June 23, 2021

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Lesson of the Day: ‘The Black Woman Artist Who Crafted a Life She Was Told She Couldn’t Have’

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2. What biographical events most shaped Savage’s life and her work? What aspects of her life story resonate most for you?

3. How did Savage fight back against the prejudice and racism she faced throughout her life, such as the rescinding of a scholarship to attend the Fontainebleau School of Fine Arts in Paris when the administration learned that she was Black?

4. Why did Savage open the Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts in Harlem in 1932? What impact did it have on generations of Black artists? How was her vision of community-driven education part of the African-American tradition, according to Bridget R. Cooks, an art historian and associate professor at University of California, Irvine?

5. Sadly, most of Savage’s work has been lost or destroyed. “Imagine the power of somebody looking at ‘The Harp’ in its sort of monumental size for the last 70 years,” Niama Safia Sandy, a curator and visiting assistant professor at the Pratt Institute, is quoted as saying in the article. She asks, “What could that have changed?” How would you answer Ms. Sandy’s question? What do you think viewers have lost from the absence of Savage’s work in public life? Do you agree with calls to recreate “The Harp” and display it at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington?

6. While Savage viewed her own legacy with humility, putting the emphasis on the success of her students, Ms. de León writes that “her work, and her plight, still resonate.” She quotes Jeffreen Hayes, a curator and the executive director of Threewalls, an arts nonprofit group in Chicago:

“I don’t think about Augusta Savage as someone who only made objects,” Dr. Hayes said, but rather as someone who “has really left behind a blueprint of what it means to be an artist that centers humanity.”

Do you agree with Ms. de León and Dr. Hayes’s assessment of Savages’s legacy? How should we remember Savage today? What is your own assessment of Savage’s artistry? What qualities of “The Harp” and other works showcased in the article do you find most affecting or artistically significant? What lessons and inspiration can we learn from her life and work?

Option 1: Analyze and interpret an artwork by Augusta Savage.

Write your own analysis and interpretation of Savage’s “The Harp” (or another work, such as “Realization” or “Gamin,” both discussed in the article) using vivid and detailed sensory language.

While the original work was destroyed, you can watch this video of “The Harp” from the 1939 World’s Fair and read interpretations of the sculpture here. Additionally, you might read James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” or listen to a recording of the song, which was the inspiration for Savage’s piece.

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