Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Happy birthday, Augusta Savage

Augusta Christine Fells was born on February 29, 1892, in Green Cove Springs, Florida. She began making sculptures as a child, using the natural clay abundant in her area. She liked to sculpt animals and other small figures, but her father didn't approve of it, and did whatever he could to stop her. He was a Methodist minister and believed it was a sin to make "graven images." Savage once said that her father "almost whipped all the art out of me."

"From the time I can first recall the rain falling on the red clay in Florida. I wanted to make things. When my brothers and sisters were making mud pies, I would be making ducks and chickens with the mud."
(source: TheHappyNappyBookseller)
But when he found a statue she sculpted of the Virgin Mary, he changed his mind. She entered some of her pieces into county fairs and won a number of honors. When she could not create a successful career as a sculptor in Florida, she moved to New York City, where she was able to study at the Cooper Union, which offered free tuition, and eventually even gave her a scholarship for her living expenses.

While she was at Cooper Union, she applied for a program to study sculpture abroad in France, but was denied solely because of her race. Instead of taking it lightly, she raised a fuss, wrote letters to the media, bringing attention to the racists practices of the program. The program still refused to accept her, but her life was changed, and she became quite active in the civil rights fight. And she became better acquainted with the movers and shakes in the movement. She was even commissioned to sculpt busts of famous civil rights leaders like W.E.B. Du Bois and Marcus Garvey.
And she did eventually travel to Paris on the Julius Rosenwald Fellowship, while enabled her study for one year. When she returned to Harlem, she was very active in the art scene, taught classes in the community, and in 1932 established the Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts. A few years later, she became the first director of the Harlem Community Arts Center -- which is considered to be the forerunner of similar community arts centers around the country.

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1 comment :

  1. I cannot believe that I am not familiar with her work! Beautiful stuff!