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Augusta Fells Savage (1882 - 1962)
sculptor, teacher
photo by Morgan & Marvin Smith, 1936

Augusta Fells was born in Florida. She began modeling clay figures as a child against her father's wishes. He took literally the biblical admonition against making graven images. She attended Tallahassee State National School, married James Savage and had a daughter. One of her clay figures won a prize at a county fair and, thus inspired, she raised money to go to New York to get training as an artist. She entered a free art program at Cooper Union in 1921 and supported herself by taking in laundry.

She was turned down for a summer art program by the French government in 1923 because of her color. She brought this issue to the public's attention and caused quite an uproar. She never received the scholarship, but she received an offer to study with the sculptor Herman MacNeil. This incident brought attention to the discrimination African-American artists faced in this country. However, she was seen as a troublemaker.

Savage became known as a portrait sculptor. She portrayed W.E.B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey, Frederick Douglass, James Weldon Johnson and other African-American leaders. She continued to exhibit and eventually won a Rosenwald Fellowship to study in Europe. Upon her return in 1932, she established the Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts. She was a great influence on several artists who later became nationally recognized, such as Jacob Lawrence.

Augusta Savage was a dedicated teacher who put her own work aside in order to encourage gifted children. She was appointed director of the Harlem Community Art Center in 1937, and helped to organize the Harlem Arts Guild. In 1939, she was commissioned for the New York World's Fair to produce a sculpture. She created one of her major works, "The Harp," based on James and J. Rosamond Johnson's song, "Lift Every Voice and Sing." It is pictured under construction in her studio. The work was exhibited adjacent to the Contemporary Arts Building. It was, unfortunately, destroyed when the fair was over. Shortly afterward Augusta Savage left Harlem and maintained a studio in Saugerties, New York, where she continued to work and teach. Of her work with children, she said, "If I can inspire one of these youngsters to develop the talent I know they possess, then my monument will be in their work."

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