Innovation

Edmonia Lewis: Abolition Archivist

March 2012

“I am going back to Italy to do something for the race — something that will excite the admiration of the other races of the earth.”

Edmonia Lewis

Born in 1845, sculptor Edmonia Lewis gained international recognition through her many works around the abolitionist movement. She brought attention and pride to the abolition movement from around the globe.

Edmonia_Lewis_ImageBefore graduating from Oberlin College in Ohio, Lewis moved to Boston to study under Edward Augustus Brackett, a well-known sculptor. She met many influential Boston abolitionists and found inspiration in their lives, as well as in the stories of Civil War heroes and freed slaves. She created a bust of Robert Gould Shaw, the commander of an African-American Civil War regiment. Several other popular works include medallion portraits of abolitionists John Brown and William Lloyd Garrison.

After the Civil War ended in 1865, Lewis used the income from her work to pursue her dream of studying and working in Italy. She sailed to Rome to study neoclassical style, and her previous success made her studio there a tourist destination. A testament to Lewis’ renown as an artist came in 1877, when President Ulysses S. Grant commissioned her to create his portrait.

Throughout her career Lewis continued to depict abolitionists and incorporate themes of slavery. She often donated works to the YMCA and churches. She died in 1907 in London.