Augusta Savage – Sculptor

Augusta Savage always knew she wanted to be an artist and moved to New York City in 1920 with a “burning desire” to “become a sculptor in six months.” She enrolled at the Cooper Union and in 1929 won a scholarship to travel to Paris and Rome. She returned to New York in the middle of the Depression and was instrumental in getting the Works Progress Administration to include black artists in its Federal Art Project. Savage was the first African American to be elected to the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors and later became the director of the Harlem Community Art Center. She believed that teaching others was far more important than creating art herself, and explained her motivation in an interview: “If I can inspire one of these youngsters to develop the talent I know they possess, then my monument will be in their work. No one could ask for more than that.” (Davis, Contributions of Black Women to America, 1982) *

Augusta Savage, Gamin, ca. 1929, painted plaster, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Benjamin and Olya Margolin

In the 1920s Savage received commissions to create portrait busts of W.E.B. Du Bois and black nationalist Marcus Garvey; both pieces were hailed for their power and dynamism. On the strength of these works and especially the poignant Gamin (1929)—a portrait bust of a streetwise boy and one of Savage’s few extant pieces—she received a Julius Rosenwald Fellowship that enabled her finally to study in Paris in 1929–31.**

The Great Depression brought art sales to a virtual standstill, however, and so when she returned to New York she began to teach art, founding the Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts in Harlem in 1932. In 1934 Savage became the first African American elected to the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors (now National Association of Women Artists). In 1937 she became the first director of the Harlem Community Art Center, which was established under the Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project (WPA/FAP). The art centre in Harlem played a crucial role in the development of many young black artists. Savage also fought successfully for the inclusion of black artists in WPA projects.**

Lift Every Voice and Sing (The Harp), Augusta Savage, 1939, cast white metal with bronze patina.

In the late 1930s Savage was commissioned to create a sculpture for the 1939 New York World’s Fair. The piece, The Harp, inspired by James Weldon Johnson’s poem “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” became one of her best known. Unfortunately, it and many other works by Savage were never cast in durable materials and were later lost or destroyed. Savage opened a gallery specializing in art by African Americans, but it did not survive for long. She retired from art in the 1940s, moving to a farm in Saugerties, New York.**

In 1945, Savage retired from the art world.[1] She taught art to children and wrote children’s stories before she died.[2] Savage died of cancer on March 26, 1962, in New York City. While she was all but forgotten at the time of her death, Savage is remembered today as a great artist, activist and arts educator, serving as an inspiration to the many that she taught, helped and encouraged.[3]

The Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts, a Baltimore, Maryland public high school, is named in her honor.[4]

In 2001, her home in Saugerties, New York, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Augusta Savage House and Studio. In 2007 the City of Green Cove Springs, Florida nominated her to be inducted into the Florida Artist Hall of Fame; she was inducted the spring of 2008. Today, at the actual location of her birth there is a Community Center named in her honor.[4]





[2] Augusta Savage. By: Kalfatovic, Martin R., American National Biography (from Oxford University Press), 2010

[3]  “Augusta Savage”. Biography. Retrieved 2017-03-11.

[4]  National Park Service (2009-03-13). “National Register Information System”. National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.

Additional Sources:


The information on this web-page is for educational and research purposes.  Article entries and images are not my own. Please review sources and links above for more information. This blog post is for educational purposes only and for sharing valuable information to others interested in the arts.

Thank you.

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