Posted by: Debra Lott
by Debra Lott
Today I came across a post about a very inspirational African American woman born in 1890 who became a highly successful sculptor and art educator. I had never heard of Augusta Savage (1890-1969) until I read a post on Facebook shared by the Women Painting Women website and Deanna Piowaty. Augusta’s sculpture is outstanding and her life fascinating. Reading her biography, she is truly an inspirational woman who refused to let anything, including her gender and race, deter her from what she wanted to do in life – be a successful artist.
I was surprised to find a few things in common with her. We are both artists specializing in figurative work (mine being paint) with social justice themes. We are both women and art educators, but most surprising – she was also a Floridian and actually lived in the city that was my birth place and home for 50 years. Augusta overcame many obstacles to achieve her fame, which I truly thought (before I read her biography) was impossible for a black woman in that era.
In my most recent artwork reflecting social change, I took specific moments and people from my personal life and used them to comment on social issues. One subject includes a drawing of the hands of a former nanny who survived the perils of racism only to be undermined by a stroke. Forever Friends is an image of a black hand clasping a white hand. This image, a large-scale charcoal drawing (50 x66), was inspired by my mother and her friend Theresa. The two friends reconnected after my father was placed in the same nursing home as the former nanny.
I found it comforting that my parents and Theresa would take vastly different paths to end up in the same place where they could meet as equals. My father was the vice president of a tire company in Miami at the time Theresa worked in our neighborhood; she had to leave by dark and he had to ride in the back of the bus on the way home. Ironically, they end up in the same nursing home and become friends. In my world, I thought this was significant social change and it is, but it can’t compare to the giant leap that Augusta took years before for African American women and women artists.
The above image is from http://www.biography.com/