Walls of Heritage,
Walls of Pride -
African American Murals
Prigoff, Robin J. Dunitz
Words with Wings:
A Treasury of
African American Poetry and Pride
by Belinda Rochelle
became mentally ill in 1870 and died in December of 1872. Some speculate
that his illness was a result of the lead based paints that he had used
as an apprentice house painter. Duncanson, was the first black artist
to gain national and international acclaim and some considered him the
best landscape artist of the west. He prefigured great black artist to
Savage born Augusta Fells , her maiden name, started molding mud pies
at about six years old. She was born in Green Cove Springs, Florida in
the 1890's. Although her father, a fundamentalist preacher, did not care
for her natural inclination to the arts, she continued to develop her
artistic skills. After a while her father began to accept her obvious
talents. By high school she was showing so much promise that she was hired
to teach clay modeling to her classmates.
Moves to New York to Develop
her Black Art Career Focusing on Sculpture
subsequent years were first given mainly over to marriage and domestic
life. She never stopped working in clay despite her domestic family duties.
In 1919 she won a sculpture prize at the Palm Beach County Fair. The next
year, at 28 years of age, she moved to New York City, with only $4.60
in her pocket and a letter of introduction that helped her get into Copper
Union. Cooper Union, was a tuition-free art school. At Cooper Union she
studied with sculptor George Brewster from 1921 to 1924. She then had
a very challenging life at this point, in large measure to racism.
Career of Augusta Savage
completed the 4 year course, at Cooper Union, in 3 years while taking
on menial jobs and small scholarships to make ends meet. It was during
this time that she was admitted to the Fountainbleau School of Fine Arts
Summer School for American Architects, Painters, and Sculptors in 1923.
This special program was started by the French Government to be admit
students outside of Paris. Nevertheless, she was denied admission when
it was learned that she was an African American.
admitted to the Fountainbleau School of Fine Arts Summer School for American
Architects, Painters, and Sculptors in 1923, she was denied admission
when it was learned that she was an African American ..."
Source: Against the Odds
African - American Artists and the Harmon Foundation Page 251
she pressed for a reason for being turned down for the Fountainbleau program,
she was told that white students from the south might object to traveling
and studying with a black women. The Chairman of the decision committee
tried to defuse the charged racial overtones of this travesty. He stated
that she might find the situation "embarrassing". This act of
of racism became a cause for protest from Savage and other black luminaries
such a W.E.B. Du Bois and Ernestine Rose (a librarian at the 135th Street
Branch of the Public Library). Savage also in response, wrote a letter
of protest published in the New York World.
of letters and editorial of supportive protest flooded in to support her
position but, it was all to no avail. Savage was left behind, with her
heart heavy, as the other students set sail for France. This act of racism
did not derail her dreams. She would later make it to France despite this
Shows Spirited Determination
great spirit and determination, she developed her professional career
as and artist with alacrity during and after her Copper Union training.
She received several commissions and sculpting busts of W.E.B. Dubois,
and Marcus Garvey, which were well received. From this she took considerable
encouragement to develop her art career further. She continued to study
privately with noted sculptors Onorio Ruotolo and Hermon A. MacNeil (then
President of the National Sculpture Society).
Finally Makes it to Paris
had another set back in 1926, when she was accepted for a fellowship by
the Italian-Amerian Society to attend the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in
Rome. Unfortunately she had to decline the prestigious offer due to insufficient
funds. Nevertheless, in 1929, she was awarded the Julius Rosenwald Fund
fellowship to study abroad. Her jubilant supports gave parties as fundraisers
to pay for her expenses and therefore, Augusta Savage finally made it
she received the Julius Rosenwald Foundation and Carnegie Foundation fellowships
for study abroad also in 1930, and 1931. In Paris she studied at the Academie
de la Grande Chaumiere with Felix Benneteau. Once in Paris she was very
successful. She won citations for her art work and was exhibited in top
Paris Salons and Galleries. Savage returned to New York in 1932, and had
an exhibit at the Anderson Art Galleries. However, the stifling affects
of the Depression era began to impact the United States and hindered her
the Next Generation of
African American Art and Black Artist
began to re-channel her energies into teaching other black artists like
William Artis, Norman Lewis, and Ernest Crichlow after establishing Savage
Studio of the arts in 1932. Perhaps even more important was her role in
advocating for fair treatment for African American Artists in the Depression-era
work programs the Roosevelt administration had created. The purpose of
these programs was to keep people in the arts from starving. She became
head of the Harlem Community Art Center, one of the largest government
sponsored art programs in the country. Subsequently she was appointed
assistant supervisor of the Federal Arts Project for New York City. She
fought for the inclusion of black artists in these New York City programs.
Savage a Great Black Artist and a Transitional figure for African American
spirited activism within very racist times took a toll on her. She sacrificed
her career to help nurture the following generation of talented African
American artists who in turn created outstanding Black art. Augusta Savage
lived to 70 years of age however, she was a profession sculptor less than
20 years. Few of her original works have been located. Augusta Savage,
is one of several transitional Black artists we will profile before exploring
the New Negro Arts Movement (also known as the Harlem Renaissance).
O Tanner, really became the first Black Artist to become a Truly International
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