If you’re from Greater Jacksonville and you don’t recognize the name in the title of this article, you should be ashamed.
Much more than the rest of the country realizes, the civil rights movement grew up right here near Jacksonville.
Greater Jacksonville’s legacy is not just beating Texas to Juneteenth.
And who are we to forget Harriet Beecher Stowe, who came to live in Mandarin, and Mary McLeod Bethune?
Who Augusta Savage Is
Considered one of the major artists of the Harlem Renaissance, Savage would go on to exhibit her work at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, and more of her pieces are part of the permanent collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
Her parents, Edward Fells, a Methodist preacher, and Cornelia Murphy Fells bought their homestead from General Duncan R. Clinch, who abandoned his plans to found a town called Bayard because of the Seminole and Civil Wars and the rise of Green Cove Springs.
It was evident very early that Savage intended to work as an artist and that she felt an affinity for sculpture.
Part of her biorgraphy are stories of her slipping off after school to the Clay County Brickworks to gather cast offs and the area’s natural clays to sculpt birds and ducks.
Long years before she made her way to New York, Savage tried to establish herself as a sculptor in Jacksonville and elsewhere in Florida.
She did not meet with success.
One obstacle to this was her own father’s disapproval.
Because he considered the animals and other small figures she sculpted pagan, more than once he “almost whipped all the art out of me,” she reports.
When the family moved to West Palm Beach in 1915, she continued to work, eventually finding clays through a local potter.
From this she made a group of figures that she entered in a county fair.
When her work won her first award, the fair’s organizer, George Graham Currie, encouraged her to study art formally.
Lift ev’ry voice and sing
Having failed to establish herself as an artist in Florida, Savage moved to New York City in 1921.
There she was able to study at the Cooper Union, an artists’ school and cooperative that didn’t charge tuition.
After her first year, the Union gave her a scholarship to help defray living expenses.
Finishing her coursework in 1923, after only three years, Savage then applied for a summer program of study in Paris but was rejected because she was black.
Despite her letter writing campaign and considerable media attention in the United States, the selection committee refused to admit her, and Savage turned to portraiture to make a living.
Some of her most famous portraits are of African American leaders W.E.B. DuBois and Marcus Garvey.
Her success made her a vibrant part of the Harlem Renaissance, and despite family crises that delayed her study abroad, in 1929 she won a Julius Rosenwald fellowship based on the strength of her piece “Gamin” (one of the pieces in the Smithsonian) a bust of one of her nephews depicted as a street child.
After her exhibit at the Grand Palais in Paris, she won a second fellowship to continue her studies, and another grant funded travel through Europe.
After Savage returned to the United States in 1932, she went on to direct the Harlem Arts & Community Center (funded by the WPA) at the height of the Harlem Renaissance in New York City.
In 1939, she exhibited her best known work “The Harp,” which she hoped embodied the spirit of “Lift Ev’ry Voice,” an African-American anthem composed by Jacksonville natives James Weldon Johnson and his brother Rosamond.
As much of her work does, “The Harp” incorporates elements of African American culture. The standing figures in the piece are robed choristers in full song cradled in a hand. A male figure in the foreground kneels in thought if not in prayer.
Sculpted in plaster, “The Harp” stood approximately 16’ tall and was exhibited outside the fair’s Contemporary Art Building.
Like all of the art exhibited at the fair, “The Harp” was destroyed.
Though rare, small reproductions given as presentation copies to friends and supporters are still available.
Committed lifelong to the arts as a teacher and activist, Savage established the Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts in Harlem and inspired many young black artists including Jacob Lawrence and Norman Lewis.
The Augusta Savage Arts & Cultural Center
Situated on the corner of Martin Luther King Blvd. and Lemon St. in Green Cove Springs, the Center’s five-acre site is the same homestead where Savage was born.
The former site of Paul Lawrence Dunbar High School, the first all-black high school in Green Cove, the land was donated by Savage to provide for the African-American community in Clay county.
The Augusta Savage Arts & Cultural Center is dedicated to the arts, culture, education and outreach services – Green Cove Springs Head Start, Episcopal Children’s Services, the Food Pantry, the Police Athletic League, and other community groups.
The City of Green Cove Springs, part owner since the 1980s, is actively raising money to restore the property and improve the Center’s facilities.
The Augusta Savage Arts & Cultural Center is located at 1109 Martin Luther King Junior Blvd., Green Cove Springs, Fla. 32043.
- City Hall
- 321 Walnut St.
- Green Cove Springs, Fla. 32043
- Phone: 904.529.2200\Fax: 904.529.2208
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OFFICIAL BIO: K Truitt is a second-generation, native Floridian born in Jacksonville. Truitt worked in public higher education for 25 years and knows newspaper publishing, printing and graphic design. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org