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Edmonia Lewis Stamp issued 1/26/2022

Sculptress Connected to Central New York Honored on Postal Stamp

The United States Postal Service will issue the 45th Black Heritage stamp on January 26, 2022 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington D.C. in honor of Edmonia Lewis, a Black and Native American sculptress who gained international recognition. Bobbie Reno, a Rensselaer County NY historian, campaigned for this recognition of Lewis.  

Edmonia Lewis was born in 1844 to an Ojibwa/Chippewa woman from Albany and a former enslaved man from Haiti. Both parents died when Wildfire, as she was called, was young. She went to live with her mother’s sisters. In later years her brother Samuel supported her and in 1856 Edmonia entered New York Central College. She then went to Oberlin College in Ohio from 1859 to 1863. Moving to Boston in 1864, Edmonia began to study sculpting. She was inspired by the lives of abolitionists and Civil War heroes as subjects. Abolitionist Lydia Maria Child brought attention to Edmonia’s work. Among her earliest works were busts and portrait medallions of John Brown, William Lloyd Garrison, and Wendell Phillips – all inductees to the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum in Peterboro NY, as is Child. In 1866 Edmonia went to Rome to study and sculpt, returning there for many of the years until her death in 1907.

The McGraw Historical Society in Cortland County NY has collections of photographs, clippings, speeches and notes about the New York Central College buildings, and its professors and students. The college was founded by anti-slavery Baptists in 1849 to educate black and white, and female and male students. The school had continuing financial issues. Gerrit Smith, a wealthy abolitionist, donated to the college to keep it operational, and at one point purchased the school and gifted it back to the institution. An historical marker was dedicated to the site of the school in 1985.

Donna Dorrance Burdick, Town of Smithfield NY historian, discovered that Gerrit Smith, whose National Historic Landmark estate in Peterboro NY is open to the public, wrote in his journal “August 23 1872, Edmonia Lewis (artist) of Rome, Italy, comes to take the first steps toward putting my statue in marble. I am surprised and not pleased by it. September 3, Edmonia leaves us.” Smith’s disinclination to a statue (a project conceived by his friends) prevailed. Edmonia made a plaster cast of the clasped right hands of Gerrit and Ann Smith, and later in her studio in Rome she carved the hands in marble. The Edmonia Lewis sculpture of the clasped Smith hands is in the collection of the Madison County Historical Society in Oneida NY.

Stamp news is being shared with the hashtags #EdmoniaLewis and #BlackHeritageStamps

For more information on these associated Central New York sites:

https://nyheritage.org/collections/new-york-central-college

https://mchs1900.org/

www.gerritsmith.org

www.nationalabolitionhalloffameandmuseum.org

 

(Courtesy Madison County Historical Society, Oneida NY)

Donna Dorrance Burdick, Town of Smithfield NY historian, discovered that in 1872 Edmonia Lewis created a plaster cast of the clasped right hands of Gerrit and Ann Smith of Peterboro NY. Later in her studio in Rome she carved the hands in marble. The Edmonia Lewis sculpture of the clasped Smith hands is in the collection of the Madison County Historical Society in Oneida NY.

(Courtesy McGraw Historical Society, McGraw NY)

Edmonia Lewis attended the New York Central School from 1856-1859. The McGraw Historical Society in Cortland County NY has collections of photographs, clippings, speeches and notes about the New York Central College buildings, and its professors and students. The college was founded by anti-slavery Baptists in 1849 to educate black and white, and female and male students. The school had continuing financial issues. Gerrit Smith, a wealthy abolitionist, donated to the college to keep it operational, and at one point purchased the school and gifted it back to the institution. An historical marker was dedicated to the site of the school in 1985.

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