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Augusta Savage
Afro-American
February 11, 1939
James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection

Augusta Savage is shown at work on her sculpture, Lift Every Voice and Sing, in a contemporary newspaper clipping of 1939. The caption below the photograph reads, “Augusta Savage, at work on “The Harp,” a sculptural group which will face Rainbow Avenue from a garden adjacent to the Contemporary Arts Building. The work, deriving its inspiration from the national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” takes the form of a huge harp whose strings are represented by singers. The sounding board of the harp is the arm and hand of the creator.”

 

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Raised in rural Florida, as a child sculptor Augusta Savage began molding figures from the clay found in the soil near her home. As a young woman, Savage moved to New York City and enrolled in an arts program at Cooper Union. She became acquainted with other Harlem artists and writers, some of whom she made scultures of, including W. E. B. DuBois, James Weldon Johnson, and Marcus Garvey.

Savage believed strongly in educating and supporting other African Americans pursuing the arts; to that end she founded the Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts. Both studio and school became a gathering place for artists and intellectuals, including Claude McKay and Aaron Douglas. Savage worked extensively with students, some of whom became successful artists themselves, including Norman Lewis and Gwendolyn Knight. She was considered a powerful and generous teacher; some believed, in fact, that the attention she lavished on students cut into time she might otherwise have spent on her own work.

Many of Savage’s sculptures were lost when a traveling exhibition fell through; because she could not afford to ship the pieces back to New York, they were abandoned or destroyed. Savage also made a small number of sculptures relative to other artists, in part because throughout her life she was forced to take work as a domestic servant and laundress to support herself and her art. Considering all this, it is not surprising that few of her sculptures are known today.

 

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