Mary Edmonia Lewis (alias Wildfire) was born on July 4, 1844 in Greenbush. She was born to an Ojibwa Native mother and a black father. When her parents passed away at an early age, her maternal grandparents raised her in Oberlin. Oberlin College offered a course in fine arts, but she was expelled after being accused for poisoning another student. Following her expulsion from Oberlin, she moved to Boston with the support of a mentor, who focused on creating sculptures and paintings about antislavery leaders. In 1865, she arrived in Rome and joined other American female artists to make portrait heads as well as stone and marble sculptures. She had the most part of her art in Rome.
Lewis was a major contributor to the Neoclassicism trend in art, as most of her work dates back to the first half of the nineteenth century. During her active artistic period, artists strove to reestablish the classicism artistic movement in opposition to the romanticism period, which stressed radicalism and the abandonment of classical art and standards (Fei, & Yan, 2018). Lewis’ artworks featured themes drawn from Christianity and Greek mythology. She also highlighted the suffering and legacy of Native Americans in America and Africans living under persecution. Old Arrow Maker and The Death of Cleopatra are just a few of the well-known pieces she created. The sculpture, which was made during the Italian Renaissance, reflected the neoclassical idea of classical artists enhancing classical art based upon Greek and Christian mythology.
Due to her American citizenship, Lewis faced significant prejudice during her years of practice in Rome. Because she is black and a female, she faced similar prejudices in America. But, her perseverance and continued creation of works depicting the struggle of her people helped overcome this obstacle.
Lewis’s use of ancient Greek art as a way to present the dominant ideas was her best invention. Lewis died in London in 1907.