Mary Edmonia Lewis Art Gender and Ethnicity

It aims to examine the biblical and historical themes in this 19th-century sculptor’s works as perceived by her contemporaries and the artist herself (Durgans, 1995, p.6 and Buick, 2010, p.23). Art scholars view the works of artists of the American art as an expression of gender, ethnic, political, and racial identities. This proves to be a significant step towards recognizing these artists and heaving them out from ambiguity. It also aims to explore how Lewis’ endeavor in the realm of neoclassical art subjected her to a fierce struggle against men, particularly during an era when society derides women — especially a black woman — who competes against men in what people consider man’s world. (Green amp. Love-Carroll, 1996, p.16 and Buick, 2010, p.17) Thesis Statement Mary Edmonia Lewis, in her effort to refuse to accept the destiny fated to women of her circumstances, pursued a life that, no matter how obscure, made a solid impact to the art world, the blacks, the natives, and the women in general. She had various and somewhat inconsistent statements regarding her biography, for reasons only Lewis knows to this day. Nevertheless, it is possible that her obscure background made a significant impact to how people understand, view, and sometimes even manipulate the meanings of her art works. MARY EDMONIA LEWIS 3 Brief Backgrounder Lewis’ life remains a mystery. Her identity provides an unclear fraction in the representational landscape (Woods, 2009, p.80). Her life, works, heritage, and appearance have always been subjected to debates. There has always been an issue of inaccuracy in several aspects of her life — from the birth details provided by her passport to the exact date of her death. It took the world a century to acquire at least solid information about the date of her death. In art history, her works serve as ciphers to her character, beliefs, and life. Consequently, historians look for and within the sculpted works of Lewis — those she chose to sculpt, and even those she refused. Her African and Indian heritage and her beliefs towards different social institutions such as slavery, politics, love, and marriage are all revealed in her works. This tactically and ingeniously allowed Lewis to be the object of her own works (Buick, 2010, p.23-5). Inconsistent Biography As mentioned above, Lewis’ exact date of birth remains unknown to this day. Some accounts her birth date to be in 1840, some 1844, and some still as 1845. At one point, Lewis even mentioned she was born in 1854. She also claimed that her mother named her something that means Wild Fire in Indian. It was said that several of the beliefs surrounding her biography came from Lewis’ claims during her lifetime. Another example is her claim of place of birth to be Greenbush, near Albany, New York. However, historians say that the veracity of this claim remains unclear, since one account narrates Lewis claiming her place of birth to be Green High, Ohio. Another researcher found details showing that Lewis is the daughter of some MARY EDMONIA LEWIS 4 middle-class West Indies immigrants, and the year and place of birth is 1844 in Newark, New Jersey (Woods, 2009, p.81 and Buick, 2010, p.25). In one interview published in a publication in London in 1866, Lewis said that her mother is a wild Indian from Albany, while her father is a freed Negro