Drawn to Edmonia Lewis

Celebrating the renowned artist with a comic about her life and work

January 13, 2022
Edmonia Lewis comic cover
Cover illustration from "Breaking the Marble Ceiling," a comic about artist Edmonia Lewis. All illustrations by Rachel Bivens.

The daughter of a Haitian father and an Ojibwe mother, Edmonia Lewis overcame many obstacles before finding success as a sculptor in Rome, where her fame brought countless visitors to her studio.

Her amazing person story inspired us to feature the artist in a new digital project. We chose the title Breaking the Marble Ceiling for the comic, riffing on the glass ceiling of equal opportunity for women, and with a nod to the medium that enabled Edmonia Lewis not only to create her own artworks, but in a sense, chisel her own destiny.

Two cells from an illustration. In the first, a young Black artist is staring up at the slab of marble. In the second, she is striking it with a defiant look on her face.
Edmonia Lewis examining a piece of marble before beginning to create her sculpture. 

In drawing the comic, illustrator Rachel Bivens has captured key moments in the artist’s life through a palette of cream, blue, and red, particularly in Edmonia's sculptor's cap and necktie. Edmonia’s character can be read in her words and actions but also seen in her determined expressions. A victim of racist violence while attending college, she managed to still become the artist she dreamed of being. She first succeeds in Boston, then moves overseas to Rome, where she lives and works and creates some of her most important sculptures, including The Death of Cleopatra, in SAAM’s collection.

An illustration of a young Edmonia Lewis standing on a pedastal, surrounded by her sculptures.

A triumphant Edmonia Lewis surrounded by some of her most important sculptures.

The comic concludes with a full-page image of the artist surrounded by some of her amazing sculptures. What I love about Rachel’s drawing here is how she decided to put Edmonia on a pedestal, as if in becoming the sculptor she wanted to be, she was able to enact her greatest work of art, herself. And just look at her left foot with her blue shoe elegantly and confidently from beneath the hem of her long dress, a confident power stance that points to endless possibilities.

This comic is part of a series Drawn to Art: Ten Tales of Inspiring Women Artists that illuminates the stories of ten women artists in the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Inspired by graphic novels, these short takes on artists’ lives were each drawn by a woman student-illustrator from the Ringling College of Art and Design.

We invite you to read the comic and share with your friends and young people in your life.


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