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Edmonia Lewis
Old Arrow Maker
modeled 1866, carved 1872
21 1/2 x 13 5/8 x 13 3/8 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Norman B. Robbins

For her subject Lewis chose a passage from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's 1855 poem, Song of Hiawatha, in which Hiawatha offers Minnehaha a deer as he proposes marriage. Here, the deer lies at the feet of Minnehaha, who braids a mat of rushes while her father makes arrowheads. Dressed in authentic Native American attire, the figures reveal the artist's careful study of the human figure even as she idealized their faces. Lewis's evocative subjects often reflect her dual heritage; her father was African American, and her mother Chippewa.