patience, of hope, of a thousand delicate touchings and retouchings. God’s gift to Edmonia Lewis is unconquerable energy, as well as genius; and these two combined enable her to rise above all prejudices of race or color, and command the respect and honor of all true lovers of art.
* “Wild Fire” was Miss Lewis’ Indian name.