Augusta Savage, Black Educator Hall of Fame

E’ry day this month, the Center for Black Educator Development, in partnership with, will highlight a Black Educator Hall of Famer.

But, don’t forget, e’ry month is Black History Month. February is just the Blackest.

Today, our featured Black educator is Augusta Savage.

Augusta Savage was born Augusta Christine Fells in Green Cove Springs, Florida on February 29, 1892. She was an art educator and master sculptor. Savage began sculpting at a young age, much to her father’s dismay. Savage once said that her father, a Methodist minister, “almost whipped all the art out of me.” This was due to her father’s belief that sculpting was a sin relating to graven images from the Bible. Nevertheless, Savage was not deterred.

At the urging of her Florida mentors, Savage made the bold decision to leave her family behind and, with less than five dollars to her name, in 1921 moved to New York to more seriously pursue the study of sculpture. Savage enrolled at the Cooper Union, where her extraordinary skill, particularly in creating portrait busts of African Americans, quickly drew praise. She received her BA in 1924.

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. Officials of the program feared Savage’s presence would upset white students. In a letter to the editor of the New York World, Savage lamented the prejudice she routinely encountered:

“One of the reasons why more of my race do not go in for higher education is that as soon as one of us gets his head above the crowd there are millions of feet ready to crush it back again to that dead level of commonplace.”

Nevertheless, Savage was known for her skill. During the mid-1920s when the Harlem Renaissance was at its peak, Savage lived and worked in a small studio apartment where she earned a reputation as a portrait sculptor, completing busts of prominent personalities such as W.E.B. DuBois and Marcus Garvey. Both pieces, pieces she was commissioned to do, 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. Gamin was a critical work not only to Savage’s career but also as an embodiment of the Harlem Renaissance’s mission; representing the solemn, sensitive youth that expressed the inherent dignity of African American identity that many Black artists sought to promote.

“I have created nothing really beautiful, really lasting, but if I can inspire one of these youngsters to develop the talent I know they possess, then my monument will be in their work.”

Augusta Savage

Following her return to New York in 1932, Savage established the Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts and became an influential teacher in Harlem. She launched the Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts, located in a basement on West 143rd Street in Harlem, with the help of a grant from the Carnegie Foundation, which was open to all to learn how to paint, draw, or sculpt.

In 1934 Savage became the first African American elected to the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors (now National Association of Women Artists) and 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). 

Upon retiring from art, Savage taught children art and wrote children’s stories. She passed away in New York City on March 26, 1962. Augusta Savage; a member of the Black Educator Hall of Fame.

For more information on Augusta Savage, visit the following site.


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