Elizabeth Catlett Merged Art, Social Justice

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(CNN) -- Elizabeth Catlett, a leading African-American sculptor, painter and printmaker for much of the last hundred years, died Monday at her home in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

She was 96.

"She's had to struggle as a woman, as an artist," said June Kelly, whose New York gallery has represented Catlett's sculpture since 1993. "But she never wavered. That's what I found so marvelous about her - in knowing who she is, and never faltering about how she looked at the world, and women, and how she saw them forging ahead into society and making a place for themselves."

Born in Washington, D.C., Catlett was 16 when she was accepted with a scholarship to the Carnegie Technical Institute, now Carnegie Mellon University. But when she showed up at the campus in Pittsburgh, they turned her away because she was African-American. Later recognizing its mistake, Carnegie Mellon awarded her an honorary doctorate in 2008.

Catlett went on to earn her bachelor's degree in art at Howard University in 1935. Five years later, she became the first student to earn a master's degree in sculpture at the University of Iowa, where she was not allowed to live in the university dormitories and instead lived with local African-American families.

Catlett moved to Mexico in 1946 on a fellowship to study woodcarving at the Escuela de Pintura y Escultura. She was invited to join a group of socially conscious Mexico City artists called the Taller de Grafica Popular (People's Graphic Workshop), and produced pamphlets, posters and other art related to anti-war, labor rights and anti-facist causes. …