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Sculptor Edmonia Lewis is on the next stamp in the Black Heritage series

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Inside the Smithsonian Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C., stands a sculpture of polished white stone. "The Death Of Cleopatra" shows the Egyptian queen slumped on her throne. That image of an iconic woman is the work of Edmonia "Wildfire" Lewis, who now gets her own image on a stamp.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

She was from upstate New York, a woman of mixed race with Black and Ojibwe ancestors. Born in the 1840s, when women of color struggled to be heard, she had a talent for publicizing herself. Marilyn Richardson is an art consultant.

MARILYN RICHARDSON: She had an amazing rapport with the press. And so she was very much known and written about, but purely on her own terms.

MARTIN: She often changed the details she gave about her own life.

RICHARDSON: That kind of mysterious figure will certainly grab your attention.

MARTIN: Later, some of her work became obscure, like "The Death Of Cleopatra," which...

RICHARDSON: Was a great mystery until I found it (laughter).

INSKEEP: Now her face appears on a stamp as part of the Postal Service's Black History series. Kirsten Pai Buick is at the University of New Mexico.

KIRSTEN PAI BUICK: We often gang women for being ambitious and seeking fame. But that's what she did. She was ambitious. And she wanted to be famous. And I think this is an acknowledgement that would have thrilled her.

INSKEEP: Edmonia "Wildfire" Lewis remains both well and little-known. To this day, nobody is certain of her birthday. Though, she commonly said she was born on the 4th of July.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROBERT GLASPER'S "CANVAS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.