Faces of the Harlem Renaissance

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Augusta Savage

1892-1962 / Sculptor

Determined from childhood to become a sculptor, Augusta Savage moved to New York City in the early 1920s to study at Cooper Union's School of Art. There her talent as an artist blossomed and was quickly recognized, landing Savage a commission to fashion a portrait bust of scholar W. E. B. Du Bois. She would sculpt likenesses of many other African-American leaders, among them black nationalist and entrepreneur Marcus Garvey.

In 1924 Savage sculpted a plaster bust of her nephew, Ellis Ford, that is widely regarded as her finest work. The bust, entitled Gamin (French for "street urchin"), won Savage a Julius Rosenwald Fellowship—and with it a year's study in Paris.

Upon her return to Harlem, Savage began teaching aspiring artists. In 1932 she established the Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts, an arts-education center for adults. She later became the first director of Harlem's Community Arts Center. Funded by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the center invited African Americans to learn about their culture through the study of fine arts.

In 1939, Savage was commissioned to create a sculpture for the New York World's Fair. Titled The Harp, the work was strongly influenced by James Weldon Johnson's 1900 song, "Lift Every Voice and Sing."

Always intensely involved in the Harlem arts community, Savage was a longtime member of the "306 Group"—so named for the art studio at 306 West 141st Street, where Savage exchanged techniques and ideas with black artists such as Charles Alston, Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, and Morgan and Marvin Smith.