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Edmonia Lewis, Acclaimed Black Sculptor, Honored With New USPS Stamp

Photo: United States Postal Service

If you’ve never heard of sculptor Edmonia Lewis, the United States Postal Services is working to fix that.

A new Forever Stamp being released later this month will honor the ground breaking artist whose work is credited with opening pathways for other Black artists across all mediums.

Lewis, who was born in upstate New York in 1844 and is of Black and Native American heritage, attended college in Oberlin, Ohio in 1859 before she was wrongly accused of poisoning two white female students at the school. A white mob brutally beat Lewis that same year but she eventually successfully argued an acquittal to clear her name. Lewis traveled back to New York to pursue a career in sculpture.

Her big break came in 1864 after she completed a bust of Colonel Robert Shaw, the white military commander who led the all-Black 54th Massachusetts Regiment during the Civil War.

She sold enough copies of the work to finance her move to Europe where she traveled and made a name for herself as an artist, particularly in Rome, Italy.

Lewis stood out among other artists, becoming known to not hire assistants and instead carving works out of marble on her own.

Her best known work, The Death of Cleopatra, was completed in four years, and shipped to Philadelphia in 1876 for the Centennial Exposition.

“In addition to portrait busts of prominent people, Lewis’ work incorporated African American themes, including the celebration of newly won freedoms, and sensitively depicted her Native American heritage as peaceful and dignified,” the USPS said in a statement.

This stamp is the agency’s 45th installation of its Black Heritage stamp collection and will be available on January 26.

Check out this photo of a sculpture completed by Lewis in 1868 below.

Photo: Getty Images

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