July 16, 2007

Manic Monday: Marble

Kudos to Morgen for this week's Manic Monday tribute to marble. I never collected marbles as a kid. Perhaps if there was more media coverage of the United States Marble Championship or World Marbles Championship more kids in my neighborhood would be playing today. I don't even think that my children own any marbles.

As such, I thought about marble as art.

There are a number of renowned Black sculptors in history, such as Richmond Barthe (1901-1989) and William Edmondson (1870-1951). However, I thought that my Manic Monday post should feature Edmonia Lewis (1843-1911). Edmonia was born in upstate New York in 1843 to a Chippewa Indian mother and African American father. Edmonia surpassed exorbitant odds to become the first African American, and Native American, female sculptor -- and was the first such artist to celebrate her racial identity.

Her fame and artistic achievement shocked and mortified those who claimed that Negroes lacked the capacity for intelligence and fine art, particularly because Edmonia insisted on standing next to her works in photographs and extensively explaining them. She combined a unique blend of talent, emotion and perspective, and often sculpted in marble those who were heroes to her; leaders in the abolitionist movement and such courageous women as Cleopatra and Hagar, maid to Abraham's wife, Sarah.

Edmonia went to school here in Ohio. In January 1862, Edmonia was accused of poisoning two white female students. While awaiting trial, she was seized and beaten so viciously that she was bedridden for weeks. Edmonia was defended in court by John Mercer Langston, an Oberlin graduate and the first African American admitted to the Ohio bar. She was acquitted and carried from the courtroom on the shoulders of supportive friends, mostly white, and resumed her studies.

In 1864, she sculpted a marble bust of Robert Gould Shaw, who had died while leading an all-Black regiment in the battle of Fort Wagner. Robert Shaw was played by Matthew Broderick in the movie, Glory (NOTE: Denzel Washington won an Academy Award in this movie). Anyhow, Edmonia earned enough income from that Robert Show sculpture to embark on her dream of studying and working in Italy.

While in Italy, Edmonia was welcomed and encouraged by America's most famous sculptor, Hiram Powers. One of the most popular American marble statues of the 19th century, Hiram Powers' The Greek Slave (1844), portrays a Greek girl captured by the Turks and put up for sale in a Middle Eastern slave market. The sculptor said of his work: "As there should be a moral in every work of art, I have given to the expression of the Greek slave what trust there could still be in a Divine Providence for a future state of existence, with utter despair for the present, mingled somewhat of scorn for all around her . . . It is not her person but her spirit that stands exposed."

Oddly enough, Hiram Powers (1805-1873) was hailed as a Genius in Marble during his career. Cincinnati, OH is hosting the first major exhibition devoted to the most celebrated 19th century American sculptor at Taft Museum of Art thru August 12th. From 1840 to 1870 "Hiram Powers" was a household name, much like Picasso is today.

Villagers, I hope that you enjoyed this week's Manic Monday post.

25 comments:

tegdirb92 said...

wow, I learned a lot from that post. Never played marbles as a kid? You missed out :) Happy MM.

Empress Bee (of the High Sea) said...

very interesting, thanks for the lesson!

smiles, bee

Jamie said...

Wonderful story, but it left me with a question. As soon as I saw the name Langston, I immediately thought of Langston Hughes so looked up his bio. His grandmother was Mary Sampson Patterson Leary Langston. Was she related to the gentleman in your story?

Turnbaby said...

Ah--your post made me remember I'd forgotten a lovely marble image!! Thanks!

Villager said...

TegDirb92 - I wonder if marbles is a game played more in rural areas of the country than in big cities? I grew up in Los Angeles. I wonder if that partially explains my void in the marbles area?

Bee - Thank you very much for your visit and support!

Jamie - I truly don't know about the Langston connection.

peace,
Villager
peace, Villager

Danielle said...

It amazes me how many prominent contributions to American society are not readily known. I had never heard of this remarkable woman and her artistic and social contributions. My history teacher was an extra in Glory he had the top hat in a parade scene. He was sooo proud of his involvement in the film.

As always....

Villager said...

Turnbaby - It is a pleasure to see you here in our village. I hope you find reasons to return!

peace, Villager

Comedy + said...

What a great story of a great sculptor. What beautiful work too. I always get a great history lesson here. Have a great MM. :)

Villager said...

Danielle & Comedy+ - Manic Monday provides me an opportunity to research some little-known aspects of Black history. I may even get over the the local museum to see Edmonia's art on exhibit. Thank you for taking time to share your voice with us tonight!

Sarge Charlie said...

man, this is and educational theme for mm

the108 said...

Great MM post!!

Gattina said...

I also thought that somebody lost his marbles with this word ! and you handled the theme very well I too thought about marble sculptures.

mousey said...

as usual i learned again new info from you. thanks for sharing.

happy monday

Amazing Gracie said...

I also chose a sculpting theme but a much more obvious one. I found your fascinating! What a truly noble and lovely woman she was and I'm so glad to be able to learn of her.
I saw the movie, "Glory," and still get sick to my stomach when I think of it. I watched it on VHS, which is a good thing because I couldn't handle the brutality. When they just "tossed" his body in the open grave, my heart broke. That was probably the best movie I wish I'd never seen...
~~~Blessings~~~

Nancy Lindquist-Liedel said...

What a lovely set of art pieces done in marble. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and these pieces.

Lois Grebowski said...

Great educational post. I had a late aunt Edmonia. I always thought that was a funny name. Gonna pass this one to Oldest SD, who is a native american studies grad.

Morgen said...

I collected marbles as a kid, but didn't play with them in the traditional sense. I love the Taft Museum in Cinci (my old stomping ground) -- the Underground Railroad Museum was just about to open as we moved, and next time I go back that's on my list to see.
Thanks for your informative and entertaining post!
cheers,
mo

Christine of Epiphany said...

I didn't know most of this stuff, not even that the Taft Art Museum was going to have a show on good ol' Hiram!

Edmonia looks like a formidable woman~

lisa said...

that's alot of info I never knew before! thanks and happy mm!

Villager said...

Sarge, The 108, Nancy, Gattina & Mousey - Asante sana!

Gracie - I often marvel at the brutality and the sheer harshness that all of our ancestors went thru. We live such "soft" lives in comparison. Glory was a gritty examination of a very bloody war (our Civil War). Denzel Washington was excellent in that movie. Thanx for sharing your voice in our village today!

Morgen & Christine - Wow, we uncovered two more folks with Cincinnati ties during today's MM operation. That is remarkable. Thank you both for sharing your voices with us!

peace, Villager

ian said...

This was a really interesting bit of history which (surprise surprise) I didn't know about.

I had marbles as a kid, but nobody to play them with.

Ian

I Was Born2Cree8 said...

A wonderful and informative post. I rally enjoyed this one. Very well done!! I learned a lot...thank you.

Travis said...

Thanks for sharing that. From the photographs of her work, I can see how talented she was.

Happy MM!

Lizza said...

I can always be assured of learning something new when I visit, and today was no exception. Edmonia Lewis surely must have traveled a long and difficult path to get the recognition she deserved.

Villager said...

Ian, Born2Cree8, Lizzie & Travis - Asante sana!