Category Archives: Marilyn Richardson


I have an essay in this book about Edmonia Lewis, Robert Gould Shaw, Saint-Gaudens’ memorial, and Edward Bannister.

Maine Summer 2010

Ellen Feldman Photographs and Commentary


Time Recovered

Much of Ellen Feldman’s photography deals with motion. Single frames hold a spontaneous moment in suspension. “I . . . spy on people,” she explains, “and like to stay invisible, but don’t much care if my cover is blown.” A woman in motion, the dancer and chorographer, Nicole Piece, has been the subject of a ten-year collaboration with Feldman: the dancer in her studio subverting gravity, inventing form as she leaps, spins, and balances precariously; the photographer in steady but asymmetrical orbit adding time to space.

The images here, in contrast, are still and introspective. They are meditations on how the captured instant is forever the country of the past. They are meditations as well, on traveling with one’s parents to that country, knowing that however much the generations echo each other, they cannot complete the journey together.



[Isabel] found herself desiring to emulate [the talents, accomplishments, aptitudes of Madame Merle], and in twenty such ways this lady presented herself as a model. ‘I should like awfully to be so!’ Isabel secretly exclaimed, more than once, as one after another her friend’s fine aspects caught the light . . . .

Portrait of a Lady, Henry James

Paris light refracted in glass enlarges and distorts. In the City of Light, dark glasses are powerless against the reflection in the vitrine of that shop that sells the secret to the meaning of the city, the shop that is always closed when we try the door. These scarves are talismans, as Gallic as Villon. Arms folded in that way, chin at just that angle, gaze intent on reading in the people passing by their stories. Just like your mother. So much like your daughter . . .


A child of seven or eight and a young dachshund walked gaily west, toward fifth Avenue and the Park and out of Zooey’s sight. Zooey reflexively put his hand on a crosspiece between panes of glass, as if he had a mind to raise the window and lean out of it to watch the two disappear.

Franny and Zooey, J.D. Salinger

A photograph of a woman reading is not the same as a photograph of a woman reading a book whose title we can see, a title that induces a double exposure through the lens of memory. In J. D. Salinger’s novel, Franny Glass, in a spiritual crisis, lies on the couch for days, weeping. Fragile, she may either stand intact or break, under the assault of family and the cosmic notes that can shatter body and spirit . . .


These were my two worries when I was a child: one was that I was not [my parents’] true daughter, and would be sent away. The other was that I was their true daughter and would never, ever manage to escape to the outside world.

Earthly Possessions, Anne Tyler

The women raise their arms in the gesture, both sultry and vulnerable, of Picasso’s subjects in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, it only works because one becomes two just as in the Picasso – – that artist, that lover, that father in summer. The mother holds her cigarette, the ice cubes melting in her drink. The daughter is lost in thought, her leg smooth and curved like a Matisse cutout, wondering about the weather in Paris where she is posing in the nude. They will find their way there together – – one day . . . .

[Introduction and commentary by Marilyn Richardson. This piece appeared in a different format in the Sept./Oct. 2010 issue of the Women’s Review of Books.]

OK, So I’m Trying to Choose New Glasses

horus eye

New Edmonia Lewis Record Set

Edmonia Lewis’s 1874 sculpture, The Marriage of Hiawatha, went for $314,500 at Sotheby’s May 21 American Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture auction. Lot 32.      marriage of Hia 5.09


Marilyn Richardson writes: “When Edmonia Lewis left the United States for Europe in 1865, she settled first in Florence and then within the year went on to Rome where she established her life and career as America’s first prominent non-white sculptor. The daughter of a mother of Ojibway Indian descent, her father was a black man from the Caribbean. In Rome she was recognized as a member of the community of expatriate American and British women in the arts that Henry James dubbed the “white, marmorean flock” for the number of sculptors among them. Beginning with her portrait bust of the fallen Brahmin Civil War hero, Robert Gould Shaw, completed in Boston in 1864, Lewis and her work remained in the public eye for most of the latter part of the 19th-century.

Works by Edmonia Lewis showing full-length figures are fewer in number than her portrait busts of contemporary, historical, and literary figures, copies of which were commissioned and sold in greater numbers. This newly recovered example of her group, Hiawatha’s Marriage, (also titled The Marriage of Hiawatha) – – three others from earlier dates are held in private and public collections – – is an instance of her later refinement of the composition.

One of her series of scenes from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem The Song Of Hiawatha (1855), this sculpture interprets passages presenting Hiawatha as the ” . . . hunter, / From another tribe and country, / Young and tall and very handsome . . .” who had won the heart of the maiden Minnehaha the previous year, but whom she feared might never return. In one of the loveliest sections of his epic poem Longfellow writes of their love in terms approaching an indigenous American prelapsarian Song of Songs.

Lewis’s composition borrows from the classical in a manner her patrons and audience would have readily recognized. Most directly, she echoes groups of Cupid and Psyche, although the couple’s embrace here lacks the traditional erotic charge, replacing passion with a respectful, protective reserve. The beads at Minnehaha’s neck represent their betrothal when “round [her] neck he hung the wampum /As a pledge, the snow-white wampum,” and then, in the scene Lewis depicts, “From the wigwam he departed, / Leading with him Laughing Water; / Hand in hand they went together …” Subsequent verses make it clear that Longfellow considered this journey, with their nights together in the forest, their woodland wedding, referring thereafter to Minnehaha as Hiawatha’s wife.

Lewis, characteristically, has clothed these Native American figures in a combination of animal pelt and elegantly draped fabric, positing both their wilderness origins and their innate finer sensibilities; all with the hint of a Roman toga for Hiawatha and a classically draped garment cascading to Minnehaha’s feet. The crown-like array of feathers atop his forthright brow and guileless face implies Hiawatha’s nobility of character. His elaborate necklace is his most exotic attribute. The rippling waves of Minnehaha’s hair conjure the laughing water of her name. The nicely detailed leather quiver and the array of arrows attached to Hiawatha’s belt speak more of Cupid than of a warrior prince from among the tribes of American Indians fighting for land and survival even as Lewis was at work in her studio on her Indian pieces of the 1860s and ’70s.

Within the composition the lovers lost in each other’s gaze step forward into their new life together but also, as all readers of the most famous American poem of 19th century well knew, they move toward their ultimate doom. Edmonia Lewis placed the work of the sculptor’s hand at the service of the poet’s romance creating the type of compelling narrative in marble embraced by a significant faction of the art-buying public of the day. Replicas of Hiawatha’s Marriage were available for purchase at Lewis’s Roman studio and on trips she took to the United States to exhibit and sell her work. Copies were also displayed at the National Academy of Design in New York City, in 1868, and at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876.”

We are grateful to Marilyn Richardson for her assistance in cataloguing this lot.

Auction of Edmonia Lewis’s MINNEHAHA

COWAN’S AUCTION: 2009, Winter Fine and Decorative Art, February 7

Sale Price Including Buyer’s Premium: $52,875.00


Marble bust atop marble base, standing 11 5/8″ tall. With Minnehaha inscribed between figure and base, and Edmonia Lewis/ Fecit A Roma/ 1868 on reverse side. 

Born near Albany, New York, (Mary) Edmonia Lewis (ca. 1842 – after 1909) was the daughter of an Ojibway mother and a black, West Indian, father. Following studies at New York Central College in McGrawville, and at Oberlin College, she arrived in Boston, Massachusetts, in early 1863. There, under the patronage of abolitionists Lydia Maria Child, William Cooper Nell, and William Lloyd Garrison among others, she studied with the sculptor Edward Brackett.

Lewis rented space in the Studio Building in downtown Boston and quickly established herself as an artist on the rise, specializing in plaster and marble portrait busts and medallions. Her reputation was enhanced by the success of her bust of the fallen Brahmin Civil War hero, Robert Gould Shaw. With funds from the sale of copies of that work and of other pieces she sailed for Europe in the summer of 1865. Following a stay in Florence, Lewis settled in Rome where she lived for the rest of her professional life, making frequent trips to the United States to exhibit and sell her work and to garner new commissions.

Lewis’s Roman studio was listed along with those of other major artists of the day in all of the best guidebooks. Her career was followed closely by the American and European press, and she quickly became the first non-white American to gain an international reputation as a sculptor. Along with portrait busts of friends and public figures, her more ambitious early work referenced her dual heritage with themes of black emancipation and of Native American life and lore. In the latter instance she produced a body of work based upon Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem, The Song of Hiawatha (1855), the single best-selling poem in the English language of the entire 19th-century. Savvy collectors and curious tourists alike flocked to Lewis’s studio to purchase this work with its added cachet of coming from the hand of an artist who was herself part Indian.

It was not uncommon for sculptors of successful larger works to excerpt a detail of such pieces in the form of a bust sold independently; most notably, Hiram Powers’ Greek Slave was offered in both versions. Given her friendship with Powers, Lewis would have recognized the wisdom of that practice. Her elaborate group, The Old Arrowmaker and His Daughter (also known as The Wooing of Hiawatha), and the standing couple in her Marriage of Hiawatha, provided the models for her busts of Minnehaha and Hiawatha with the subject’s name inscribed on the lower front atop the base. To date there are five known signed and dated copies of Lewis’s Minnehaha bust housed in public and private collections. This previously unknown example adds another to that number.

The mythic love story of Hiawatha and Minnehaha was well known. Still, in depicting the Indian maiden, Lewis walked a cautious line between creating a chaste child of the forest and perpetuating stereotypes of morally naïve savages. While Minnehaha wears an animal pelt, unlike the conventional depictions of such clothing at that period – – often draped over one shoulder with an exposed breast emphasizing a partially clothed life in the wild, hers is fashioned into a modest garment accented with graduated beads at her neck.

Lewis’s characteristic interest in the play of pattern and texture is evident in the pelt bodice framed on one side by the smooth flesh of a bare shoulder, and on the other by the weight and folds of the fabric of the blanket draped across the opposite shoulder. The beads suggest worked stone or bone; the headband is likely a strip of leather. They pose a contrast to the softness of the billowing flow of wavy hair and to the lightness of the elegant sweep and fall of the crowning feather. This is a small work with a considerable aesthetic and narrative burden. Within her persona, Lewis’sMinnehaha is designed to evoke the ambience of an untamed wilderness, the innocence of first love, and the nobility of a tragic figure caught in the inevitability of a sealed fate.

For most of the latter part of the 19th century these small marbles by Edmonia Lewis were highly prized; one example of her bust of Minnehaha was displayed at the National Academy of Design as early as 1868. Beginning in the 1990s they have begun to return to an increasingly avid market.

mr-feb09wr  We would like to thank Edmonia Lewis scholar Marilyn    Richardson for the catalogue essay. She is the Principal of  Art  + History Consultants, a  research and design group in  Watertown, MA. The technical description  and condition  report were provided by Cowan’s Auctions. 

Condition: The bust was once painted white, and this residue can still be seen in areas. It has mostly worn to again expose the marble as it would have been after execution. The paint was applied several decades ago. Two natural veins in the marble extend both across the face and the neck/chest, each visible on the reverse side. A small loss is apparent above the Fecit A Romainscription on verso.

(EST $20000-$30000)

and in the same sale: