by Jeffreen M. Hayes. D. Giles Limited, October 2018. 156 p. ill. ISBN 9781911282228 (h/c), $44.95.
Reviewed January 2019
Augusta Savage: Renaissance Woman was published in association with a travelling exhibition produced by the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens in Jacksonville, Florida. This long overdue catalog addressing the work of Augusta Savage (1892-1962) is a welcome addition to the scant coverage of this important and influential American artist. Savage grew up in Jim Crow Florida, in the small community of Green Cove Springs near Jacksonville. Showing early artistic promise, she modeled figurines out of local clay but was severely punished by her father for creating “graven images.” As an adult, she moved to Harlem and studied at Cooper Union in New York City. She was admitted to the Fontainebleau School of Fine Arts in France but was later denied her rightful entry when the committee learned of her race. Eventually, Savage was able to study in Paris and subsequently returned to Harlem to open and operate a studio offering free art classes. As a sculptor, Savage excelled in capturing the dignity and beauty of her subjects. As an organizer and educator, she was a significant figure of the Harlem Renaissance.
An introduction by Howard Dodson addresses the difficulties faced by Savage and provides commentary on the three essays within this volume. An essay by the curator of the exhibition, Jeffreen Hayes, situates Savage as an outspoken “race woman,” community organizer, and art educator with a lasting influence. Bridget Cooks discusses Savage’s tireless efforts on behalf of other African American artists. Kirsten Pai Buick examines Savage in a broad historical and social context related to our understanding of monuments and public space. There are author notes at the end of each essay.
This attractive publication is illustrated throughout and includes a section of 44 color plates, 20 of which feature works by Savage. It is important to note that many of the artist’s works have been lost or destroyed. The remaining plates feature works by Savage’s contemporaries and those she taught, allowing the reader to view her work within its larger cultural context. There is a section of selected reproductions of typed and handwritten correspondence between Savage and W.E.B. Du Bois along with photographs of Savage. The book is made with quality semi-gloss paper and sewn signatures in a case binding with a dust jacket. The catalog closes with an exhibition checklist with a list of plates and archival materials and a selected bibliography.
This catalog is highly recommended for academic libraries and will be of interest to those working in the areas of art history, black history, women’s history, and the Harlem Renaissance.