One of our great African American female artists represented in The Cummer’s collection is Augusta Savage. You may have seen her work when visiting the current Cummer Legacy exhibit, but did you know that she is a native of northeast Florida? She was born February 29,1892 (leap year!) in Green Cove Springs. At an early age, she fell in love with sculpting when she used clay she found in the ground to create small animals.
With the encouragement of one of her teachers, she followed her passion to become a professional sculptor working in Jacksonville and then moving north to Harlem in New York. There she was able to go to art school at Cooper Union and became known as a prominent portrait sculptor. Busts of W.E.B. DuBois, James Weldon Johnson and Marcus Garvey are attributed to her. Her rise in talent and popularity made her one of the first visual artists associated with the Harlem Renaissance. Her work led her to study in Paris for a few years.
Excited by her own work, Savage wanted to pass on her passion for art to the greater Harlem community. Upon returning to New York after her studies in Paris, she opened the Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts which evolved into the Harlem Community Arts Center. Many well known African American artists started there including Jacob Lawrence and William Artis. She even set aside much of her own work as a sculptor to teach young people.
The Cummer Museum is lucky to have The Diving Boy in Bronze because many of Savage’s work was not cast and therefore has not lasted through the years. Mrs. Cummer acquired this piece in 1939 for her garden where it sat looking over a reflecting pool in the Italian garden.
As an artist, teacher and activist she said, “If I can inspire one of these youngsters to develop the talent I know they possess, then my monument will be in their work.” The Cummer honors her life’s work with the naming of one of our community programs, Project Augusta Savage, where we teach art in two urban Catholic schools and bring the students to the museum multiple times per year to study our collection and garden. We hope that Savage’s passion for the arts lives on in these young students.