Augusta Savage was one of the leading artists of the Harlem Renaissance as well as an influential activist and arts educator.
Born in Florida in 1892, Augusta Savage began creating art as a child by using the natural clay found in her hometown. After attending Cooper Union in New York City, she made a name for herself as a sculptor during the Harlem Renaissance and was awarded fellowships to study abroad. Savage later served as a director for the Harlem Community Center and created the monumental work The Harp for the 1939 New York World’s Fair.
Savage moved to New York City in the early 1920s. Although she struggled financially throughout her life, she was admitted to study art at Cooper Union, which did not charge tuition. Before long, the school gave her a scholarship to help with living expenses as well. Savage excelled, finishing her course work in three years instead of the usual four.
While at Cooper Union, she had an experience that would greatly influence her life and work: In 1923, Savage applied to a special summer program to study art in France, but was rejected because of her race. She took the rejection as a call to action and sent letters to the local media about the program selection committee’s discriminatory practices. Savage’s story made headlines in many newspapers, although it wasn’t enough to change the group’s decision. One committee member, Herman MacNeil, regretted the ruling and invited Savage to further hone her craft at his Long Island studio.
Savage soon started to make a name for herself as a portrait sculptor. Her works from this time include busts of such prominent African Americans as W.E.B. Dubois and Marcus Garvey.
Augusta Savage spent most of her later life in the solitude of small-town life. She taught children in summer camps, dabbled in writing and continued with her art as a hobby.