Augusta Savage

Gamin, ca. 1930. Augusta Savage.
Painted Plaster, 9x5 5/8 x 4 1/4 in.

Augusta Savage was born on February 29, 1892 in Green Cove Springs, Florida. Augusta knew at an early age that she wanted to become a sculptor. Unfortunately, Savage's father, a Methodist minister, disapproved of his daughter's love for art because he believed her creations were pagan. As a result, Augusta experienced periods in her life when she was unable to practice her sculpting. In 1915, the Savage family left Green Cove Springs and moved to West Palm Beach. It was in West Palm Beach that Augusta realized that her future was in sculpting. At a 1919 county fair, Savage was given an award for a group of her sculptures and was inspired to become a professional artist. Soon after her success, Augusta Savage moved to Jacksonville, Florida in search of work as a sculptor. Like so many blacks living in the South around this time, Savage's efforts to establish herself proved unsuccessful. In 1921, Augusta Savage moved to New York believing that the North would provide her with the artistic opportunity she desired; a belief shared by many blacks during the Migration era.

When Augusta Savage reached Harlem, it did not take long for her to establish herself not only as an artist, but also as a teacher. Most of Savage's sculptures, in some way, reflect an aspect of African-American culture. For example, The Harp was a sculpture influenced by Negro spirituals and hymns, most notably James Weldon Johnson's "Lift Every Voice and Sing." Ms. Savage was unique from other artists in that most of her sculptures focused on black physiognomy. This is readily seen in a sculpture of her nephew entitled Gamin. It was this sculpture that won Augusta Savage the Julius Rosenwald Fellowship in 1929 and the opportunity to study in Paris for one year. After returning home from Europe, Savage was ready to share he art with the Harlem community through teaching.

The Harp, 1939. Augusta Savage.
Cast Plaster.

In 1932, Augusta established the Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts at 163 West 143rd Street. Savage used this studio as a way to provide adults with art education. In 1937, she became the first director of the Harlem Community Arts Center, an institution funded by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The Arts Center was a place where African Americans could learn about their culture through the study of fine arts. One of the greatest highlights of Augusta Savage's life was her involvement with the the "306" Group--so named because of the location of Charles Alston's studio (306 West 141st Street). This group was comprised of a variety of WPA artists who worked out of the studio on 141st Street. Some of the other "306" members included Charles Alston, Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, and Morgan and Marvin Smith. After 1945, Augusta Savage reduced the amount of sculpting she did and fell into seclusion. Though no longer in the spotlight, Savage continued to teach sculpting and other art to both children and adults throughout New York.

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