Edmonia Lewis was the first African American artist to earn international fame for her artwork.
She earned a living as a sculptor and portraitist and was famous for several of her works, including a bust of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw of which she sold over 100 plaster copies.
Born Mary Edmonia Lewis in 1844 in New York State, Edmonia was actually African American and Native American. Her mother was of Mississauga Ojibwe and African descent, while her father was Haitian of African descent.
Edmonia acheived fame and earned a living from her art in a time of virulent prejudice against minorities and women. She challenged racist preconceptions with her marble sculptures of abolitionist heroes such as Colonel Shaw, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Horace Greeley.