(1915 - 2012)
Elizabeth Catlett was active/lived in District Of Columbia, New York / Mexico. Elizabeth Catlett is known for abstract sculpture, mod figure and portrait painting, graphics.
Biography from the Archives of askART
Elizabeth Catlett (1915-2012)
Biography from RoGallery.com
Known for abstract sculpture in bronze and marble as well as prints
and paintings, particularly depicting the female figure, Elizabeth
Catlett is unique for distilling African American, Native American, and
Mexican art in her work. She is "considered by many to be the
greatest American black sculptor". . .(Rubinstein 320)
was born in Washington D.C. and later became a Mexican citizen,
residing in Cuernavaca Morelos, Mexico. She spent the last 35
years of her life in Mexico.
Her father, a math teacher at
Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, died before she was born, but the
family, including her working mother, lived in the relatively
commodious home of his family in DC. Catlett received a
Bachelor of Arts degree from Howard University, where
there was much discussion about whether or not black artists should
depict their own heritage or embrace European modernism.
earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in 1940 from the University of
Iowa, where she had gone to study with Grant Wood, Regionalist*
painter. His teaching dictum was "paint what you know best," and
this advice set her on the path of dealing with her own
background. She credits Wood with excellent teaching and
deep concern for his students, but she had a problem during that time
of taking classes from him because black students were not allowed
housing in the University's dormitories.
Following graduation in 1940, she became Chair of the Art Department at
Dillard University in New Orleans. There she successfully lobbied
for life classes with nude models, and gained museum admission to black
students at a local museum that to that point, had banned their
entrance. That same year, her painting Mother and Child, depicting African-American figures won her much recognition.
From 1944 to 1946, she taught at the George Washington Carver
School, an alternative community school in Harlem that provided
instruction for working men and women of the city. From her experiences
with these people, she did a series of paintings, prints, and
sculptures with the theme "I Am a Negro Woman."
In 1946, she
received a Rosenwald Fellowship*, and she and her artist husband,
Charles White, traveled to Mexico where she became interested in the
Mexican working classes. In 1947, she settled permanently in
Mexico where she, divorced from White, married artist Francisco
Mora. The couple had three children. From 1958 to 1973, she
became the first woman professor of sculpture and later Chair of the
department of sculpture at the National School of Fine Arts,
There she also did much printmaking, which she
found an affordable medium for reaching the masses of people and
produced images of African-American and Mexican working class women.
Charlotte Streifer Rubinstein, American Women Artists
Added note: Elizabeth Catlett died at the age of 96 on April 2, 2012 at her home in Cuernavaca, Mexico. (Obituary. Chicago Tribune April 4, 2012)
* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see AskART.com Glossary http://www.askart.com/AskART/lists/Art_Definition.aspx
Elizabeth Catlett was born April 15, 1919 in Washington DC to John and Mary Carson Catlett, both of whom had taught school. Catlett combines the basic elements of African traditions with those of west Mexico and U.S. African American. Catlett decided to become an artist while attending Dunbar High School, and won a competitive examination for a scholarship to the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, but was rejected because of her race.
Biography from Tobey C. Moss Gallery
Catlett went on to study at Howard University with such luminaries as Dr. Alain Leroy Locke, Professor James A. Porter, James Lesense Wells, and Lois Mailou Jones. With the passing of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, and the oppressive McCarthy hearings, the loyalty oath and other such irritants drove artists into seclusion by the hundreds. By 1947, Catlett decided to retreat to Mexico where she had previously spent time while working on a Rosenfeld Fellowship.
Her artistic talent has won Catlett significant recognition as an artist in two very different cultures. Catlett's prints have been exhibited all over the world. She has received grants and fellowships, which have allowed her to study in England, east Germany, China, and the Soviet Union.
The work of Elizabeth Catlett is in many museums, including the National Institute of Fine Arts in Mexico City, Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Museum of American Art in Washington, DC. Catlett continues to reside in Mexico with her husband, artist Victor Mora, and their sons.
Elizabeth Catlett has made sculpture in wood, mostly of the female nude, since the mid-1950s. In Mexico, Catlett studied sculpture at the University of Iowa and then in New York with the Modernist Ossip Zadkine. According to Melanie Herzog, when Catlett returned to sculpture after 8 years of motherhood, she began working in wood for the first time, studying with Jose L. Ruiz at the Esmeralda school; from 1955-1959. Catlett describes her work as representations of women, black women and herself - " I am a black woman. I use my body in working. When I am bathing or dresing, I see and feeel how my body looks and moves. I never do sculpture from a nude model... Mostly I watch women."
1955 - Studied wood carving with Jose L. Ruiz
1947 - Sculpture with Francisco Zuniga, Escuela de Pintura y Escultura, Esmeralda, Mexico
1943 - Studied with Sculptor Ossip Zadkine, NY
1942 - Studied lithography at Art Students League, NY
1941 - Studied ceramics, Art Institute of Chicago, IL
1940 - MFA, University of Iowa
1935 - BS, Cum Laude, Howard University School of Art, Washington, DC
ELIZABETH CATLETT is first and foremost a sculptor in stone, wood and bronze. But, printmaking has been an equally important facet of her artistic expression since she was introduced to lithography in 1942 at the Art Students League in New York.
** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at
From there, it was a natural transition to the wood and linoleum block with tools that were familiar from her sculptural work. Catlett chose printmaking as the best path for reaching the masses of people (especially women) in the United States and Mexico who were also African-American and Mexican natives.
From early experiences, Catlett faced racial challenges which she met squarely. She fought for equality in the classrooms, in the public theaters, in the museums. In her work is the proof.
Share an image of the Artist email@example.com.