an examination of Lewis’s career, the systems in place to support that
career, and a thematic discussion of her sculpture, which I have divided
into “slavery works,” “Indian works,” and The Death of Cleopatra. The other
book is a verbalization of the ongoing dialogue I had with art history while
studying Lewis and more generally while studying “American” and African
American art historiography.2 In chapters 2, 3, and 4, the “books” are re-
flected in the two halves, or sections, of the chapters. The first section of
each chapter functions to lay the theoretical grounds for its corresponding
thematic section, which treats a specific category of Lewis’s ideal sculp-
ture—that is, sculpture of an idealized subject based on the Bible, my-
thology, literature, or history. For example, the first section of chapter 2
is titled “Reading Duncanson (and Reading Lewis)” and explores how art
history constructs the black or Indian subject and what is at stake in up-
holding that subject. Concomitantly, the following section in the chapter,
titled “Slavery Works: Embodying the Black Subject,” represents what art
history could do if its methods and procedures were adhered to so that race
and gender are historicized and “put in their place” among the myriad of
discourses that determine an artist’s career.
I have attempted in the process of this exercise to be ever mindful of the
words of the three great intellects quoted in the epigraph: Ralph Waldo
Emerson, Frederick Douglass, and Toni Morrison. They have been my
touchstone in this endeavor. In his essay “The Poet,” published in 1844,
Emerson writes, “For we are not pans and barrows, nor even porters of
the fire and torchbearers, but children of the fire, made of it, and only the
same divinity transmuted and at two or three removes, when we know least
about it.”3 Emerson kept me alert and kept me open to the possibilities of
Lewis’s agency in areas where art history would normally assign her the
role of passive vessel or victim (as “pan” or “barrow”) of race and gender,
creating works that are merely reactionary to her status as either “exotic”
or “subversive,” either as black or Indian. Emerson proclaimed in his essay
that America had “listened too long to the courtly muses of Europe” and
that Americans “worshipped the past.” Emerson’s lament was that America
did not have someone of sufficient genius to interpret the present. “I look
in vain for the poet whom I describe. We do not with sufficient plainness
or sufficient profoundness address ourselves to life, nor dare we chaunt
our own times and social circumstance . . . Time and nature yield us many
gifts, but not yet the timely man, the new religion, the reconciler, whom
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R E FA C E
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