Edmonia Lewis (aka Mary Edmonia Lewis)
Southern Europe, Italian, Rome
29 1/2 in. x 13 1/8 in. x 11 5/8 in. (74.93 cm x 33.34 cm x 29.53 cm)
Medium and Support:
Gift of the Ida Belle Young Art Acquisition Fund
Currently On View
During her first years in Rome, Edmonia Lewis produced several sculptures related to her Native American heritage that were inspired by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s popular epic poem, "The Song of Hiawatha," published in 1855. These included this figural group showing the warrior Hiawatha and his bride, Minnehaha. This version, dated 1868, is one of at least five that the artist produced between that year and the mid-1870s. Deciphering the content of Lewis’s sculptures inspired by Longfellow’s "The Song of Hiawatha" is complicated by her gender and her Native American heritage. Did she choose the subject popularized by Longfellow to capitalize commercially on the poem, to associate herself with the poem’s protagonist or his bride, to champion her mother’s race, to strengthen her Native American identity (and thus perhaps to marginalize her African- American heritage), or some combination of those and/or other factors? She left no verbal or written commentary on those topics.