Label Text: Edmonia Lewis chose a fertile subject in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1855 epic poem, The Song of Hiawatha. The poem recounts the life of the mythical Ojibwa hero Hiawatha and reflects the era’s stereotypes of native people as a vanishing race of noble savages. Inspired by ancient Greek and Roman sculpture, Lewis’s Marriage of Hiawatha features the two lovers in an idealized, Neoclassical style. The poem’s enormous popularity and Longfellow’s celebrity ensured public interest in Lewis’s series of Hiawatha sculptures.
Lewis was one of a group of American, female sculptors who set up studios in Rome. The artist’s own narrative of her life varied over time, but there is little doubt this remarkable woman overcame many obstacles to become a successful artist. In a time when a female sculptor of African American and Native American ancestry was rare, Lewis’s depictions of Native American subjects captured the interest of the press and patrons alike.