In the last few weeks, there have been several positive things happening in regards to my book about Augusta Savage. Readers made positive comments on Amazon, a book club in Georgia read the book and said they loved it, and a journalist called me wanting to know more about Augusta Savage. It’s nice to know that there is renewed interest in this artist who gave so much but suffered so much too.
When Augusta Savage finished this statue in the late 1930s, the people of Harlem chipped in and had it bronzed for her. Although it was exhibited and admired, no group or individual bought it. In Graven Images, Savage says, “When would I ever learn that sculpting my Negro people would only lead to rejection?” A writer for Time magazine says that in replacing statues of slave owners we should think about not trying to put up historical figures. Rather we may want to “embrace representations of those who have previously been stigmatized or invisible.” Savage’s Realization would be perfect. If anyone knows where the statue went, please leave a comment on my blog.
James Weldon Johnson’s song, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was the inspiration for Augusta Savage’s statue for the 1939 World’s Fair. Augusta was given the daunting task of making a sculpture that would highlight the African-American gift of song and music. In my book Graven Images, her friend James asks, “How can you make a song into a sculpture? A song isn’t something you see.”
Well, she could, and here she is in the process of making the sculpture.
The finished project was a harp–16 feet tall. The strings were a line of singing children. The base was a gigantic arm and hand with the fingers curving up, symbolizing God’s hand. A kneeling young man offered a plaque with notes to represent the musical gift of music to the American people. It was the most popular piece of sculpture at the fair.
Augusta Savage at work on The Harp, 1935-1945, New York World’s Fair (1939-1940). Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 12, 2018 TO SUNDAY, APRIL 7, 2019
Organized by guest curator Jeffreen M. Hayes, Ph.D.
This exhibition features nearly 80 works of art, including sculptures, paintings, and works on paper, and is the first to reassess Harlem Renaissance artist Augusta Savage’s contributions to art and cultural history in light of 21st-century attention to the concept of the artist-activist. The fully illustrated companion catalogue presents the most up-to-date scholarly research, re-examines Savage’s place in the history of American sculpture and positions her as a leading figure who broke down the barriers she and her students encountered while seeking to participate fully in the art world.
Augusta’s family moved to West Palm Beach, Florida in about 1908. Gussie and her one-year -old daughter moved here also. They lived in homes like these. Artwork has been added recently for a lively touch. Gussie and her daughter Irene had their own place a few doors down from her parents. The very basic frame dwellings were put up to house African-Americans who worked for the extravagant new hotels in Palm Beach. Gussie and her mother were laundresses for the hotels. On my recent book tour, a resident of West Palm Beach said she didn’t think these were the homes where Gussie’s family lived, because the famous Okeechobie Hurricane probably would have blown them down. However, I think the homes were probably similar to this.