Sunday, 1 December 2013

Edmonia Lewis in London


While preparing a course on women artists, I’ve recently discovered that Edmonia Lewis, the Black American sculptor of mixed African and Ojibwe descent, spent her last years in London.    No one seems to know why she came to Britain or whom she knew here.  Born in New York in 1844, she had a difficult youth until enrolled at Oberlin College Ohio during the US Civil War.  She studied art and was funded to travel to Rome, where she flourished as a sculptor, mainly with dramatic marble figures.  Some, like Forever Free  and Hagar reference her African-American heritage, others like Indian Combat and Minehaha reference her Native American roots (Longfellow’s Hiawatha being based on Ojibwe tales)  Some were portrait busts, the Death of Cleopatra a full-length reclining figure, which went to the centennial exhibition in Philadelphia and was then lost and damaged before being rescued.  Her last recorded work was an Adoration of the Magi (1883).  It’s not yet known when she relocated to London but in 1901 the Census shows her residence as 37 Store Street, Bloomsbury (age 59; birthplace 'India'!; occupation 'artist / modeller', so she was still working in clay) and  at the time of her death in 1907 she was living in Blythe Road west London.  She was buried in St Mary’s the Catholic part of Kensal Rise cemetery.  Does anyone know any more about her time in Britain?


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