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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Augusta Savage

b. 1892, Green Cove Springs, Florida; d. 1962, New York

A member of the generation of African Americans who flourished during the Harlem Renaissance, and a key figure in the New Negro movement, Augusta Savage showed a talent for sculpting at an early age and enrolled at the Cooper Union in New York in 1921. She began to acquire a reputation as a portrait sculptor and received a commission for a bust of W. E. B. Du Bois; she would create likenesses of other leaders of the black community, including Marcus Garvey and James Weldon Johnson. In 1923, she received a scholarship to study in France, but the offer was rescinded when the award committee learned she was black. More hardship followed. In 1924, her husband and child died, and she worked for several years as a laundress to support nine family members who had moved into her Harlem apartment when their Florida home was destroyed by a hurricane. Her fortunes changed in 1929 with a grant from the Julius Rosenwald Fund, which she used for study in Paris. Upon her return to Harlem in 1932, she co-organized the Vanguard Club, a left-wing salon, and simultaneously established the Savage Studio for Arts and Crafts. The latter evolved into the WPA-funded Harlem Community Arts Center, directed by Savage, and she successfully lobbied for the inclusion of black artists in other WPA projects. She produced a monumental work for the 1939 World’s Fair, The Harp (which was, outrageously, demolished when the fairgrounds were bulldozed). Savage left Harlem in the early 1940s, opening a studio in Saugerties, New York, where she continued to teach children.