The U.S. Postal System’s ongoing series of “Forever” stamps will soon honor Black Native sculptor Edmonia Lewis. The internationally acclaimed artist was a major figure in the 19th-century European art scene, and many of her marble art pieces are now housed in museums across the globe.
Eric Levenson of CNN reported that “Lewis [was] born in 1844 in Greenbush, New York, to a Black father and Chippewa (Ojibwa) Native American, attended Oberlin College in Ohio and established herself as a professional artist in Boston.”
“She moved to Rome in 1865 and there began to work with marble, sculpting busts of prominent figures as well as biblical and ancient historical works,” he added.
In a statement, the U.S. Postal Service said, “As the first African American and Native American sculptor to earn international recognition, Edmonia Lewis challenged social barriers and assumptions about artists in mid-19th century America.”
“The work she produced during her prolific career evokes the complexity of her social identity and reflects the passion and independence of her artistic vision,” the organization added.
Although her work covered a variety of topics, the majority of her sculptures focused on her Native American and Black heritage. They also featured life in the U.S. following the end of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery.
“One of her best-known works is The Death of Cleopatra, a 3,000-pound 1876 marble sculpture depicting the Egyptian queen after her suicide by the bite of a venomous asp,” Levenson said. “The work was presumed lost for over a century but was ultimately rediscovered at a salvage yard in the 1980s, and it is now on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC.”
In addition to The Death of Cleopatra, The Smithsonian’s collection of works by Lewis includes her sculptures of Moses, Hagar and Cupid created between 1866 and 1876.
“As the public continues to discover the beautiful subtleties of Lewis’s work, scholars will further interpret her role in American art and the ways she explored, affirmed or de-emphasized her complex cultural identity to meet or expand the artistic expectations of her day,” USPS said.
The Edmonia Lewis stamp will be the 45th issued in USPS’s Black Heritage series. Other individuals featured in the series include musician Lena Horne, politician Shirley Chisholm, tennis great Althea Gibson and lawyer and civil rights leader Barbara Jordan. To purchase the stamp online, click here.