Augusta Savage The shape of a sculptor's life

Marilyn Nelson, 1946-

Book - 2022

"A powerful biography in poems about Augusta Savage, the trailblazing artist and pillar of the Harlem Renaissance-with an afterword by the curator of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture"--

Saved in:

2nd Floor Show me where

1 / 1 copies available
Location Call Number   Status
2nd Floor 811.54/Nelson Checked In
Biographical poetry
Pattern poetry
Instructional and educational works
New York : Christy Ottaviano Books, Little, Brown and Company 2022.
Main Author
Marilyn Nelson, 1946- (author)
Other Authors
Tammi Lawson (writer of afterword)
First edition
Physical Description
114 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
  • Section I. 1892-1930
  • Leap-Year Baby
  • First Duckling
  • Fifth Duckling
  • Birth Order
  • The Figure of a Frog
  • Wildfire
  • Fingers Remember
  • No Clay
  • Strut, Miss Savage
  • Making
  • Hot Dog
  • Halo
  • Forgive Me, Baby
  • The Du Bois Commission
  • Harlem, Africa
  • Marcus Garvey Sits for a Bust
  • Negress Denied Entry
  • Hitting Bottom
  • Gallery Opening
  • The Rome Fellowship
  • Gamin
  • Section II. 1931-1940
  • Parlaying le Français
  • Studio
  • Bust of Aleksandr Pushkin
  • Hot Pursuit
  • Leonore
  • Boy with Rabbit
  • Harlem Community Art Center
  • The Harp
  • Opening of the Salon of Contemporary Negro Arts
  • Realization
  • Bust of James Weldon Johnson
  • Head of John Henry
  • Up Down Up
  • After the Glory
  • Salon
  • Section III. 1941-1962
  • The Pugilist
  • The Return of the Genius Author
  • Head of Minerva
  • No Forwarding Address
  • Bust of Steven "Barry" Baran
  • Chicken-Foot Soup
  • Girl with Braid
  • Final Commission
  • Juneteenth Barbecue
  • I Don't Know
  • Crows
  • Bird Feeder
  • Awake
  • A Gift to Be
  • Bas Relief of a Female Dancer
  • Afterword
  • Acknowledgments
  • Photography Credits
Review by Booklist Review

Just as Nelson revived the importance of George Washington Carver in her Coretta Scott King award-winning Carver, she gives the once lesser-known Harlem Renaissance sculptor Augusta Savage full recognition in this biography in poems. From Savage's birth in Florida as a leap year baby, in 1892, to her final years making art in Saugerties, New York, the sophisticated poems, divided by time periods, vary in form, style, and voice. Some evoke the pain of a father who did not understand her gift, young widowhood, missed opportunities due to racism, and economic setbacks. Others celebrate her first commission for a bust of W. E. B. Du Bois, her work as a teacher and mentor to other artists at the Harlem Community Art Center, her ownership of the country's first Black-owned gallery, and her acclaimed piece (The Harp) at the 1939 World's Fair. Perhaps the most fascinating poems, however, are those inspired directly by Savage's sculptures, detailing her artistic process, and even written in the shapes of the sculptures. Accompanying black-and-white photos of the sculptures and from Savage's life provide both a visual context and showcase her talent. A short biographic afterword from Tammi Lawson of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture explains allusions made in the poems. A stunning portrait of artistic genius and Black history in America.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In a rich biography in verse, Nelson (A Is for Oboe) gives voice to the Black sculptor Augusta Savage (1892--1962), a key Harlem Renaissance figure. Written primarily in the first person, moving poems convey Savage's artistic "hunger/ to pull something out of yourself" while tracing her Florida childhood as the seventh of 14 children ("beaten for making art"), her three marriages, her endeavors to make a living as an artist in New York and Europe, and her final quiet years in a Catskills town. Graceful descriptions of sculptures such as Gamin--"looks with a bemused, level/ gaze/ at the ridiculous/ and cruel stupidity/ this world abounds in/ his lips half curved, knowingly"--pay homage to her work, while concrete poems, including "The Figure of a Frog," describe art as representation ("A figure of a frog is not a frog"). The appearance of several Black historical figures ground the poems in their era; photographs of Savage's sculptures serve as a useful introduction to the artist's art and legacy. Back matter includes a straightforward biographical afterword by Tammi Lawson, curator of the NYPL's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Ages 14--up. (Jan.)■

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by School Library Journal Review

Gr 6 Up--Influential Harlem Renaissance artist Augusta Savage (1892--1962) rarely had the money to cast her art in bronze. Instead, what survives of her work, collected in major museums all over the country, is made of humble materials like plaster and clay. Her sculptures are realistic, insightful, and compassionate, much like the sure-footed poetry in this book by celebrated author Nelson. The artist's life--what is known of it--is related largely in the first person. A variety of poetic forms are precisely chosen to fit opportunities, setbacks, triumphs, and encounters with famous people, children, and a truly unhinged admirer. Poems are paired with archival photos and reproductions of artwork and often describe the act of creation and the puzzles that each subject poses--how to capture Marcus Garvey's "black light" or the clear-eyed determination of the young model for "Portrait Head of John Henry." One of the last poems describes Savage at the kitchen table in her home in rural Saugerties, NY, creating a bas-relief of a young dancer using plaster poured into a cookie sheet. This psychological portrait gathers the artist's natural talent, technical expertise, and love of teaching and creating, balanced against the restrictions she faced due to poverty, racism and misogyny, to leave readers with a woman as real and dimensional as the portraits she left the world. VERDICT A master poet breathes life and color into this portrait of a historically significant sculptor and her remarkable story.--Paula Willey

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Horn Book Review

Despite her prominence during the Harlem Renaissance, sculptor Augusta Savage (1892-1962) remains largely unknown to younger generations. Through her accomplished verse, Nelson (My Seneca Village, rev. 11/15, and many others) introduces young-adult readers to Savage's life and work. From an early age, Savage faced hardship because of her art, including physical abuse from her father, but she continued to sculpt. The book chronicles her path: teaching art; meeting other artists in Harlem; studying in Europe, after some setbacks; having her work displayed at the World's Fair; opening the U.S.'s first Black-owned and -operated gallery. The poems create a picture not only of Savage's life but also of the art she created, with several concrete poems taking on the shapes of her sculptures. The book also includes period photos of many of the sculptures that Savage created -- particularly important because much of her work was lost or destroyed due to lack of funds to preserve or move it. An afterword by Tammi Lawson, curator at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, provides more context and biographical information. A wonderful addition to young people's literature on African American artists. Nicholl Denice Montgomery January/February 2022 p.128(c) Copyright 2022. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A renowned poet brings a Harlem Renaissance artist's story to life. Nelson focuses her poetic skills on Black sculptor and teacher Augusta Savage in this biography for budding historians, artists, and poetry lovers alike. Savage's life makes for great material--she was born in Florida in 1892, a middle child with 13 siblings, into a world of racial discrimination. She was thrice married, the first time at only 15, and in 1921 moved to New York City in search of better opportunities. Savage created a number of stunning sculptures that captured elements and figures of contemporary Black life. Nelson's arresting poetry, which is accompanied by photographs of Savage's work, dazzles as it experiments with form and supplies elegant lines about the artist's many triumphs and struggles. In one concrete poem, Nelson writes: "At eighteen, Gussie was widowed, with a / toddler older than her youngest siblings. / The family's hand opened and closed / in welcome. But fingers remember." The poems follow Savage's life in chronological order, beginning with her birth and ending with a meditation on her striking 1959 sculpture, Bas Relief of a Female Dancer. At times the enticing verses beg for more biographical context to add weight; readers will benefit from starting with the informative afterword by Tammi Lawson, curator at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. A lyrical biography from a master of the craft. (photo credits) (Verse biography. 12-18) Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.