Mary Edmonia Lewis, also known as Wildfire was born July 4, 1844, in Greenbush. Her Ojibwa mother was Ojibwa and her father, a black man. Therefore she is biracial. When her parents passed away at an early age, her maternal grandparents raised her in Oberlin. After being accused of poisoning another student, she enrolled at Oberlin College’s fine arts program. She was expelled by Oberlin College and moved to Boston where she continued her artistic pursuits with the guidance of an artist. Her focus was on sculptures of antislavery heroes, as well as painting. After arriving in Rome in 1865, she collaborated with American women artists to create stone and marble sculptures and portrait heads. She subsequently had most of her work in Rome.
Lewis contributed mainly to the neoclassicism artistic trend since most of her works were made in the late 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 her most well-known pieces. This sculpture was a neoclassical representation of classical artists enhancing classical art based upon Greek and Christian mythology, as it was during the Italian Renaissance.
Due to her American citizenship, Lewis faced significant prejudice during her years of practice in Rome. Because she is black and a female, Lewis was subject to prejudice in America. But, Lewis overcame this obstacle by travelling to Rome and creating works depicting the struggle of her people.
Lewis’s unique ability to draw the dominant ideas in the present day using ancient Greek art was her greatest invention. Lewis died in London in 1907.