The US Postal Service will be honoring Edmonia Lewis, known as the first internationally recognized Black American sculptor, with a stamp this month.
According to the press release, the stamp was designed by USPS art director Antonio Alcalá and will debut on Jan. 26 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.
The stamp features a portrait of Lewis, painted by Alex Bostic and based on a photograph taken by Augustus Marshall in Boston between 1864 and 1871.
As the first African American and Native American sculptor, Lewis challenged social barriers and assumptions about artists in mid-19th century America. Her father was a free African American, and her mother was a member of the Chippewa/Ojibwa nation. Orphaned at a young age, Lewis was raised by her mother’s Chippewa sisters in upstate New York. In 1859 she traveled to Ohio to attend Oberlin College.
Despite being born in Greenbush, NY, the sculptor spent much of her working life in the Italian capital of Rome.
American tourists would flock to her studio to see her portrait busts of prominent people. Lewis’s work celebrated freedoms won by Black Americans as well as the sensitive, respectful depiction of her Native American heritage. She worked in the Neo-Classical style, which was hugely popular at that time, making naturalistic figures using white marble sculptures derived from the tradition of ancient Greece and Rome.
One of her most popular works was “The Death of Cleopatra” — a sculpture of Egypt’s last pharaoh killing herself with her renowned asp.
To celebrate Black History Month in 2017, SAAM launched an online exhibition of Edmonia Lewis’ sculpture on Google Arts & Culture. Google has made Lewis and her sculpture, “The Death of Cleopatra,” its doodle for that day.
Another of her more celebrated works was “Hagar in the Wilderness, an empathetic portrait of an Egyptian slave exiled for having her master’s child.