Thursday, April 20, 2006

Cleopatra, head thrust back yet, for sculptors to come, forward.

Inventing Edmonia Lewis, Part II

From "Wake the Echoes," Kingston Times, April 20, 2006:
Last week’s column concluded with African American and Native American sculptor Edmonia Lewis, after an appalling brush with racism in Ohio and a skyrocket success in Boston, sailing for Europe in the autumn of 1865. Following a brief stay in Florence, where famous sculptors Thomas Ball and Hiram Powers furnished her with tools of the trade, she joined a vibrant expatriate community of American artists, especially independent women, living in Rome. Commencing a decade of growing skill, flurried productivity, and worldwide acclaim, Lewis came into her own as an artist and her studio in Rome became a guidebook destination for American and European travelers. “Prejudice against my color and race are not known in Rome,” she said. “I never hear of them there. I am invited everywhere, and am treated just as nicely as if the bluest of blue blood flowed through my veins.”

Although given a stone-cold shoulder in the Eternal City by William Wetmore Story, regarded at that time as the greatest American sculptor, Lewis was welcomed warmly by fellow woman artists Harriet Hosmer, Margaret Foley, Emma Stebbins, and Anne Whitney, as well as actress Charlotte Cushman. Story termed them “a set whom I do not like” and Henry James, his biographer, delivered a memorable putdown, calling them “that strange sisterhood of American ‘lady sculptors’ who at one time settled upon the seven hills [of Rome] in a white, marmorean flock.” James further zinged Lewis: “One of the sisterhood was a negress, whose colour, picturesquely contrasting with that of her plastic material, was the pleading agent of her fame....”

Lewis returned home frequently, going as far as San Francisco to exhibit and sell her sculptures. On her first return home, in 1867, she brought along a plaster of “New England’s poet,” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who had sat for his likeness at her studio in Rome. The Christian Register noted, “It has been proposed by some of Longfellow’s friends to have it put in marble, for Harvard. It would be a beautiful thought that the author of ‘Hiawatha’ [a Chippewa, as was Lewis’s mother] should be embalmed in stone by a descendant from Minnehaha.” Indeed, this marble is now at the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard, though an exquisite Longfellow of her s has recently turned up in Liverpool.

Another notable work of 1867 was The Freedwoman, also known as Forever Free. Said to have been inspired by the Emancipation Proclamation, its exhibit at Boston’s Tremont Temple prompted The Register to a rapture of high sentiment and low rhetoric: “The noble figure of the man, his very muscles seeming to swell with gratitude; the expression of the right now to protect, with which he throws his arm around his kneeling wife; the ‘Praise de Lord’ hovering on their lips; the broken chain, — all so instinct with life, telling in the very poetry of stone the story of the last ten years.”

Lewis further referenced her dual heritage in such sculptures as The Old Arrow-Maker and his Daughter, with its direct homage to Longfellow’s Hiawatha (the composition depicts Minnehaha “plaiting mats of flags and rushes” and her father “making arrowheads of jasper”); Hagar, the Egyptian maidservant of Abraham’s wife, Sarah, cast out into the wilderness; and busts of abolitionist heroes Robert Gould Shaw, who commanded the black 54th Massachusetts Regiment, William H. Carney, also a hero of the 54th and the first black Congressional Medal of Honor winner, and Charles Sumner, whose bust was exhibited at Atlanta’s Cotton States Exposition of 1895, probably her last formal showing in this country. Lewis’s crowning achievement also honored her race: Cleopatra, exhibited at the Centennial Exhibition of 1876.

William Wetmore Story’s most celebrated sculpture had also been a Cleopatra, described in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Marble Faun (first published in Great Britain in 1859 as Transformation):

Difficulties that might well have seemed insurmountable had been courageously encountered and made flexible to purposes of grace and dignity; so that Cleopatra sat attired in a garb proper to her historic and queenly state, as a daughter of the Ptolemies, and yet such as the beautiful woman would have put on as best adapted to heighten the magnificence of her charms, and kindle a tropic fire in the cold eyes of Octavius. A marvellous repose — that rare merit in statuary, except it be the lumpish repose native to the block of stone — was diffused throughout the figure. The spectator felt that Cleopatra had sunk down out of the fever and turmoil of her life, and for one instant — as it were, between two pulse throbs — had relinquished all activity, and was resting throughout every vein and muscle. It was the repose of despair, indeed; for Octavius had seen her, and remained insensible to her enchantments. But still there was a great smoldering furnace deep down in the woman’s heart. The repose, no doubt, was as complete as if she were never to stir hand or foot again; and yet, such was the creature’s latent energy and fierceness, she might spring upon you like a tigress, and stop the very breath that you were now drawing midway in your throat.

Lewis’s sculpture, on the other hand, “was not a beautiful work,’” wrote artist William J. Clark, Jr., two years after seeing it at the Centennial Exhibition, “but it was a very original and very striking one.... The effects of death are represented with such skill as to be absolutely repellant — and it is a question whether a statue of the ghastly characteristics of this one does not overstep the bounds of legitimate art.” Where other sculptors had depicted Cleopatra in life or, asp in hand, contemplating her end, Lewis showed her post mortem, her head thrown back. The dramatic gesture signaled a break with sculpting conventions in the same way that Jacques Louis David’s Death of Marat had marked a new direction for historical painting.

Cleopatra and its sculptor would move on to Chicago in 1878. When the exhibit there closed, Lewis returned home without her two-ton masterpiece, unable to sell it or pay for its transport. It went into storage and was not seen publicly again until 1892, when it graced a saloon on Chicago’s Clark Street. Next it was acquired by gambler and racing aficionado “Blind John” Condon, who placed it atop the remains of his favorite pony, named Cleopatra, within view of the grandstand of his Harlem Race Track in Forest Park.

And that Chicago suburb is where the statue remained, even after the race track became a golf course, and then a torpedo manufactory. When a U.S. Postal Service facility overtook the site in the 1970s, Lewis’s Cleopatra went to a storage yard in Cicero. There a fire inspector recognized a diamond in the rough and contacted the head of the Forest Park Historical Society, in the person of Frank J. Orland, a dentist who decided to pretty Cleo up with some paint and some “restoration” by a monument carver from a nearby cemetery.

Enter Marilyn Richardson, at that time a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and reigning expert on Edmonia Lewis. She convinced Orland, though not easily, that the sculpture’s optimal display might be at some location other than the shopping mall adjoining the bulk mail center in Forest Park. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American Art took over and in 1996 restored Cleopatra to public view in an irretrievably damaged but thoughtfully restored form in “Lost and Found: Edmonia Lewis’s Cleopatra.”

Oddly, the outsized success of Lewis’s Cleopatra at Philadelphia in 1876 not only marked the apex of her achievement, it also signaled the onset of her decline (just as for Augusta Savage a monumental sculpture for the New York World’s Fair of 1939 had marked the beginning of the end). For the rest of her life she would scramble to make ends meet, making inspid terracotta putti and busts of long-ago celebrities.

The last American traces I have found of her, in my necessarily limited research, are in Indianapolis in 1878-79 and in New York in October 1879, where she was exhibiting her Veiled Bride of Spring, a sculpture that may not survive. From abroad, we find mention of her in a census report of 1901 that locates her in London — St. Giles in the Field and St. George Bloomsbury, to be precise — with her age given as 59 (birth year of 1842), her profession as “artist and modeller,” and her race as Indian. Marilyn Richardson reported that Lewis signed a guest book in Rome in 1909.

Where and when Mary Edmonia “Wildfire” Lewis died remains unknown, but in the week between publication of the first and second parts of this story, a fevered back-down-the-rabbit-hole search may have revealed her disputed birthdate.

Last week I wrote, “Like others, I failed in my attempts to find her or her family in 1850 census data in Rensselaer County or anywhere else, as Mary or Edmonia or Wildfire.” Now, spurred by a tip from Richardson, with whom I had begun to correspond in recent days, I can state with confidence that Edmonia’s brother who placed her at Oberlin in 1859 was named Samuel; that he had also placed her, previously and unsuccessfully, in the preparatory program at the experimental New York Central College in McGrawville, New York; and that he had made his California “gold-rush fortune” as a barber rather than as a prospector.

I was able to locate this Samuel Lewis in the 1860 census record for California, a mulatto barber born in New Jersey ca. 1830, and then again in Bozeman, Montana in 1870 and 1880. In 1883 he is identified in the Helena Independent as Edmonia’s brother. I was also able to backtrack to 1850 and find him in the first ward of Syracuse, New York, as part of a basketmaking family that was well situated to sell “bead baskets and pin-cushions [to the tourists at] Niagara Falls and Watkins-Glen,” as Edmonia had reported her family’s activity in 1878. Living with Samuel Lewis in 1850 were his widowed father Charles and several children also born in New Jersey, including a girl named Mary, age 17.

This is not the end of the trail. The search for Edmonia Lewis, who covered her own tracks so well, has simply opened onto another direction. The game is afoot.

--John Thorn

Friday, April 14, 2006

Edmonia Lewis, fabulous in both senses of the word.

Inventing Edmonia Lewis

From "Wake the Echoes," Kingston Times, April 13, 2006:
Last week in this space we touched upon the dispiriting story of African American sculptor Augusta Savage, whose biography was shrouded in myth, whose renown exceeded her abilities, and whose career had been shaped at the outset, for better and worse, by racial discrimination. Born in Florida, her link to the Hudson River Valley began with her move to New York City in 1920 and to Saugerties in 1945.

This week we move on to an earlier and greater African American woman sculptor, Edmonia Lewis. By her own varying accounts, Lewis was born as “Wildfire” on July 4 or 14, in 1845, 1843, or 1842, in Greenbush, New York (just outside Cobleskill) to an African American father and a Native American mother. She was orphaned at age three or age nine and, as Mary Edmonia Lewis, enrolled at Oberlin College in Ohio in 1859 thanks to a gold-rush fortune mysteriously earned by a mysterious brother. It was at Oberlin, an underground-railroad destination and a beacon of racial tolerance, that she felt the sting of racism in a singularly brutal way that shaped her, her career, and, it may be argued, the future of African American art.

When Lewis died in obscurity in Italy — where she had lived for the better part of half a century — sometime after 1910 (we don’t know when, exactly) her fame had long since flown and there was no one at hand to mourn her. “Mannish,” she had lived alone in her last years. In the past decade, however, her sculptures have emerged from museum basements, been cataloged and exhibited, and some that had been in private hands have recently sold for significant sums at auction. Her reputation as an artist stands higher today than at any time since 1876, when her massive Cleopatra was the sensation of the Centennial Exhibition. You’ll have to wait till next week for the details of Cleopatra’s passage from high-class exhibits in Philadelphia and Chicago to a saloon display to a graveyard marker for a racehorse to a golf course ornament to a salvage yard derelict and, in 1996, to an exhibit at the Smithsonian.

But let’s not race ahead of ourselves in telling the story of Edmonia Lewis, whose first act as an artist appears to have been her own invention. Like others, I failed in my attempts to find her or her family in 1850 census data in Rensselaer County or anywhere else, as Mary or Edmonia or Wildfire. Every later clue led back to an account by Edmonia herself. Below, as reported in The Liberator of February 19, 1864, is an illuminating account of a first meeting between Edmonia and the abolitionist author Lydia Maria Child, at an Anti-Slavery Society meeting in Boston. Child wrote:

“I told her I judged by her complexion that there might be some of what is called white blood in her veins. She replied; ‘No, I have not a single drop of what is called white blood in my veins. My father was a full-blooded Negro and my mother was a full-blooded Chippewa.’ ‘But it is a long way from the Chippewa to sculpture,’ said I. ‘How came you to get upon that road?’ ‘I don’t know,’ she replied. ‘My mother was always inventing new patterns for moccasons [sic], and other embroidery; and perhaps the same thing is coming out in me in a more civilized form.’ ‘And have you lived with the Chippewas?’ ‘Yes. When my mother was dying she wanted me to promise that I would live three years with her people, and I did.’ ‘And what did you do while you were there?’ ‘I did as my mother’s people did. I made baskets and embroidered moccasons, and I went into the cities, with my mother’s people to sell them.’ [In an 1878 interview she said of this period in her life, “I sold moccasins and bead baskets and pin-cushions at Niagara Falls and Watkins-Glen...”] ‘And did you like that kind of life?” ‘Oh, yes; I like it a great deal better than your civilized life. There is nothing so beautiful as the tree forest. To catch a fish when you are hungry, cut the boughs of a tree, make a fire to roast it, and eat it in the open air, is the greatest of all luxuries. I would not stay a week pent up in cities, if it were not for my passion for Art.’”

Tripe of this sort was not debuted in Madonna’s prattle about the Kaballah after all. Lewis was no one’s dummy. Child was using her as Exhibit A for the cause, and so were others in William Lloyd Garrison’s abolitionist set. But she was using them too. By the end of 1864 she had exhibited at the Colored Soldiers’ Fair in Boston a bust of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the young white Boston Brahmin who died leading the all-black 54th Massachusetts Regiment in the assault on Fort Wagner, South Carolina. Anna Quincy Waterston not only commissioned Lewis to create a sculpture of herself, she published a poem titled “Edmonia Lewis” in The Liberator of December 16, 1864, in which she wrote, “‘Tis fitting that a daughter of the race/ Whose chains are breaking should receive a gift/ So rare as genius....”

Only a year earlier she had been indigent, sitting on the steps of City Hall, according to the Christian Register, “to eat the dry crackers with which alone her empty purse allowed her to satisfy her hunger; but as she sat and thought of her dead brother, of her homeless state, something caught her eye, the hunger of the stomach ceased, but the hunger of the soul began. That quiet statue of the good old [Benjamin] Franklin had touched the electric spark.... For weeks she haunted that spot and the State House, where she could see Washington and Webster. She asked questions, and found that such things were first made in clay. She got a lump of hard mud, shaped her some sticks, and, her heart divided between art and the terrible struggle for freedom, which had just received the seal of Col. Shaw’s blood, she wrought out, from photographs and her own ideal, an admirable bust of him. This made the name of Edmonia Lewis known in Boston. The unknown waif on the steps of City Hall had, in a few short months, become an object of interest to a large circle of those most anxious about the great problem of the development of the colored race in their new position....”

Press agentry of this high hokum could scarcely be improved upon. But how had she come to have crackers and clay as her only companions? For this we go back to Oberlin, where as Mary E. Lewis she had completed two uneventful years when, in the recess between semesters of the 1861-62 academic year, all hell broke loose.

On January 27, 1862, two of Edmonia’s twelve white roommates at Reverend John Keep’s home set off on a sleigh ride with two gentleman friends, Oberlin students E.R. Pelton and Prentice Loomis. The young women, Maria Miles of Vermilion and Christina Ennes of Birmingham, had been teasing Edmonia earlier. Just before they set out, according to Oberlin professor Geoffrey Blodgett, Edmonia “invited her two friends to her room and offered them a drink of hot spiced wine she had prepared to fortify them against the cold.... Later medical testimony plainly indicated that one item in the mix was cantharides, the aphrodisiac popularly known as Spanish Fly.... A powder made from dried beetles native to Southern Europe, the drug was an effective irritant, whatever its power to promote sexual ambition. Applied externally, it reddened and blistered the skin; taken internally, it could prove highly toxic. Serious sickness, including inflammation of the kidneys, as well as stimulation of the genital organs could result from its use.”

In the course of their sleigh ride the girls became violently ill and their beaux sought medical attention. Examination and questioning prompted the doctors to declare the case one of poisoning, with a clear culprit, but the justice system of little, sleepy Oberlin was ill equipped to act. After a week without an arrest, locals took matters into their own hands: One evening Edmonia was seized, Blodgett wrote, “dragged to a nearby empty field, and brutally thrashed. It was hours before a search party, hunting the fields with lanterns in the night, found her lying in the cold, her clothing torn and her body badly beaten.”

Once Lewis had healed from her injuries, the case went before an inquest to determine whether there was sufficient evidence to go to trial. John Mercer Langston, an Oberlin graduate and the only practicing black attorney in Ohio in 1862, represented Lewis. Pointing out that the contents of the women’s stomachs had not been retained for analysis, he moved that the case be dismissed. The two judges agreed, and Lewis was freed.

Lewis is said not to have returned to Oberlin for the remainder of the 1862 academic year, but records indicate that she re-enrolled for the fall of 1863 but was not permitted to graduate. Although her studies had not concentrated especially in art, she found her way to Boston where the abolitionist Garrison introduced her to sculptor Edward Brackett, who became her first mentor. Following her whirlwind success in Boston in 1864, she taught briefly in post-Civil War Richmond, Virginia. By year end in 1865, with proceeds from plaster casts of the bust of Colonel Shaw, she was welcomed warmly into an American expatriate art colony in Rome.

Still, back in Ohio, not far from Oberlin College, the Lorain County News noted on April 4, 1866: “The papers are noting the advent in Rome of a young colored artist and sculptor—Miss Edmonia Lewis—who is creating something of a sensation in the Eternal City. Report hath it that she is none other than a Miss Mary E. Lewis, who had her brief notoriety here—and for other than artistical efforts—a few years since. If Mary E. is none other than Edmonia, she is indeed enjoying a checkered career.”

Next week we’ll look at that checkered career, across forty years, two continents, and a subsequent sea change of critical opinion.

--John Thorn

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Art Deco at its nadir.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Legendary Augusta Savage

From "Wake the Echoes," Kingston Times, April 6, 2006:
Two summers back, this newspaper’s pages were riddled with vituperative letters concerning a road sign that had been erected four years earlier to honor a Harlem Renaissance sculptor who had resided obscurely in Saugerties from 1945 to 1962. State Comptroller H. Clark McCall had come to town on April 5, 2000, to dedicate Augusta Savage Road, a replacement for Niger Road, from whose name one “g” had been removed half a century earlier in a half-baked civic gesture.

“To heal old wounds is to rid ourselves of a symbol that harkens back to those racist days,” McCall said. “She was a fierce opponent of racism. Her life is an inspiration to us all ... [and] by replacing this hateful name, we send a hopeful signal to the children passing this way.” That few children would pass this dead-end road by the Winston Farm, one on which Savage, by the way, had never lived, troubled some. That Saugerties had not thought to honor her previously, and was now using her to whitewash a bothersome bit of its history, disturbed others.

Lost in the debate were Augusta Savage and her sculpture, but perhaps that should not have been surprising. By coming to Saugerties she had sought to disappear from the art scene she had helped to construct, and she may even have had a hand in the destruction of most of her documented work. Turning away from a career in ruin and a biography encased in myth, in her last years she managed to reconnect with her real past.

Born Augusta Christine Fells in Green Cove Springs, Florida, on February 29, 1892, she was the seventh of fourteen children of Cornelia and Edward Fells, both of whom had been born into slavery some thirty years earlier. Her mother was a washerwoman and her father was a housepainter and fundamentalist preacher who frowned upon graven images. “My father licked me four or five times a week,” Savage once recalled, “and almost whipped all the art out of me.”

In 1908 Gussie, as she was known then, gave birth to a daughter, Irene. She is said to have married a man named John T. Moore the year before, who is said to have died sometime before her marriage to James Savage in or around 1915, when the Fell family relocated to West Palm Beach. In the 1920 census Augusta resides at 916 Banyan Street and works as a laundress for a private family; James works as a chauffeur; and 12-year-old Irene Moore lives with them. Two houses down the street, at Number 912, live Augusta’s mother and five siblings.

One of the many fanciful stories attaching to Augusta Savage’s development as a sculptor has her ceasing to craft figurines from the time she left Green Cove Springs around 1915 because of the unavailability of clay in her new county. Yet in 1919 a local potter (!) is said to have given her 25 pounds of clay from which she created clay ducks and chickens that won a prize in the West Palm Beach County Fair. With a letter of recommendation from the fair superintendent to New York sculptor Solon Borglum (brother of Gutzon of Mt. Rushmore fame), in late 1920 or early 1921 she left her husband, deposited her daughter with her mother and, with $4.60 in her purse, headed to New York City.

Admitted to tuition-free Cooper Union at Borglum’s behest, Savage cleaned houses and took in laundry to support herself. All the same, she was nearly compelled to drop out of the program in 1923, until admirers arranged commissions for her to create busts of W.E.B. DuBois and Marcus Garvey. Being in the presence of these charismatic champions of the race influenced her philosophy profoundly.

The event that had the greatest impact on Augusta Savage’s art also took place in that year. Receiving a scholarship to attend a summer art school in France, she successfully raised funds for the passage. However, as the New York Times reported on April 24, “Augusta Savage, a negress 23 years old, of 228 West 138th Street, who is studying sculpture at Cooper Institute, has been refused permission to attend the Fontainbleau School of Fine Arts in France by a committee of American painters, sculptors and architects.... Ernest Peiexotto, who had charge of the girl’s application as a member of the committee, admitted that refusal was based on the ground that she is a negress and that a number of Southern girls intended sailing on the same ship she had chosen, to begin art studies at the same academy.”

This blatant discrimination raised a furor that went all the way to President Harding. Although her rejection stood, Savage, 31 years old rather than the 23 to which she admitted, had won sympathy as struggling artist and even a measure of fame as a black nationalist. She married Robert T. Lincoln Poston, a newspaper editor and journalist who contributed to Negro World, the newspaper of Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association. He perished at sea in 1924 while returning from a UNIA mission to Liberia.

Continuing to struggle financially, with only occasional commissions, Savage hung on long enough to make her mark with a small jaunty statue of her nephew, Ellis Ford, which she called “Gamin.” This won her an $1800 fellowship from the Julius Rosenwald Fund that enabled her, in 1929-32, to study in France and travel in Germany and Belgium.

Returning to New York, she established the Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts at 163 West 143rd Street. Some of the brightest aspiring young artists, such as Ernest Crichlow, Gwendolyn Knight, Jacob Lawrence, Morgan and Marvin Jones, William Artis, and Norman Lewis, came under her tutelage or at least shelter. And in 1934 she became the first of her race to gain admittance into the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors. Her influence as a cultural icon was increasing in both black and white circles, but her relevance as an African American artist was already past its peak, if indeed it ever had one.

Augusta Savage had struggled to gain the respect of an art community dominated by white males, and despite her gift for black physiognomy, her sculptural precepts were Eurocentric. Her students, on the other hand, were largely in tune with the proposal by Howard University’s Alain Locke that African Americans should pay attention to the use by several European modernists — notably Picasso and Matisse — of African figural conventions in the development of 20th-century art forms.

What at the time appeared to be the crowning achievement of her life as an artist commenced in 1937, when she was appointed the first director of the Harlem Community Art Center and was commissioned by the New York World’s Fair of 1939 to create a sculpture symbolizing the musical contributions of African Americans. Inspired by the lyrics of James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” she took a leave of absence from her newly won job and spent nearly two years on a 16-foot-tall plaster harp, lacquered to resemble black basalt, that was exhibited in the court of the Contemporary Arts Building. The kitschy sculpture amasses twelve black singers in graduated heights with crania in a disquieting diminuendo. The sounding board was formed by the hand and arm of God, and a kneeling man holding sheet music represented the foot pedal. Fairgoers bought pot-metal reproductions of the statue, cast from the original maquette, prized by collectors today.

In the spring of 1939 her career seemed at its zenith. She was given a one-woman show for 15 of her sculptures at the Argent Galleries in New York. But then doors began to close all around her. Upon returning to the Harlem Community Art Center, Savage learned that her “temporary” replacement, Gwendolyn Bennett, was not disposed to relinquish her post. Striking out on her own, she opened an entrepreneurial venture, the Salon of Contemporary Negro Art in Harlem. It closed weeks later for lack of funding. No funds were available to cast “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” nor were there any facilities to store it. After the fair closed it was demolished. In 1940 or ’41 many of the plaster works that had been displayed at the Argent Galleries were shipped to a Midwestern art show, and have not been seen since; Savage may, it is speculated, have destroyed them upon their return.

In 1941, in a turn previously unreported, she divorced James Savage, a technicality she had neglected to pursue before marrying her “third” husband, Robert T.L. Poston. By 1945 it was clear that the 53-year-old sculptor was a legend without a lifeline. She removed to a former chicken shack in West Saugerties, on Old Route 32, and resolved that all of her friends would now become strangers. Savage is said to have turned to writing, though none of her work was published, and occasionally took on young students for art instruction. She ceased to sculpt in a serious way.

But then a former stranger, her daughter, now Mrs. Irene Allen, returned into her life, befriending and financially supporting her until her death from cancer on March 26, 1962 at Abraham Jacobi Hospital in the Bronx.

What is Augusta Savage’s legacy? That she was strong for her race. That she was a champion of and inspiration to a generation of artists who have not forgotten their debt. And that she was born too soon, or possibly too late, to write her name with fire in the sky: she is a major figure but a minor talent. Next week we will examine an earlier and greater black female sculptor, Edmonia Lewis, with whom Augusta Savage is spiritually linked.

--John Thorn