Augusta Savage

Sculptor and Educator

Augusta Savage Sculpture "The Harp"
Augusta Savage sculpture "The Harp" at the 1939 New York World's Fair. Archive Photos/Sherman Oaks Antique Mall/Getty Images

Known for: sculptures of W.E.B. DuBoisFrederick DouglassMarcus Garvey; "Gamin"; Harlem Renaissance figure

Dates: February 29, 1892 - March 26, 1962
Occupation: sculptor, educator
Also known as: Augusta Christine Savage, Augusta Christine Felhttps://www.thoughtco.com/harlem-renaissance-women-3529258ls Savage

About Augusta Savage

Augusta Savage struggled to succeed as a sculptor despite barriers of race and sex.

As a young child, Savage made figures out of clay, despite religious objections of her father. When she began school in West Palm Beach, a teacher responded to her clear talent by engaging her in teaching classes in clay modeling. At college, she earned money selling animal figures at a county fair.

The fair's superintendent encouraged her to go to New York to study art, and she was able to enroll at Cooper Union, a college without tuition. When she lost the job that covered her other expenses, the school sponsored her.

A librarian found out about her financial problems, and arranged for her to sculpt a bust of African American leader, W.E.B. DuBois, for the 135th St. branch of the New York Public Library.

Commissions continued, including one for a bust of Marcus Garvey. During the Harlem Renaissance, Augusta Savage enjoyed growing success, though a 1923 rejection for a summer of study in Paris because of her race inspired her to get involved in politics as well as art.

In 1925, W.E.B. DuBois helped her get a scholarship to study in Italy, but she was unable to fund her additional expenses. Her piece Gamin brought attention, resulting in a scholarship from the Julius Rosenwald Fund, and this time she was able to raise money from other supporters, and in 1930 and 1931 she studied in Europe.

Savage sculpted busts of Frederick Douglass, James Weldon Johnson, W. C. Handy, and others. Succeeding in spite of the Depression, Augusta Savage began to spend more time teaching than sculpting. She became the first director of the Harlem Community Art Center in 1937 and worked with the Works Progress Administration (WPA). She opened a gallery in 1939, and won a commission for the 1939 New York World's Fair, basing her sculptures on James Weldon Johnson's "Lift Every Voice and Sing." The pieces were destroyed after the Fair, but some photos remain.

Augusta Savage retired to upstate New York and farm life in 1940, where she lived until shortly before her death when she moved back to New York to live with her daughter Irene.​

Background, Family

  • Father: Edward Fells (minister)
  • Mother: Cornelia (Murphy) Fells
  • born at Green Cove Springs, Florida; seventh of fourteen children

Education

  • Florida State Normal School (now Florida A & M University)
  • Cooper Union (1921-24)
  • with sculptor Hermon MacNeil, Paris
  • Academie de la Chaumiere, and with Charles Despiau, 1930-31

Marriage, Children

Married:

  • ~1907: John T. Moore (died)
  • ~1915: James Savage (carpenter; divorced 1921)
  • 1923: Robert L. Poston (died 1924)

Children: Irene