Augusta Savage, Artist

Lift Every Voice and Sing, (1939) by Augusta Savage

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Prior to a story in today’s New York Times about Augusta Savage, I didn’t know of that fine artist. I began reading casually about her, and found myself blown away by images of her sculpture, “Lift Every Voice and Sing”. I searched for others of her works, finding them all of high quality, and most of all, full of compassion.

Gamin (1929)

Savage was a mostly self-taught artist and worked during the Harlem Renaissance period. She was born in 1892, in Florida, the seventh of fourteen children, and grew up in poverty. Throughout her childhood, she created art. She married early, had a child and was divorced before her arrival in Harlem in 1921. At that time, Cooper Union offered free tuition. She enrolled and completed a four-year art course in three years.

Her story and her personal grit are compelling. I’ll add a link to the NYT story later in this article. Here, I want to focus on her absolutely wonderful sculpture, “Lift Every Voice and Sing”.

She receive a commission in 1937 to create a sculpture for the 1939 New York World’s Fair. She was the single Black artist, to receive a commission from the fair. She created, “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, a 16-foot sculpture cast in plaster.

The Fair organizers renamed Savage’s work, “The Harp”, and displayed her sculpture among others by world famous artists like Willem de Kooning and Salvador Dalí. Her piece was well-received by visitors, and reportedly became the most photographed image in the Fair’s sculpture exhibit.

This is a link to a brief video of “Harp” taken by a Fair visitor. Way beyond words, the visual reveals the special qualities of Savage’s work.

This brilliant artist’s story has its high points and plenty of sadness. To me, what’s saddest of all is explained in The Times. It’s that, “…when the World’s Fair ended, Savage could not afford to cast “The Harp” in bronze, or even pay for the plaster version to be shipped or stored, so her monumental work, like many temporary works on display at the Fair, was destroyed.”

Think of the loss!

The historian, Jill Lepore, has a new book coming this spring, entitled, “Joe Gould’s Teeth”. The heroine of Lepore’s story is the artist then known as Miss Savage. Joe Gould, an art reviewer, fell in love with Savage and harassed her. In her writing plan, Lepore intended to focus on Gould, but instead became fascinated by Savage’s escape from his attentions and harassments. In Lepore’s telling, Savage is a heroine.

I hope you enjoy more of Augusta Savage’s life and talent in the Times article:

Dear Friends: Her “Harp” sculpture makes me, too, wish to lift my head and sing. Diana

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