Artist
Augusta Savage
American sculptor

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Augusta Savage
American sculptor
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Birth Date

February 29, 1892

Death Date

March 27, 1962

ebrowne's picture

Contributor

Augusta Savage became an artist despite the layers and layers of adversity that she faced as a black woman in America.

The first disadvantage was the fact that she was the middlest of all middle children (the 7th of fourteen to be exact), which is when her fight for recognition truly began. But then when she did get attention, it wasn’t exactly ideal. When Savage was a little girl, her very conservative Methodist minister father was fervently against her being an artist. He was of the school that didn’t believe in graven images and thought his little girl’s clay figurines were sinful. Nothing sends you straight to hell quite like ceramic puppies. But he was very serious about his daughter giving up her interest in art to the point that, as Savage recalls, he “almost whipped all the art out of me.” Almost…

She kept making art even through her marriage at the age of 15 to John T. Moore, the birth of her first and only child the next year and the death of her husband directly after that. She made art through her second marriage and divorce but after that decided to dedicate herself to art fully. After being denied mentorship by Solon Borglum, brother of Gutzon Borglum, the man who both designed Mount Rushmore and told Isamu Noguchi that he would never do anything worthwhile (perhaps bad taste is hereditary?), Savage went to Cooper Union in New York. She shined so brightly there that the school gave her financial aid for living costs in addition to the already free tuition. After she finished the four-year course in three years, Savage applied for a fellowship in France, which she was denied by the judging committee because she was black. She went to France anyway and studied under the one committee member who wasn’t racist.

But things were going too smoothly for too long so of course, her father had a stroke and her family’s house was destroyed by a hurricane so they all moved in with Savage in her small Manhattan apartment. To add to that her third husband, who she married in 1923, died of pneumonia on a ship returning from a meeting of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League in Liberia in 1924. The hits just kept on coming. She was then given a chance to study art in Rome but couldn’t afford to go and then was stalked by eccentric and entirely psycho writer of the 1920s, Joe Gould. And then, just when she opened an art school and two galleries and things seemed chill, the art market went sour and she had to close. Savage moved to a town near Woodstock, New York to work on a mushroom farm and died on March 26, 1962. I bet you thought there was going to be a happy ending there didn’t you?

Sources

Sources

  1. "Augusta Savage | Smithsonian American Art Museum". Americanart.si.edu. Web. 26 May 2017.
  2. "Augusta Savage". Biography.com. Web. 26 May 2017.
  3. Lepore, Jill. "The Long-Lost Tale Of The World’S Longest Book". The New Yorker. N.p., 2015. Web. 26 May 2017.

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Augusta Savage

Augusta Savage (born Augusta Christine Fells; February 29, 1892 – March 27, 1962) was an African-American sculptor associated with the Harlem Renaissance. She was also a teacher whose studio was important to the careers of a generation of artists who would become nationally known. She worked for equal rights for African Americans in the arts.

Early life and work

Augusta Christine Fells was born in Green Cove Springs (near Jacksonville), Florida on February 29, 1892, to Edward Fells, a Methodist minister, and Cornelia Murphy. Augusta began making figures as a child, mostly small animals out of the natural red clay of her hometown, Green Cove Springs Florida. Her father was a poor Methodist minister who strongly opposed his daughter’s early interest in art. "My father licked me four or five times a week,” Savage once recalled, “and almost whipped all the art out of me.” This was because at that time, he believed her sculpture to be a sinful practice, based upon his interpretation of the "graven images" portion of the Bible. She persevered, and the principal of her new high school in West Palm Beach, where her family relocated in 1915, encouraged her talent and allowed her to teach a clay modeling class. This began a lifelong commitment to teaching as well as to creating art.

In 1907 Augusta Fells married John T. Moore. Her only child, Irene Connie Moore, was born the following year. John died shortly thereafter. In 1915, she married James Savage; she kept the name of Savage throughout her life. After their divorce in the early 1920s, Augusta Savage moved back to West Palm Beach.

Savage continued to model clay, and in 1919 was granted a booth at the Palm Beach County Fair where she was awarded a $25 prize and ribbon for most original exhibit. Following this success, she sought commissions for work in Jacksonville, Florida, before departing for New York City in 1921. She arrived with a letter of recommendation from the Palm Beach County Fair official George Graham Currie for sculptor Solon Borglum and $4.60. When Borglum discovered that she could not afford tuition at the School of American Sculpture, he encouraged her to apply to Cooper Union, a scholarship-based school, in New York City where she was admitted in October 1921. She was selected before 142 other men on the waiting list. Her talent and ability so impressed the Cooper Union Advisory Council that she was awarded additional funds for room and board when she lost the financial support of her job as an apartment caretaker. From 1921 through 1923, she studied under sculptor George Brewster. She completed the four-year degree course in three years.

In 1923 Savage applied for a Summer art program sponsored by the French government; although being more than qualified, she was turned down by the international judging committee solely because she was a black person. Savage was deeply upset and questioned the committee, beginning the first of many public fights for equal rights in her life. Though appeals were made to the French government to reinstate the award, they had no effect and Savage was unable to study at the Fontainebleau School of Fine Arts. The incident got press coverage on both sides of the Atlantic, and eventually, the sole supportive committee member sculptor Hermon Atkins MacNeil – who at one time had shared a studio with Henry Ossawa Tanner – invited her to study with him. She later cited him as one of her teachers.

After completing studies at Cooper Union, Savage worked in Manhattan steam laundries to support herself and her family. Her father had been paralyzed by a stroke, and the family's home destroyed by a hurricane. Her family from Florida moved into her small West 137th Street apartment. During this time she obtained her first commission for a bust of W. E. B. Du Bois for the Harlem Library. Her outstanding sculpture brought more commissions, including one for a bust of Marcus Garvey. Her bust of William Pickens Sr., a key figure in the NAACP, earned praise for depicting an African American in a more humane, neutral way as opposed to stereotypes of the time, as did many of her works.

In 1923 Savage married Robert Lincoln Poston, a protégé of Garvey. Poston died of pneumonia aboard a ship while returning from Liberia as part of a Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League delegation in 1924. In 1925 Savage won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Rome. This scholarship covered only tuition, and she was not able to raise money for travel and living expenses. Thus, she was unable to attend. In the 1920s writer and eccentric Joe Gould became infatuated with Savage. He wrote her "endless letters," telephoned her constantly, and wanted to marry her. Eventually, this turned to harassment.

Savage won the Otto Kahn Prize in a 1928 exhibition at The Harmon Foundation with her submission Head of a Negro. Yet, she was an outspoken critic of the fetishization of the "negro primitive" aesthetic favored by white patrons at the time. She publicly critiqued the director of The Harmon Foundation, Mary Beattie Brady, for her low standards for Black art and lack of understanding in the area of visual arts in general.

In 1929 with pooled resources from the Urban League, Rosenwald Foundation, a Carnegie Foundation grant, and donations from friends and former teachers, Savage was able to travel to France when she was 37. She lived on Montparnasse and worked in the studio of M. [Félix] Benneteau [-Desgrois]. While the studio was initially encouraging of her work, Savage later wrote that "...the masters are not in sympathy as they all have their own definite ideas and usually wish their pupils to follow their particular method..." and began primarily working on her own in 1930.

Knowledge of Savage's talent and struggles became widespread in the African-American community; fundraising parties were held in Harlem and Greenwich Village, and African-American women's groups and teachers from Florida A&M all sent her money for studies abroad. In 1929, with assistance as well from the Julius Rosenwald Fund, Savage enrolled and attended the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, a leading Paris art school. In Paris, she studied with the sculptor Charles Despiau. She exhibited and won awards in two Paris Salons and one Exposition. She toured France, Belgium, and Germany, researching sculpture in cathedrals and museums.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Augusta Savage.