Edmonia Lewis: Artist, Woman of Color, Catholic

In 1887 Frederick Douglass, an old friend, visited Lewis in Rome. He found her "cheerful and happy and successful." (He noted that she now spoke English with an Italian accent.) By then, Edmonia had faded from the public scene. We don't know when or where she died. Some art historians place her death around 1890, but the 1911 edition of the American Catholic Who's Who listed her as still living in Rome.

Today Lewis' work is displayed in museums worldwide, and is in high demand by collectors. Molefi Asante recently added her to his list of 100 Greatest African-Americans. Art historian David Driskell says of Lewis' legacy:

here was a brave and courageous person who did not let race, did not let gender, or anything like that stand in her way . . . who pursued her goals and insisted upon being a part of the period and a part of that movement, and she . . .  fits now brightly into history.

For Catholic Christians, the story of Edmonia Lewis serves as a reminder of the very word that defines them: "universal."

Dear Friends,
I have just received word that a respected art historian and expert on Edmonia's work concludes that the McCloskey bust featured herein is not in fact a Lewis piece. Since it's the only bust of the cardinal that I'm aware of, I strongly believed it was. I apologize for misleading the public, and I can do little more than cite the Roman poet Horace: Quandoque bonus dormitat Homerus ("Even good Homer nods sometimes.")! PM

11/1/2010 4:00:00 AM
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  • Pat McNamara
    About Pat McNamara
    Dr. Pat McNamara is a published historian. He blogs about American Catholic History at McNamara's Blog.