Cummer Included Works by Sculptor Augusta Savage in 'Masters' Exhibit
Perez-Brennan, Tanya, The Florida Times Union
Byline: Tanya Perez-Brennan, Times-Union staff writer
She was one of the greatest African-American artists of the Harlem Renaissance, and she came right from our own back yard.
Augusta Savage is one of the noted artists included in the "African American Masters: Highlights from the Smithsonian American Art Museum," opening Thursday at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens.
Savage is best known as a sculptor and a pioneer for African-American artists.
The Cummer welcomed the opportunity to include some of her work, already in their collection, in a larger show.
"We gain a greater appreciation of her work if we see it in a national context," said chief curator Jeanette Toohey.
Born in Green Cove Springs in 1892, Savage was the seventh of 14 children. She expressed an early interest in art, and became adept at using moist clay to make bird figures. But her Methodist minister father did not approve of her artistic ambitions. This was only one of many obstacles to mark her life.
After a series of moves and financial challenges, Savage went to New York City in 1921 to continue her artistic studies. She soon became a central figure in the Harlem Renaissance, in which African-American literature, art and music flourished. She became a teacher and political activist, helping young African-American artists.
"She understood what the hurdles were for young African-American people wanting to make professional lives in the arts," Hope McMath, education director at the Cummer, said. "She wanted to give young folks the tool to pursue their own interests. Not only was Augusta herself a very important artist, but the fact that she taught the next generation of Harlem Renaissance artists means that she's huge."
And the fact that Savage is from this area points to the historic importance of Jacksonville as a center for African-American artistic activity.
"A lot of strength of Jacksonville history is in African-American culture and only recently have the people who live here begun to embrace this again," McMath said. "I think she's important because she helps point to that whole idea that the history of Jacksonville is built upon the contributions of African-Americans."
At the same time, Savage did not want to be known simply as a "black artist," but as an artist, period. …