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Anna Taylor Sweringen/Michal Scott: Edmonia Lewis – An Artistic Pioneer (Contest)
Wednesday, July 26th, 2023

UPDATE: The winner is…Nancy Brashear!

“I was practically driven to Rome in order to obtain the opportunities for art culture, and to find a social atmosphere where I was not constantly reminded of my color. The land of liberty had no room for a colored sculptor.”

Thus, Edmonia Lewis was quoted in the December 29, 1878, New York Times‘ article: “Seeking Equality Abroad. Why Miss Edmonia Lewis, the Colored Sculptor Returns To Rome – Her Early Life and Struggles.” While saddened by the familiar story of trials and tribulations faced by African Americans in this era, I am nevertheless heartened that Edmonia Lewis refused to let adversity keep her down.

Born on July 4, 1844 of African-American and Native American heritage, Edmonia was orphaned by the age of nine, but had two aunts and her half-brother Samuel to care for her. Samuel struck it rich in the California Gold Rush and was able to finance her education. She attended New York Central College from 1856-1858 then Oberlin College in 1859 where she was one of 30 students of color. A white mob, believing she had poisoned two students, beat her and left her for dead. Exonerated of those charges, she was later accused of stealing paint brushes and a picture frame. Even though cleared again, the college refused to let her re-enroll for her last term in 1863, thwarting her chances to obtain her degree. In 2022, Oberlin awarded her a degree.

She relocated to Boston in 1864, where she received the patronage of abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison. Sculptor Edward Brackett became a mentor and helped her to set up her own studio. She sculpted and sold images of famous abolitionists on medallions made of clay and plaster. Her first real success came from the bust she created of Colonel Robert Shaw, the white officer of the all-black 54th Massachusetts Infantry Civil War unit.

She traveled to Europe and settled in Rome by 1866. While there, she created one of her most famous works, The Death of Cleopatra. It was shipped back to the US and displayed at the Centennial Exhibition in 1876. In 1877 while in Rome, Ulysses S. Grant commissioned his portrait from her. Edmonia remained in Rome where she could work without always having to combat the hostility of being Black and Catholic.

Life in Europe was no paradise, however. Sexism against female sculptors, regardless of race, was rampant. Nevertheless, Edmonia established herself and created pieces that included, but were not limited to, African-American and Native American themes. Her neoclassical style of sculpting fell out of favor in the 1880s, and Edmonia fell into obscurity. She moved to London in 1901 and died there on September 17, 1907. You can learn more about her and see her work on this website:

Unfortunately attacks these days on opportunities to enable modern day Edmonia Lewises to emerge make her 1878 NYT quote still relevant. For a chance at a $10 Amazon Gift card, leave a comment on Edmonia’s life or on someone who you know persevered despite discrimination.

“The Spirit to Resist” by Michal Scott from Hot & Sticky: A Passionate Ink Charity Anthology

A woman may be made a fool of if she hasn’t the spirit to resist, but what does she do if, for the first time in her life, being made into a fool is exactly what she wants?

Excerpt from “The Spirit to Resist”

Florence lifted her face into the cool of the night and gazed at the stars. The breeze’s gentleness put her in mind once more of Harold’s sweet entreaty.

It’s just that I’d hoped to show you something different, something pretty special. Just for you.

The remembered words caused her nipples to pucker.

From here she could see the Edwards pavilion. It loomed surprisingly stately, given its frivolous purpose. She remembered her silliness with Harold over that tub of strawberry ice cream. A smile twisted her lips. What different, pretty special something had Harold planned just for her?

In her mind’s eye, she recalled control in that woman’s eyes back at Mrs. Wanzer’s. From memory, she reheard the sounds of pleading in the man’s grunting and groaning. The scene reaffirmed what she always believed. For sex to be satisfying, there had to be an exchange of power. Until she found a partner who believed this, too, she’d be a vanilla until her dying day.

She gazed toward the Edwards pavilion again. A similar exchange happened between her and Harold when she teased him. He enjoyed receiving her taunts as much as she enjoyed delivering them. They shared a mutual respect whenever they spoke, whenever they caught one another’s eye, even when no teasing occurred.

He’d had something planned for her tonight. Something different. Something pretty special. Something just for her. What might that something be? Something that said Harold, like Madison Dugger, respected the power of the cunt?

Maybe it wasn’t too late to find out.


23 comments to “Anna Taylor Sweringen/Michal Scott: Edmonia Lewis – An Artistic Pioneer (Contest)”

  1. Steph
    · July 26th, 2023 at 8:45 am · Link

    I find her story intriguing and informative. I’m saddened that we still have the injustices today that she lived with back then.

  2. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · July 26th, 2023 at 9:09 am · Link

    So true, Steph. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · July 26th, 2023 at 9:10 am · Link

    As always Delilah, thanks for letting me share my love of Black Women’s history.

  4. Mary Preston
    · July 26th, 2023 at 5:02 pm · Link

    Fascinating. I love the movie GLORY about Colonel Robert Shaw and the regiment. I’d like to see some of Edmonia’s works.

  5. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · July 26th, 2023 at 5:04 pm · Link

    Thanks for commenting, Mary. The website I shared in my post will get you started. I hope to see some of her work up close when I travel back east this fall.

  6. Diane Sallans
    · July 26th, 2023 at 6:51 pm · Link

    Fascinating story. I had heard and read that black artists often faced less discrimination in Europe than in the US. But she did have to deal with discrimination of being female. So many people of talent probably never had a chance to succeed unless they also had some luck and good timing on their side along with their gifts.

  7. BN
    · July 26th, 2023 at 10:52 pm · Link

    intriguing background

  8. Nancy L. Brashear
    · July 27th, 2023 at 2:49 am · Link

    Edmonia had a lot of spirit, resilience, and talent! Thanks for sharing her amazing story.

  9. Debra Guyette
    · July 27th, 2023 at 6:01 am · Link

    Thanks for that. It was intriguing and sad that some states want to return to the past.

  10. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · July 27th, 2023 at 7:58 am · Link

    Thanks for commenting Diane. It is such a pity that people just can’t be judged for their talent without societal resentments coming into the picture.

  11. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · July 27th, 2023 at 7:59 am · Link

    True, BN. I had heard of Edmonia but didn’t realize the extent of the discrimination she suffered. What she experienced while at Oberlin nauseated me.

  12. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · July 27th, 2023 at 8:00 am · Link

    I know Debra. What will it take to root out the fear driving such stupidity? Thanks for commenting.

  13. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · July 27th, 2023 at 8:51 am · Link

    Nancy, resilience is the word for Edmonia and all of the women I blog about. Thanks for commenting.

  14. Jennifer Beyer
    · July 27th, 2023 at 8:39 pm · Link

    When you post stories like this, I always wonder why schools don’t teach these incredible stories. What an amazing journey and a strong woman.

  15. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · July 28th, 2023 at 9:01 am · Link

    Ditto, Jennifer. I wonder about the women of other ethnicities that I have yet to learn about. This only goes to show why books and libraries are so important. Thanks for commenting.

  16. flchen
    · July 29th, 2023 at 3:30 pm · Link

    Thank you for sharing Edmonia’s story, Anna–it is frustrating to read of how the deck was stacked against her and other talented women of color, and I pray that her perseverance encourages talented women today to keep on. It is at times disheartening that the challenges that she had to overcome still exist to waylay us now. I long for a time when we can consider these injustices a thing of the past!

  17. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · July 29th, 2023 at 3:53 pm · Link

    So do I Flchen. So do I. Thanks for commenting.

  18. miki
    · August 3rd, 2023 at 2:14 pm · Link

    very interesting and inspiring, Europe was kinder but still not perfect but i’m glad she could do her art

  19. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · August 3rd, 2023 at 2:25 pm · Link

    So true Miki. Even with its flaws, Europe was a kinder space for many African Americans in different eras. Thanks for commenting.

  20. Jana
    · August 3rd, 2023 at 6:51 pm · Link

    Great read!! I had never heard of this woman.

  21. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · August 3rd, 2023 at 8:08 pm · Link

    So glad I was able to introduce her to you, Jana.

  22. Carol Cox
    · August 5th, 2023 at 4:55 pm · Link

    My story is about myself. When I was just a 16 year old girl, my hometown had a festival (which we did each year but this was the first year my mother let me feel grown up enough to see if I could get a 3 day job with one of the out of town vendors).
    I was so excited. My best friend planned to get a job together so we could have spending money, we thought we’d be selling soda or elephant ears… anyway, I lived closer to the festival and we agreed I would scout out who was hiring and if anyone was I’d take the job and tell her where so she could try to get one too at the same place. I saw a help wanted sign selling food. I asked the man if he was hiring. He said no the job was filled. So I went home and called my friend and told her where it was and that the job was taken. I’d keep looking. She arrived 2 hours later than me to the same place, the man still had the help wanted sign there. He gave her the job. (it was actually never filled). The only difference between the two of us is I’m African American and she was Caucasion. My mother gave me a pep talk cause I was crying after my friend told me that. I told her to take the job. We agreed to get jobs. And my mom said keep looking. I did and wound up finding a nice lady selling glassware. She hired me that year and every year after that. I loved working for her and remain friends now. I am thankful to have supportive friends and family in my life to help me keep going amid life’s setbacks.

  23. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · August 5th, 2023 at 6:45 pm · Link

    Supportive family goes a long way in the face of adversity. Thanks so much for sharing your story with us, Carol.

Comments are closed.