Augusta Savage - A True Inspiration

November 27 2020

Augusta Savage - A True Inspiration

Augusta Savage - A True Inspiration

Artist, sculptor, activist, and teacher. These are only some of Augusta Savage’s many titles. In association with the Harlem Renaissance, she worked tirelessly for equal rights for all African-Americans, especially women, in the arts. This woman is a true inspiration for all aspiring artists. Who was this amazing woman? What can we learn from her struggles, not only as an artist but as an African-American woman growing up in the early 1900s?


Augusta Savage - Quick Facts



Full Name:

Augusta Christine Fells (Savage)

Date of Birth:

29 February 1892

Spouses:

John T. Moore

James Savage

Robert L. Poston

Children:

1 daughter - Irene Connie Moore

Known for:

Sculpture

Notable work:

Gamin

W.E.B Dubois

Lift Every Voice and Sing (The Harp)

Died:

27 March 1962 (70 years old)


The Early Life Of Augusta Savage


Augusta Savage was born in the town of Green Cove Springs, near Jacksonville, Florida. From a young age, Augusta was an avid sculptor. She began making clay figurines, consisting mostly of small animals made out of the natural red clay that was in her hometown.


Her father, a Methodist minister, did not approve of her talent. He believed her sculptures to be sinful and often whipped her. This was because of his interpretation of the commandment in the bible, “ you shall not make for yourself any graven image.


No amount of harsh punishment stopped Augusta from pursuing her dream. When her family moved to West Palm Beach, she attended West Palm Beach High School. The principal encouraged her to pursue her art and allowed her to teach a clay modeling class. From that moment onward, Augusta was able to begin her lifelong commitment to creating art and teaching.


When she was the tender age of 15 years old in 1907, she married her first husband John T. Moore. Soon after their first child, John passed away. 


In 1915, Augusta married James Savage. She kept the name Savage after their divorce in the early 1920s, after which she moved back to West Palm Beach. 


The Start of Augusta Savage’s Education and Career


Augusta continued with modeling clay, and in 1919 she was granted a booth at the Palm Beach County fair. She was awarded a $25 prize and ribbon for the most original exhibit.


A sculptor named Solon Borglum discovered her incredible talent and found out that she had no funds for tuition at the School of American Sculpture. He encouraged her to apply for a scholarship-based school, Cooper Union. In 1921 she was admitted and attended the school. 


Augusta was a most impressive sculptor and was awarded additional funds. From the years 1921-1923, she studied under the sculptor George Brewster. 


The Fight For Equal Rights


In 1923, Savage applied for a summer art program sponsored by the French government. She was turned down simply because they refused to award a spot to a black person. 


Highly infuriated and upset, she questioned the committee on their decision. The incident was so devastating that it got press coverage. Eventually, the Sole Supportive Committee member and sculptor Harmon Atkins MacNeil invited her to study with him. 


Sadly, Augusta experienced some hardships when her family home in Florida was lost and destroyed during a hurricane and her father was left paralyzed after having a stroke. However, during this time, she obtained her first commission for a bust of W.E.B DuBois for the Harlem Library. This was one of her most outstanding pieces, and this led to her getting more commissions. 


Augusta was commissioned to sculpt a bust of Willaim Pickens Sr., a key figure in NAACP, which stands for The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She earned praise for depicting an African American in a more neutral, humane light as opposed to the common stereotypes of the time.


In 1923, she married Robert Lincoln but he sadly died a year later from pneumonia. 


In 1928, Augusta won the Otto Khan prize with her submission “Head of a Negro” in an exhibition at the Harmon Foundation. A year later, at the age of 37, Savage was able to travel to France. She lived in Montparnasse and worked in the studio of M.Felix Benneteau. She began working on her own in 1930 because she said the masters wanted their pupils to follow their methods, and this did not suit her at all.


The news about Augusta’s struggles and talent was spread far and wide in the African-American Community. Fundraising parties were held and they were able to send her money for her studies abroad. This enabled her to enroll and attend the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, the most prestigious art school in Paris. 


The Great Depression


During the Great Depression, Augusta returned to the United States in 1931. Her art sales were almost stopped as a result of the Great Depression. However, in 1934, she was the first African-American artist to be elected to the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors. 


This led to her being able to open up her art studio, called Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts which later became the Harlem Community Art Center. Her many students included the future known artists Jacob Lawrence, Normon Lewis, and Gwendolyn Knight. 


Lift Every Voice and Sing


In 1939, Augusta Savage received a personal commission from the Board of Design of the 1939 New York World’s Fair. She created “Lift Every Voice and Sing” also known as The Harp. This creation was inspired by the song by James Weldon and Rosamund Johnson. This sculpture was 16-foot tall and it was by far the most photographed work in the entire exhibition. The sculpture depicted a harp, featuring 12 singing African-American children in graduated heights as the harp’s string, and the sounding board transformed into an arm and a hand. A young man is kneeling in front, offering music in his hands. Unfortunately, the sculpture was destroyed because Augusta was unable to afford to have the sculpture cast in bronze. 


Due to financial difficulties, Augusta moved to a farmhouse in Saugerties, New York, in 1945. She taught art to children and wrote children’s stories. In 1962, she died of cancer on March 26, at the age of 70 years old. 


The Legacy of Augusta Savage


A talented artist, activist, and teacher, we can learn so much from Augusta. She devoted her life to teaching other women of color how to draw, paint, and sculpt. Even though a large amount of her work is gone, some destroyed by herself and others simply vanished, the world will always remember the incredible artist that was Augusta Savage. 


“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.” T.R.Poston, “Augusta Savage”, Metropolitan Magazine, Jan 1935.



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