Edmonia Lewis and Her Stamp on American Art

We’ve rounded up resources so you can learn about the life and work of this groundbreaking American sculptor

Edmonia Lewis, The Death of Cleopatra, carved 1876, marble, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Historical Society of Forest Park, Illinois, 1994.17

Perhaps one of the most striking sculptures lining the first floor of SAAM’s Luce Foundation Center of American Art is a larger-than-life woman carved from white marble, her head leaning at an odd angle on a throne, one arm hanging to her side and the other draped across her lap, hand grasping an asp. Groundbreaking sculptor Edmonia Lewis’s The Death of Cleopatra is memorable and captivating, and the story behind this sculpture is as riveting as the artist’s own life.

With all of America's eyes on Lewis for the unveiling of a new USPS Forever Stamp® featuring the artist, we have put together a roundup of all things Edmonia. Browse through our collection, listen to a podcast, and even read a comic—there's something for everyone. 

Sound Off

Ready for a deep dive into Lewis’s once-missing, now-found masterpiece, The Death of Cleopatra? Look (or listen) no further than this episode of Sidedoor: A Podcast from the Smithsonian about how this 3000-pound sculpture disappeared, and discover Lewis’s personal story along the way. Listen to "Finding Cleopatra."

Artful Dodger

Edmonia Lewis, Poor Cupid, modeled ca. 1872, carved 1876, marble, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Alfred T. Morris, Sr., 1984.156

Eyes ready to do some exploring? All eight Edmonia Lewis sculptures in SAAM’s collection are available to peruse online, and they include mythological creatures, poets, icons, and more. If nothing but seeing an Edmonia Lewis artwork in person will do, several of these sculptures are on view at SAAM and one click will show you where to go. Explore the collection.  

Drawn to Art

"Breaking the Marble Ceiling," a comic about artist Edmonia Lewis, shows the artist with her most famous sculpture. Illustrated by Rachel Bivens.

Craving more art and biography on Lewis? Do know a young person who is curious about the lives of artists? “Breaking the Marble Ceiling” is a short online comic celebrating the renowned artist and tells the story of her life and work. The title riffs on the glass ceiling of equal opportunity for women with a nod to the medium that enabled Edmonia Lewis not only to create her own artworks, but, in a sense, chisel her own destiny. Read the comic and share with a young person in your life.

Picture This

Need to know on the go? This brief and shiny slideshow from Google Arts & Culture covers Lewis’s early life, education, career, and legacy in just a few slides, with images and context sprinkled throughout. Take a spin through the slideshow.