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The studio of Edmonia Lewis was a major attraction for Americans visiting Rome in the mid-19th century, and it’s easy to see why. As the first African American and Native American sculptor to earn international recognition, Lewis challenged assumptions about artists during her time. Over the course of her prolific career, she sculpted busts of prominent people and created neoclassical works incorporating African American themes, including the celebration of newly won freedoms. She also depicted her Native American heritage as peaceful and dignified.

We spoke with art instructor and stamp illustrator Alex Bostic about what it was like to honor Lewis with a stamp.

You spent a lot of time getting to know Edmonia Lewis for this project. What was that process like? 

Learning about her, it was a “kindred spirits” kind of thing. She had to fight to become who she wanted to be, and I grew up similarly. My parents did not want me to be an artist — they wanted me to be an architect or an engineer, something responsible. But I took this route and became successful at it. And it was twice as hard for her, being female and African American in her time period, as it was for me being an African American male today. 

There are other connections. She was a sculptor, and I took a sculpture class not long ago that changed how I work: It made me see things in a more three-dimensional way. Also, Italy is one of my favorite places on the planet — I taught a summer study abroad course there for seven years — and that’s where she was. 

What part of her portrait did you enjoy working on most?

Her hair. It was a puzzle, but it was fun: the highlights, the lighting. I had to make sure that it looked like the hair was coming out of her head, not sitting on top of it like a hat, so I created many different versions. The whole portrait went through a lot of changes. My students are always surprised by that. To me, it’s fun, but to them, it's frustrating. They say, “You mean you have to do it over?” I say, “No, I just have to do it better.” Every little tweak makes it better.

How do you hope people respond to the stamp?

I hope it makes people dive into who she is, that it makes them find books or other information about her and talk about her. Educating the public is something that is greatly needed in the Black community — people need to know about our heritage, about what we're capable of achieving. I’m a big proponent of art, and I hope that more of our children will be artists. I want kids who grew up like me to get more support from their families, from the ground up.

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