Edmonia Lewis
Edmonia Lewis pic

Edmonia Lewis

In an era where the public's perception of statues and sculptures is evolving, it's a breath of fresh air to uncover the remarkable work of Edmonia Lewis.

A 19th-century African American female sculptor, she defied the odds and achieved international acclaim during a time when slavery was still legal.

Mary Edmonia Lewis, also known as “Wildfire”, was born free on 4th July 1844, in Albany, New York, to an African American father and Chippewa Indian mother. Edmonia lost both her parents at a young age and was brought up by her mother’s family, where she was given her Indian name, Wildfire. She also received a college education, mainly because her brother, who was called Sunrise, was a professional gold miner, enabling him to finance her college fees.

Unsurprisingly, most of the early sculptures by Edmonia Lewis are of abolitionists, one of which - featuring Colonel Robert Gould Shaw – made her enough money to travel to Rome, where she studied classical sculpture. She converted to Catholicism and started producing devotional pieces mainly in marble, leading to her talents becoming even better known in Europe. Her works often depicted themes of freedom, faith, and social justice, reflecting her personal experiences and the turbulent times she lived in.

Edmonia would spend the next three decades travelling between the US, Rome, and Paris, enhancing her reputation with pieces like Forever Free, Madonna and Child and the two-ton sculpture The Death of Cleopatra.

In 1901, after spending five years in Paris, Edmonia Lewis moved to London, eventually setting up a home at 154 Blythe Road, Hammersmith, a location that will now be forever marked by her blue heritage plaque. The plaque is prominently displayed on the exterior of the house, ensuring its visibility to all passersby. Much of her work is now on display in museums around the world, including the Smithsonian Institute in Washington.

To celebrate the 115th anniversary of Edmonia Lewis’s time in the UK, a blue heritage plaque was installed on her former home in Hammersmith by the Nubian Jak Community Trust.

Location: 154 Blythe Road, Hammersmith, London, W14 0HD

Dr Jak Beula, CEO of Nubian Jak Community Trust, said: "A new generation is rediscovering the magic and majesty of Edmonia’s marbles. Early this year, Edmonia was featured on a US stamp, and the Nubian Jak Community Trust is delighted to honour them with a blue plaque close to the 115th anniversary of her passing in London.”

Cllr Sharon Holder, Cabinet Member for Public Realm, said: “Hammersmith & Fulham, in partnership with the Nubian Jack Community Trust, are delighted to install a commemorate plaque for Edmonia Lewis in the borough. This is part of the council’s wider programme to diversify our public realm by visibly celebrating the borough’s Black heritage and history in a proactive way.” /p>