Much of Edmonia Lewis’ early life is unknown. She is believed to have been born some time between 1840 and 1845, the daughter of an Ojibwa (Chippewa) mother and a free black father from the West Indies. Her parents died when she was very young and her older brother Samuel provided guidance and material support for her.Share
Lewis attended Oberlin College but left before completing her studies. After an apprenticeship with a master sculptor in Boston, Massachusetts, she opened her own studio. She used the money she earned from selling portraits of abolitionists— plus funds from Samuel— to finance a trip to Italy, where she had dreamed of studying and working. By 1880, she had settled there permanently, returning to the US frequently to show and sell her work. She gained international acclaim for her portraits of abolitionists and for her depictions of ethnic and religious themes.
By the turn of the 20th century, the neoclassical genre Lewis favored became less popular, and she faded into obscurity. She never married and had no known children. The details of where and when Lewis died remained a mystery until fairly recently. However, in 2011, a British historian uncovered evidence the artist was living in London when she died on September 17, 1907. (Read entire post.)