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Augusta Savage was born Augusta Christine Fells on February 29, 1892, in Green Cove Springs, Florida. Fells exhibited an inclination toward art at an early age. She often used the natural clay around her to make sculpture, skipping school at times in order to sculpt. She was punished by her father (Methodist minister) for skipping school but she continued sculpting.
The Fells family moved to West Palm Beach, Florida and Augusta married a man named James Savage in 1915. She realized that there was no natural clay about. After purchasing clay from a local pottery store, she then created several figures that she entered into a local county fair. She won a prize for her sculptures. George Graham Currie, the fair’s superintendent, encouraged her to pursue art school. She heeded his advice.
Savage attempted to establish herself as a sculptor in Jacksonville, Florida to no avail. In the 1920s, she left the south for New York City. Despite her financial struggles, she began her education at Cooper Union, a tuition-free institution. Shortly thereafter, the school was able to grant her a stipend which helped with her living expenses. She excelled and completed her program in just three years as opposed to four.
In 1923, Savage applied to a summer program that would have afforded her the opportunity to study in France. She was rejected due to her race. Taken aback, she notified local media outlets and her story made several headlines but the results of the committee remained. Herman MacNeil, a committee member, felt bad and opened his Long Island studio up to her.
Savage began making a name for herself as a portrait sculptor. She established herself by crafting sculptures of prominent Black leaders, such as W. E. B. Du Bois and Marcus Garvey. During the ’20s and ’30s, she became an illustrious figure of the Harlem Renaissance.
Savage was finally able to study abroad when she was awarded the Julius Rosenwald fellowship in 1929. She won the fellowship after releasing a sculpture of her nephew titled Gamin. After studying in Paris for a year, she then earned another Rosenwald fellowship. She also won the Carnegie Foundation grant which afforded her the opportunity to travel around Europe.
Savage returned to the U.S. during the zenith of the Great Depression. Since portrait commissions were not in demand, she established the Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts in 1932 where she taught art. By the mid-1930s, she became the first Black artist to join the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors.
Savage co-established art centers that aided many Black artists. She was commissioned by the NYC World’s Fair to create a statue. She created a sculpture that embodied the Black National Anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing. In her later years, she lived and taught art in a small town in New York. She was diagnosed cancer and ultimately died on March 26, 1962, in New York City. She was 70 years old.
**The views and actions of the DDH historical figures that are featured may not reflect the views and beliefs of Ramiro The Writer (Nikodemus Mwandishi). Thank you.**