Stone Mirrors: The Sculpture and Silence of Edmonia Lewis by Jeannine Atkins (review)
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Reviewed by
Atkins, Jeannine Stone Mirrors: The Sculpture and Silence of Edmonia Lewis. Atheneum, 2017 [176p]
Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-4814-5905-1 $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-1-4814-5907-5 $10.99
Reviewed from galleys         R Gr. 7-10

Surviving pieces of nineteenth-century sculptor Edmonia Lewis’ work attest to inarguable talent, and a burgeoning twentieth-century interest in artists of color revived investigation into her career; due perhaps to her own guarded privacy, though, and a career spent largely in Europe, little is known of her own story. In this free-verse novel, Atkins imagines a plausible backstory that connects a core event in Lewis’ early life to notable works from her career. Daughter of a black father (possibly a runaway slave) and an Ojibwe mother, Edmonia was sent to study at Oberlin College, the first American college to offer racially integrated educational programs. There she was accused of poisoning two white classmates, and although she was acquitted by the court, she suffered a vigilante attack and was forced to withdraw from the school. In Atkins’ telling, the classmates sicken from alcohol and a self-concocted love potion but hide their embarrassment by falsely accusing Edmonia. Raped as well as beaten by vigilantes, taciturn Edmonia turns to sculpture for self expression, and although her busts of Colonel Henry Gould Shaw and abolitionists reflect her racial pride and pay the bills, it’s the large-scale work on women from legend and history—Hagar, Cleopatra, Minnehaha—that she accomplishes in Rome that truly reflect her attempt to find nobility in their tragedy and in her own. Written with sensitivity and grace, this compelling title of injustice and vindication will leave readers pondering the complicated relationship between pain and art. A biographical note and list of sources are included. [End Page 163]

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