One of history’s forgotten artists is finally getting her due, as Edmonia Lewis is set to receive a US Postal Stamp in her honor.
According to the New York Post, Lewis will receive the honor at a ceremony at the Smithsonian American Art Museum on Jan. 26.
Lewis was an African-American and Native American sculptor who, after starting her career making busts of abolitionists and Union army commanders in the 1860s, later moved to Italy to avoid racism.
With more artistic freedom in Rome, Lewis became very popular and successful, creating the 3000 pound marble sculpture “The Death of Cleopatra” for the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.
The piece didn’t sell, and Lewis left it behind, not wanting to pay for it to be shipped back to Italy.
After traveling through many hands and spending time in a saloon and racetrack, “The Death of Cleopatra” now resides at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC.
“It’s fitting that she should be commemorated with a postage stamp because so much of what we know most vividly about her we know from letters that people were close to her wrote,” said Marilyn Richardson, a Massachusetts-based art consultant who spent decades tracking down and authenticating Lewis’ artworks,
Lewis’ stamp is the 45th in the Black Heritage series. She is honored as “the first African American and Native American sculptor to earn international recognition.” The image is a casein-paint portrait based on a photograph by Augustus Marshall taken in Boston between 1864-1871.
“It’s impossible to overstate her significance and that’s becoming more and more clear as we see she really was something new under the sun,” Richardson continued. “We’ve never seen a woman of color who also identified as native both in her descent and in her work.”
Like most Black artists and creatives of that time, Lewis’ work is finally getting the appreciation it deserves.
“Women back then and people of color were basically forgotten if they had no way to have their legacy carried forward,” said Bobbie Reno, the town historian in East Greenbush, who has been working for several years to drum up recognition for Lewis.
“I had never heard of her, and then when I started to dig into her life everything about her just blew me away,” Reno said. “She lived in two cultures and didn’t let any obstacles stop her from doing what she did.”
The Edmonia Lewis stamp is available in panes of 20. To purchase this stamp or others in the Black Heritage series go to usps.com/shopstamps or your local Post Office.