Spinster And Sculptor

A Fierce Practice 2 22 17

A Week of Questions (Keep Reading, I promise the question is below in bold...)

Edmonia Lewis (1844-1907), who also went by the name Wildfire, was an artist and sculptor who lived in the US and Europe. 

On the green, cross-studded grounds of St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Cemetery, in London, grave C350 is covered with a moss-pocked slab of stone bare of any writing. The granite rectangle is nearly flush with the earth. Parish records confirm that underneath it lie the bones of Edmonia Lewis, American sculptor, who was buried there for a fee of five pounds and fifty-two pence in 1907.

Lewis in her lifetime was an enigmatic, singular figure, a maker of art in pristine marble. Though highly educated, she allowed the contemporary press to portray her as a naïf savant; though black and female, she succeeded in exhibiting her sculpture alongside the upper crust on both sides of the Atlantic.

“No matter what frame you put around her, she was unique and succeeded against the odds,” Karen Lemmey, curator of sculpture at the Smithsonian Museum, which owns several pieces of Lewis’s work, said. “But there’s this kind of vagueness to the details of her life.” (The Life and Death of Edmonia Lewis, Spinster and Sculptor, Talia Lavin)

Her biographer, Marilyn Richardson, (a woman crazy-passionate-bonkers to uncover the mysteries of Wildfire), notes that: 

In her will, Lewis identified herself as a “Spinster and Sculptor.”She asked for a dark walnut coffin, and that a notice of her death be printed in the Tablet, a British Roman Catholic publication. The resulting announcement – a curt sentence fragment – made no mention of her accomplishments, and did not reach those who sought her across the sea...

So HERE'S THE QUESTION FOR YOU... if Edmonia gets to spell out her own description in her own biography, she selects "Spinster and Sculptor" as the words that 1) She chooses to identify with at the end of her life OR 2) She wanted to be permanently attached to the world's perception of her into infinity and beyond. (I think these things can go both ways, either how we see ourself OR how we want the world to see us - which are two very different things). What two words would you choose? Let's try to stick to nouns. Click respond and let me know, or add your comments right here on this page.

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What is..

  • Birdsong immediately upon opening the car door at the farm this morning. (I passed by to collect mail and check the frost layer en route to the town hall to vote.)
  • A giant field of migrating cranes. The lovely and recovering Sandhill Cranes that I know live in my neck of the woods AND more than one pair of endangered whooping cranes (the tallest birds in North America). Right there, just a few miles from the farm, on a new route because I stopped to vote in the morning. All this stunning beauty, right here under my nose. 
  • From S, who decided to answer the question from yesterday. (I'm glad she did): "I'm replacing guilt with (more) freedom. I'm trying hard to replace impatience with empathy and time and extra love."
  • The Death of Cleopatra, by Edmonia Lewis. An out-of-the-ordinary depiction and also a very roundabout travel path for the actual piece of art.
  • And she was gay?! (I am surprised/not surprised at how many of the women I've studied and read about over the last month are gay/queer/lesbian identified. It's been very interesting to notice which (and how) personal details are highlighted about each writer/artist/historical figure. What people want to highlight, and what they keep closer to the chest. And if that's the choice of the figure herself, or how history writes her. 
  • Online Gallery: Selected Artworks by African Americans from the Smithsonian Renwick Gallery
  • Oh, and also I went to see The Head and The Heart tonight, which is why I am up so late (which is not unusual), but why I also had a wonderfully cathartic smile cry session for the length of Lost In My Mind. HOT DAMN. Go listen to some good, meaningful, stirring live music (and make some recommendations in the comments section here too!)
  • Read today's full note HERE