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Read an article on PBS about how Lewis's Death of Cleopatra, missing for decades, was recently recovered.

Exploring Freedom

Lewis, whose mother was Chippewa Indian and whose father was a freeman of African descent, was born in upstate New York in 1843. Upon entering Oberlin College, where she studied literature, she changed her name from Wildfire to Mary Edmonia. In 1863, Lewis moved to Boston to study under a portrait sculptor. Funds from the sale of a medallion of John Brown, leader of the rebellion at Harpers Ferry and a bust of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, commander of the all African American 54th Massachusetts Infantry of the Union Army, enabled Lewis to study in Europe. Lewis continued her studies of neoclassical forms in Italy where she made "Forever Free," her most famous work. Lewis' last known major work, "Death of Cleopatra," was presented at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876. Lewis's focus on African Americans and Native Americans - -deemed questionable at the time - -as well as the disappearance of abolitionist patronage may have contributed to her decline in popularity as an artist.

Related Artists:
Henry O. Tanner
Laura Wheeler Waring

Forever Free (1867)
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Edmonia Lewis on PBS

Online NewsHour: Testament to Bravery

Period & Artists
Pre-Civil War
Exploring Freedom
Edmonia Lewis
Henry O. Tanner
Laura Wheeler Waring
The Harlem Renaissance
The Legacy
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