U.S. Postal Service Honors First Professional Black Sculptor Edmonia Lewis with Forever Stamp

USPS’s Edmonia Lewis stamps. (COURTESY U.S. POSTAL SERVICE)

Over the past decade, the U.S. Postal Service has made a point of using its stamps to honor figures overlooked for years by mainstream art institutions, including Ruth Asawa and Emilio Sánchez. The latest artist to receive the honor is Edmonia Lewis, a sculptor of Haitian and Ojibwe descent who some historians have identified as the first Black artist in her medium to hit it big in North America and Europe.

During the late 19th century, Lewis became known across the U.S. and beyond for elegant sculptures made in marble. Her Death of Cleopatra (1876), crafted from more than 3,000 pounds of Carrara marble, represents the moments following Cleopatra’s death by suicide and endures as her most famous work. (It’s owned by the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.) Many of her other sculptures, however, have been lost to history.

Lewis’s postage stamp is based on a portrait that Augustus Marshall took of her sometime between 1864 and 1871. It’s part of the USPS’s “Black Heritage” series, which also includes stamps paying homage to playwright August Wilson, tennis player Althea Gibson, and others.

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SOURCE: ARTnews, Alex Greenberger