AUGUSTA CHRISTINE FELLS SAVAGE Biography - Other artists & entretainers


Biography » other artists entretainers » augusta christine fells savage


Name: Augusta Savage                                                                     
Born: 29 February 1892 Green Cove Springs                                                 
Died:  26 March 1962 New York                                                             
Augusta Savage, born Augusta Christine Fells (February 29, 1892 - March 26, 1962)         
was an African American sculptor associated with the Harlem Renaissance. She was         
also a teacher, and a voice for equal rights.                                             
Augusta Fells (Savage) was born in Green Cove Springs (near Jacksonville),               
Florida. She began making clay figures as a child, mostly small animals, but her         
father would beat her when he found her sculptures; at the time, he believed her         
sculpture to be a sinful practice, based upon his interpretation of the "graven           
images" portion of the Bible. After the family moved to West Palm Beach, she             
sculpted a Virgin Mary figure, and, upon seeing it, her father changed his mind,         
regretting his past actions. The principal of her new school recognized and               
encouraged her talent, and paid her one dollar a day to teach modeling during             
her senior year. This began a life-long commitment to teaching as well as to art.         
In 1907, she married John Moore; they had a daughter, Irene, but John died               
shortly after. She moved back in with her parents, who raised Irene with her.             
Augusta continued to model clay, and applied for a booth at the Palm Beach               
county fair: the initially apprehensive fair officials ended up awarding her a           
25 dollar prize, and the sales of her art totaled 175 dollars a significant sum           
at that time and place.                                                                   
That success encouraged her to apply to Cooper Union (Art School) in New York             
City, where she was admitted in October, 1921. During this time she married               
James Savage; they divorced after a few months, but she kept the name of Savage.         
She excelled in her art classes at Cooper, and was accelerated through                   
foundation classes. Her talent and ability so impressed the staff and faculty at         
Cooper, that she was awarded funds for room and board, tuition being already             
covered for all Cooper students.                                                         
In 1923 she applied for a summer art program sponsored by the French government;         
despite being more than qualified, she was turned down by the international               
judging committee, solely because she was African-American (Bearden & Henderson,         
AHOAAA, p. 169-170). Savage was deeply upset, and questioned the committee,               
beginning the first of many public fights for equal rights in her life. The               
incident got press coverage on both sides of the Atlantic, and eventually the             
sole supportive committee member, sculptor Hermon MacNeil who at one time had             
shared a studio with Henry Ossawa Tanner invited her to study with him. She               
later cited him as one of her teachers.                                                   
After Cooper, she worked in Manhattan steam laundries to support herself and her         
family. Her father had been paralyzed by a stroke, and the family's home                 
destroyed by a hurricane; her entire family moved into her small West 137th               
Street apartment. During this time she obtained her first commission, a bust of           
W. E. B. DuBois for the local Harlem Library. Her outstanding sculpture brought           
more commissions, including a bust of Marcus Garvey.                                     
She married a protege of Garvey, Robert Lincoln Poston, in 1923. Poston died             
aboard a ship returning from Liberia as part of a UNIA delegation in 1924.               
In 1925 she won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Rome; the             
scholarship covered only tuition, and she was not able to raise any money for             
travel and living expenses. Thus she was unable to attend.                               
Knowledge of Savage's talent and struggles became widespread in the African-American     
community; fund-raising parties were held in Harlem and Greenwich Village, and           
African-American Women's groups and teachers from Florida A&M all sent her money         
for studies abroad. In 1929, she enrolled and attended the Academie de la Grande         
Chaumiere, a leading Paris art school. She exhibited and won awards in two               
Salons and one Exposition. She toured France, Belgium, and Germany, researching           
sculpture in cathedrals and museums.