Mary Edmonia Lewis (ca. 1843–after 1909) was America's first professional sculptor of African and Native American descent. She staked a claim at the highest level of neoclassical art. This usually meant competing against men who vehemently opposed women competing in a “man's” profession. Lewis found the fortitude to take up the challenge and, along with several other women (all white), demonstrated the capacity to produce extraordinary marble sculptures. Lewis's burden was twofold. In addition to her gender, her race presented unique obstacles, especially to those who subscribed to the belief that those with a “drop of African blood” were rendered less intelligent and creatively inept. Her crowning achievement was The Death of Cleopatra (1876) that was exhibited at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876 to great acclaim. This paper offers critical insights into the creation of that great work.

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