Visual narratives and the portrait busts of Edmonia Lewis
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This study considers the social and historical significance of the extant portrait busts sculpted by Edmonia Lewis. The Afro-Native American artist is best known for her thematic sculptures such as Forever Free (1867), Hagar (1875), and Death of Cleopatra (1876). The academic attention paid to these works obscures the fact that portrait busts account for over a third of her artistic output. Consequently, Lewis's portrait busts have not received a concentrated analysis. Who were the individuals portrayed? What were their relationships to the artist? Using Lewis's bust of James Peck Thomas (1874), her only existing portrait of an African-American patron as a case study, this study explores these two questions in depth. Drawing primarily from unpublished court documents, Thomas's autobiography as well as newspaper articles, this examination opens a unique window into the individual lives of Lewis's subjects, thereby expanding our knowledge of nineteenth-century American visual and cultural history.
Table of Contents
Introduction -- James Peck Thomas -- Historical Analysis -- Appendix