The Strange History of a Brilliant Woman and a Lost Statue
At the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, a monumental statue and its sculptor drew both great acclaim and great disapproval. Many critics raved that the work was brilliant and hailed it as the most impressive sculpture in the show, but some thought it shocking and repellent.
The sculpture was The Death of Cleopatra and its creator was Edmonia Lewis, an American woman of African and Native American descent who spent much of her life as an expatriate in Rome and London.
The Death of Cleopatra came to Chicago in 1878 to be exhibited at the Interstate Exposition. Shortly after that it was acquired by a local gambler and then it disappeared, presumed lost forever. It was almost a century before it was rediscovered. For much of that time it had sat abandoned and forgotten in a field in Forest Park and later in a salvage yard in Cicero.
John Rice, a writer, private investigator, and long-time resident of Forest Park, has been fascinated by Edmonia Lewis and The Death of Cleopatra for over 25 years. Please join us to hear Rice share the life story of this remarkable woman and the strange journey of her greatest creation.
Rice is the co-author, along with Gail Tanzer of The Ghost of Cleopatra, a work of historical fiction that tells the story of Edmonia Lewis and her masterpiece. It’s an epic tale that spans centuries and continents and tells how the spirit of the Queen of the Nile inspired Lewis to create her likeness in marble. The story is told through the eyes of Lewis, her statue and Cleopatra herself.
It is a story that celebrates the achievements of women, immigrants and minorities. Tracing her life from her humble early years living with her mother’s Ojibwe people to her life of sculpting world-renowned works of art, the book shows the indomitable spirit of Edmonia Lewis, who overcame terrible hardship to become one of the celebrated sculptors of her time.
Copies of The Ghost of Cleopatra will be available for purchase at the event.
This event is free to OPRF Museum members. Admission for non-members is $5 for Oak Park and River Forest residents, $7 for non-residents, and $3 for students.