It’s February 1. And you know what that means, it’s the first day of Black History Month! Even though we celebrate Blackness all year round, we’re not opposed to celebrating it collectively as a nation, because every year, we learn something about our rich history and innumerable contributions to this world.
Today, Google helped usher in the month with their Google Doodle.
It features an illustration of African American sculptor [Mary] Edmonia Lewis. Lewis, who is Haitian, Native and African American is considered the first woman of African and Native American descent to become a globally recognized and renown fine arts sculptor.
According to Google, Edmonia was born in 1844, in New York. When her father and mother died at nine years old, she was adopted by her maternal aunts in Niagra Falls. While there she sold Native American trinkets to tours At just 15-years-old, she enrolled in Oberlin College where she nurtured her passion for art. But the college and the community wasn’t kind to her. In addition to being accused and later acquitted of poisoning her friends, someone also accused Lewis of stealing another classmate’s work. Allegations of plagiarized were later dismissed due to lack of evidence but Lewis was kept from completing her final term and was unable to receive her degree.
After Oberlin, she moved to Boston to pursue a career as a sculptor in the early 1860’s. As a Black woman, before the end of slavery in the United States, she was often denied apprenticeships until she met Edward A. Brackett, who often worked for abolitionists. After working under Brackett, Lewis eventually launched her own solo exhibition. Her work was a tribute to abolitionists and Civil War heroes. The work was very well received and she eventually traveled to Rome, Italy. There are several who believe that Lewis was a lesbian and during her time in Rome she was in a relationship with Harriet Hosmer and other feminists in the artistic lesbian circle.
In Italy, Lewis established her own studio where she began sculpting marble and focusing on themes relating to African American and Native American people. Her work garnered large sums of money and she worked and received international acclaim until her death, in London, in either 1907 or 1911. There’s a discrepancy about the actual year.
In today’s Google Doodle, Lewis is shown sculpting her most famous work The Death of Cleopatra, which is currently in the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. The letters in the Doodle pay tribute to her Native roots as her Native American name was “Wildfire.”
Google wrote, “Decades later, Lewis’s legacy continues to thrive through her art and the path she helped forge for women and artists of color. Today, we celebrate her and what she stands for – self-expression through art, even in the face of adversary.”
Veronica Wells is the culture editor at MadameNoire.com. She is also the author of “Bettah Days.” You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter @VDubShrug.