Posted on 04/09/2013

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Edmonia Lewis

Edmonia Lewis
While she was on sabbatical Jacqueline Copeland, the director of audience engagement at Baltimore’s Walters Art Museum, visited a local antique shop and happened upon a very rare photograph of the 19th-century African-American sculptor Edmonia Lewis [b.1844 – d.1917], one of only eight known pictures of the renowned artist. Now the image, taken at Rome’s Fratelli D’Alessandri photography studio sometime between 1874 and 1876, will be added to the Walters’s archive, the Baltimore Sun reports.

“I was ecstatic when I realized that this unidentified black woman standing proudly and confidently in a 19th-century dress was Edmonia Lewis since so few images of her exist,” Copeland said in a statement. “In 2002, the Walters acquired Edmonia Lewis’ 1868 bust of Dr. Diocletian Lewis (no relation) through a generous grant by Baltimore philanthropists Eddie and Sylvia Brown. It was one of the first works by an African American artist to enter the museum’s permanent collection.”

Lewis lived most of her life in Rome — saying at the time of her departure in 1866: “The land of liberty had no room for a colored sculptor.” She may have brought the small (4 inches by 2.5 inches) photograph, which would have served as a calling card of sorts, with her to Baltimore in 1883, when she installed her bas-relief sculpture “Adoration of the Magi” in the Chapel of St. Mary the Virgin, a “colored” church on Orchard Street.

Image: Fratelli D’Alessandri, Rome, “Carte-de-viste of Edmonia Lewis,” ca. 1874-76; Courtesy of the Walters Art Museum

Info: Art in the Air, Benjamin Sutton