Augusta Savage | Sculptor and Educator

(February 29, 1892 – March 26, 1962)

“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, 1935

Augusta Savage took to art as a small child, carving small figures out of red clay in her hometown of Green Cove Springs, Florida. Savage’s father did not want his daughter to pursue art but she continued her practice, participating in clay modeling classes in school. By 1919, Savage’s skills earned her a booth at the Palm Beach County State Fair and that booth earned her a $25 prize for most original exhibit.

The burgeoning artist attended Cooper Union on a full scholarship, studying under renowned American sculpture, George Brewster. There she excelled in her coursework, completing the four-year program in just three years.

In 1923, Savage was awarded a prestigious scholarship to the Fontainebleau School of Fine Arts in Paris. She was one of the 100 students selected to pursue a summer fellowship in France to study sculpture. However, upon learning that Savage was a Black women, the all-white, all-male selection committee rescinded her offer. Devastated, Savage appealed the decision several times to no avail. The controversial incident made international news with reports in the New York Amsterdam News, the New York Time, and the Negro World.

Six years later, one of Savage’s most recognized sculpture, Gamin, garnered her a second opportunity to study in Paris, this time through a Rosenwald fellowship. She studied with master artists and exhibited at the Grand Palais and other prestigious venues. Her works continued to earn her notoriety and she received a second Rosenwald fellowship while in Paris as well as funds from the Carnegie Foundation and various community members. This support afforded Savage the opportunity to travel to Belgium, France, and Germany.

By the time she returned to New York in 1932, the Great Depression was at its height. Yet Savage wanted to share what she learned during her travels. She opened the Savage Studio of Arts and Craft in Harlem, offering free or pay-as-you-go courses in drafting, painting, printmaking, and sculpture. The studio became a model for the Harlem Community Art Center which she formed and directed in partnership for the Works Project Administration. During the institution’s first 16 months, 1,500 Harlemites received free art instructions. Savage’s leadership and creative vision influenced African American art history as we know it. Her students and colleagues included artists such as William Artis, Romare Bearden, Robert Blackburn, Gwendolyn Knight, Jacob Lawrence, Norman Lewis, and many others. (Source)

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