Artist Spotlight: Augusta Savage

Top Image: “Gamin”, ca. 1929. Painted plaster. 22.9 x 14.7 x 11.2 cm.

Imagine how hard it was to be a Black female artist in the early 1900s. Though the Harlem Renaissance was at its peak, with many artists rising through the ranks, being a Black female artist, especially a visual artist, was nigh on impossible. But when passion coursed through your veins, nothing will stop you from creating.

Born in 1892, Augusta Savage has always wanted to be an artist since she was young when she would carve animals out of clay in her backyard. Though women were encouraged to be performing artists (think singers and dancers) the thought of a woman being a visual artist was basically unheard of. It got to the point where her father would try to beat the art out of her. But it didn’t work. Her teacher spotted her talent and so began Savage’s career as a sculptor.

Augusta Savage with her sculpture Realization, ca. 1938

Her life as an artist wasn’t easy, as one could imagine. She was invited to study art in France, but upon learning she was Black, the institution rescinded its offer, fearing backlash from Southern white women. Thus began a fight from Savage to reclaim her place, with the incident covered on both sides of the Atlantic. She still managed to spend some time studying in Europe, this time in Rome. When she returned, she embarked on her other passion, teaching, and started the Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts. The school later became the Harlem Community Art Center and became the stop for many future great artists like  Charles Alston, Henry Bannarn, Romare Bearden, and Selma Burke.

Time has made people forget the accomplishment of Augusta Savage, but more recently, scholars have begun rediscovering and recognizing Savage as one of the pillars of Black American art history.

“Portrait Head of John Henry”, c. 1940.
“Portrait of a Baby”, 1942

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