Mary Edmonia Lewis (born between 1842 to 1845 – September 17, 1907) also known as Wildfire was an African American and Native American sculptor who worked for most of her career in Rome. She gained recognition as a sculptor in the international fine arts world. Her work is known for incorporating themes relating to black and American Indian people into Neoclassical style sculpture. Hailed as the first professional African-American and Native-American sculptor, Mary Edmonia Lewis had little training but overcame numerous obstacles to become a respected artist. The daughter of a black father and part-Ojibwa mother, she was orphaned at an early age and raised by some of her mother's relatives. Lewis found her way to Oberlin College in Ohio, thanks to support and encouragement of a successful older brother. Oberlin was a hot bed for the abolitionist movement which would greatly influence her later work. Life at Oberlin came to a violent end when Lewis was falsely accused of poisoning two white classmates. Captured and beaten by a white mob, Lewis recovered from the attack and then escaped to Boston, Massachusetts, after the charges against her were dropped. In Boston, Lewis befriended abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison and sculptor Edward A. Brackett who taught Lewis sculpture and helped propel her to set up her own studio. By the early 1860s, her clay and plaster medallions of Garrison, John Brown and other abolitionist leaders had given her a small measure of commercial success. In 1864, Lewis created a bust of Colonel Robert Shaw, a Civil War hero who had died leading the all-black 54th Massachusetts Regiment. The money she earned from the sale of copies of the bust allowed her to move to Rome, Italy.
Perhaps her most famous work was a depiction of the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra, titled "The Death of Cleopatra." Met with critical acclaim when she showed it at the Philadelphia Exposition in 1876 and in Chicago two years later, the two-ton sculpture never returned to Italy with its creator because Lewis couldn't afford the shipping costs. It was placed in storage and only rediscovered several decades after her death. Much like her childhood, Lewis's final years are shrouded in mystery. Until the 1890s, she continued to exhibit her work and was even visited by Frederick Douglass in Rome, but little is known about the last decade or so of her life. It was speculated that Lewis spent her last years in Rome, Italy, but the recent discovery of death documents indicate that she died in London, England, in 1907. In recent decades, Lewis's life and art has received well-deserved respect. Her pieces are now part of the permanent collections of the Howard University Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. In 2002, the scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Edmonia Lewis on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.