(1892 - 1962)
Augusta Christine Fells Savage was active/lived in New York, Florida. Augusta Savage is known for African-American portrait sculpture, educator.
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Biography from the Archives of askART
An African-American sculptor who struggled with poverty and racist
attitudes, Augusta Savage became a leading figure among
African-American artists. She was known for her skill with
commissioned portrait sculptures, especially ones that emphasized
racial identity and were identified with prominent persons in Harlem in
New York City. Later in her career, she focused more on ordinary
people and the integrity of their 'common' position in
society. Her mediums were bronze, clay and plaster. One of
her few surviving
pieces is a portrait bust of W.E.B. DuBois in the New York Public
Library, 135 Street Branch.
Biography from Michael Rosenfeld Gallery
One of her biographers, Leslie King-Hammond, described Augusta Savage
as a "true Renaissance woman." (472) Not only was she a recognized
sculptor but she became a distinguished eductor, founding several art
schools including the Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts, the Harlem
Artists Guild and the Vanguard, which was a salon she co-founded with
Aaron Douglas as a meeting place for Harlem Renaissance intellectuals
including artists and writers. She also served as first
Director of the Harlem Art Center and insisted it be staffed with black
artists. Hammond wrote that "young artists flocked to her
studio workshops to study, and she is responsible for influencing the
artistic careers of Norman Lewis, Marvin and Morgan Smith, William
Artis, Ernest Crichlow, and Gwendolyn Knight. Savage's studio
became a center of creative activity and intellectual exchange with the
constant presence of W.E.B. DuBois, James Weldon Johnson, Claude McKay,
Romare Bearden, Buford and Joseph Delaney, and Selma Burke." (471)
Her artistic career was most productive from the 1920s into the 1940s,
and then waned due to a diminishing number of portrait commissions and
illness. Very little of her work
survives. One of her lost pieces was titled The Harp,
and was commissioned in 1939 for the New York World's Fair. The
work, sixteen feet high, was inspired by James Weldon and Rosamond
Johnson's music, "Life Every Voice and Sing." From
photographs, it appears that the work shows extremely powerful with
figures rising out of a harp that frames the figures. However,
she gained no patronage funding from the work, whose destruction after
the Fair signaled a decline in her career as a sculptor.
Augusta Savage was born in Green
Cove, Florida, the seventh of fourteen children, and her father, who
was a strict Methodist minister, objected to her interest in
sculpture. But her talents prevailed, and she began teaching clay
modeling in high school. She left home in 1915, enrolled at
Tallahassee State Normal School, the future Florida A & M, and then
in 1921 went to New York City to study sculpture
at Cooper Union.
Extremely poor, she was given a scholarship
arranged by her teachers, but she was not so accepted in Paris when she
applied to the summer art school at the Palace of Fontainebleau and was
rejected because of the color of her skin. This treatment stirred
public controversy, and Franz Boas, Columbia University anthropology
professor, came to her defense. But the French school held its
ground, which stymied her career in finding dealers and galleries.
1930, she won a Julius Rosenwald Fellowship to study in Paris at the
Académie de la Grande Chaumiere, and she worked with sculptor Felix
Bueneteaux. These two years gave her the credentials she needed
in the art world. Subsequently she won a Carnegie Foundation
Grant so that she, in turn, could provide tuition for young black
students. She also taught numerous young blacks herself including
Ernest Crichlow and Norman Lewis. In 1932, she founded the Savage
Studio of Arts and Crafts in New York City, and in 1936, she was
assistant supervisor of the Works Progress Administration Federal Art
Project. Jacob Lawrence credits her for getting him involved as a
WPA artist. She was an elected member of the National Association
of Women Painters and Sculptors.
Exhibition venues included the Harmon Foundation, the New York Public
Library, and the Grande Chaumiere and the Grand Palais in Paris.
Her work is in numerous collections including the Schomburg Center in
New York City.
She married three times, the first time John T. Moore who died in 1907
and with whom she had a daughter. Then she married James Savage,
from whom she was divorced in the 1920s, and shortly after she married
Robert Lincoln Poston who died in 1924.
Charlotte Streifer Rubinstein, American Women Artists, 258-260
Leslie King-Hammond, "Augusta Savage", St. James Guide to Black Artists, 470-472
Augusta Savage was one of the most influential artists and educators of
the Harlem Renaissance. Born Augusta Christine Fells in Green
Cove Springs, Florida, she received formal training at the Cooper Union
School of Art (1921-1924). In 1930 and 1931, Savage was the
recipient of two successive Rosenwald Grants, which enabled her to
travel to France and study at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in
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When she returned to New York in 1932, she opened the Savage School of
Arts and Crafts in Harlem, where her students included William Artis,
Jacob Lawrence and Norman Lewis. Working in plaster, which was
then painted to resemble bronze, Augusta Savage is known for her
sensitive and skillful modeling of the human figure. The majority of
her sculptures from this period are small-scale portraits of family and
friends, and portrait busts of African-American notables, such as
W.E.B. Du Bois and Marcus Garvey.
In 1935, she was a founding member of the Harlem Artists Guild, and
from 1936-1937 she worked for the WPA Federal Arts Project as the
Director of the Harlem Community Art Center. In 1937, she left
the WPA to work what would become her most famous work, Lift Every Voice and Sing (also know as The Harp) for the 1939 New York World's Fair.
When she was finished with the commission, she was left unemployed and
was virtually forced to give up her career as an artist due to lack of
funds. In the mid 1940s, Savage began living a reclusive life in
Saugerties, New York, and she began to explore her interest in
writing. In 1962, Savage returned to New York City and died of
cancer later that same year.
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