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Augusta Savage

Augusta Savage , original name Augusta Christine Fells (born February 29, 1892, Green Cove Springs, Florida, U.S.—died March 26, 1962, New York, New York), American sculptor and educator who battled racism to secure a place for African American women in the art world.

Augusta Fells began modeling figures from the red-clay soil of her native Florida at an early age. When just 15 years old, she married John T. Moore in 1907 and had her only child, Irene, in 1908. After Moore died a few years later, Augusta moved to West Palm Beach, Florida, in 1915. About that time she married James Savage, but she divorced him in the early 1920s and kept his name.

Once she discovered a good source for clay, Savage thrived artistically in West Palm Beach, receiving local encouragement and prizes. She moved to Jacksonville, Florida, hoping to make a living by executing commissioned busts of the city’s well-to-do African Americans. When that plan failed, she left her daughter with her parents in Florida and moved to New York City to study art. In 1921 she enrolled at Cooper Union in the four-year sculpture course, but her instructors quickly waived many of the classes in light of her talent. She graduated in three years.

In 1923 Savage became the focus of a racial scandal involving the French government and the American arts community. She was among some 100 young American women selected to attend a summer program at Fontainebleau, outside Paris, but her application was subsequently refused by the French on the basis of her race. The American sculptor Hermon A. MacNeil was the only member of the committee to denounce the decision, and he invited Savage to study with him in an attempt to make amends. Also in 1923 Savage married for the third and final time, but her husband, Robert L. Poston, died the next year. Following this period, Savage worked in steam laundries to earn money to care for her family and to save for studies in Europe.

In the 1920s Savage received commissions to sculpt portrait busts of W.E.B. Du Bois and black

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