Artists Feature: Augusta Savage
Meet Augusta Savage, an artist who left an indelible mark on the world of sculpture. Born in 1892, her creative journey unfolded during a time of entrenched bias against black women in the art scene. Yet, through her expressive clay and cast-metal sculptures, Savage triumphed as one of the most gifted sculptors of her era. Her dedication to celebrating black history, culture, and contemporaries, coupled with her integral role in the Harlem Renaissance, carved a path toward breaking barriers of race and gender.
Hailing from Green Cove Springs, Florida, Savage’s affinity for sculpting emerged early on. Even in the face of familial disapproval and hardship, she nurtured her artistic talent. Moving to New York City in 1921, Savage’s career was marked by the entry into exclusive programs and disheartening reversals due to racial prejudices. However, she fearlessly confronted these setbacks, shedding light on the systemic racism within the art establishment.
Amidst the Great Depression, Savage’s passion led her to establish the Harlem Community Arts Center, offering artistic education to aspiring talents from all walks of life. Her iconic piece, “The Harp,” emerged during this period, reimagining a musical instrument as a chorus of young black children. Savage’s determination for justice and equity reverberated through generations, inspiring artists across the country.
Join us in exploring the legacy of Augusta Savage, a sculptor who chiselled her way through adversity to create a lasting impact on the world of art.
“I have created nothing really beautiful, really lasting, but if I can inspire one of these youngsters to develop the talent I know they possess, then my monument will be in their work.”
Augusta Savage’s expressive clay and cast-metal sculptures carved out her legacy as one of the world’s most talented sculptors, at a time where hostility to black women in art was overt and pervasive. Her work often celebrated black historical figures, culture, or contemporaries of Savage. She was an integral part of the Harlem Renaissance and broke countless race and gender barriers through her work.
Augusta Savage was born and raised in Green Cove Springs, Florida. She loved sculpting from an early age, seeking out naturally-occurring clay to model. However, her father, a strict Methodist minister, disapproved of her love of art. He routinely beat her, which she says nearly convinced her that art was truly sinful and evil. Her family eventually relocated to West Palm Beach, where she met teachers that supported her creative instincts.
Savage moved to NYC in 1921, taking classes at Cooper Union. Throughout her career, she gained entry into exclusive programs and was awarded merit prizes, just to have them rescinded when the committees found out she was black. Savage never let the rejections go unmentioned, publicly exposing the racism and fear of a large part of the institutional art world.
In the 1930s, when the Great Depression was rolling across the country, Savage opened her first studio and school. It evolved into the Harlem Community Arts Center, which offered classes and programming to would-be artists of all ages from all over NYC. In 1939, she was one of 4 women and 2 black artists to receive commissions from the World’s Fair. She created her most famous piece, The Harp, which reimagined the musical instrument as a dozen young black children singing in a chorus. Savage inspired and taught several generations of young artists, breaking the barriers for people all over the country with her determination for justice and equity.
In collaboration with Kat Sampson, we present The Not Just Dead White Guys coloring book with 24 vibrant portraits, showcasing influential artists from various eras and continents. Half are contemporary artists, including Augusta Savage, who are shaping the art scene today, while the others are important historical figures. Join us to celebrate their diverse contributions and create a more inclusive art world!
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