Mary Edmonia Lewis was the first African American sculptor to receive international fame. Born in upstate New York in 1844 to a Haitian American father and a mother of Chippewa descent, Lewis lived her first 12 years as a Native American. After her brother had been successful in mining in the West, he arranged for her to go to school. She eventually made her way to Oberlin College in Ohio but was charged both with stealing art supplies and trying to poison two White students. While she was acquitted of the charges, she did not graduate and instead went to Boston to study under sculptor Edward Brackett.
In 1868 she move to Rome where she spent most of the remainder of her life, at time traveling back to the United States to showcase her work. Recently, researchers at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore found a photograph of Lewis in an antique shop. The photo appeared on a carte-de-visite, or calling card, that artists would leave in a manner in which business cards are used today. Prior to this discovery, there were only seven known photographs of Lewis, all from the same sitting by a photographer in Chicago.