Walters Art Museum finds rare photo of African-American sculptor

A stroll through a Baltimore antique shop has turned up an unsuspected treasure — a rare photograph of Mary Edmonia Lewis, the first 19th century African-American sculptor to receive international recognition.

The Walters Art Museum, which announced the discovery on Wednesday, said this was only the eighth known photograph of Lewis. The image was shot between 1874 and 1876, when the New York-born sculptor was between 30 and 32-years-old, by the prestigious Italian studio of Fratelli D'Allessandri.

The worn, 4" by 2.5" rectangle -- the 19th century equivalent of a calling card -- was found by the Walters' Deputy Director of Audience Engagement Jacqueline Copeland while she was on a sabbatical. Copeland was combing through a box of photographs of unnamed African-American men, women and children in a Baltimore antique store that wishes to remain anonymous.

"I was ecstatic when I realized that this unidentified black woman standing proudly and confidently in a 19th century dress was Edmonia Lewis, since so few images of her exist," Copeland said in a news release.

It's not known how the calling card ended up in Baltimore. But museum officials speculated that Lewis may have brought the cards with her in 1883, when she installed her bas-relief, "Adoration of the Magi" in the chapel of St. Mary of the Virgin on Orchard Street.

The photograph will be added to the Walters' archives.

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