Thursday, May 11, 2017

New Acquisitions: "Minnehaha" by Edmonia Lewis

Edmonia Lewis, Minnehaha, 1868
The museum recently purchased a significant 19th-century neoclassical work with funds from the Collectors of the Georgia Museum of Art. “Minnehaha” is a petite marble sculptural bust carved by artist Mary Edmonia Lewis (1844–1907). Born in Greenbush, New York, Lewis was an artist of mixed African American and Chippewa (Ojibwe) ancestry who was among the few female artists to have worked actively in Rome, Italy. Prior, she studied at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, and then moved to Boston. She gained a following there creating busts of prominent anti-slavery activists. Lewis also often portrayed American Indian subjects.

In Rome, Lewis produced several commissioned busts of prominent abolitionists and biblical and mythical figures. She was also known for her American Indian subjects drawn from the popular literature. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem “The Song of Hiawatha” (1855) inspired her to produce several figural groups, of which “Minnehaha” is an example. In Longfellow’s fictional poem, Minnehaha, a Dakota, was the lover of Hiawatha, a warrior among the once enemy nation of the Ojibwe.

Unveiling of "Minnehaha" as part of the annual Black History Month dinner.
This Minnehaha bust represented a rare opportunity to acquire a quality sculpture by this 19th-century pioneer. The purchase fills a major gap in the collection for both American and African diasporic artists who worked in the U.S. and abroad.

Shawnya L. Harris
Larry D. and Brenda A. Thompson Curator of
African American and African Diasporic Art

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