Faces follow-up 2: Augusta Savage

Following up on my “Faces” posting earlier today (on the Rose Gangloff Curates Portraiture exhibition at Stanford’s Cantor Arts Center), while I pursue three queries on paintings in the show: a progress report on the painting

Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence, Augusta Savage, 1967


From Wikipedia:

Gwendolyn Clarine Knight (May 26, 1913 – February 18, 2005) was an American artist who was born in Bridgetown, Barbados in the West Indies.

Knight painted throughout her life but did not start seriously exhibiting her work until the 1970s [when she was in her 60s]. Her first retrospective was put on when she was nearly 80 years old, “Never Late for Heaven: The Art of Gwen Knight,” at the Tacoma Art Museum in 2003. Her teachers in the arts included the sculptor Augusta Savage (who obtained support for her from the Works Progress Administration) and Jacob Lawrence, whom she married in 1941 and remained married to until his death in 2000 [nearly 60 years].

A fascinating life story, especially in how it intersects with the stories of the subject of #1, her teacher, mentor, and friend, the sculptor Augusta Savage; and of her husband, the painter Jacob Lawrence, who was the subject of a posting on this blog on 3/30/15.

Another Gwen Knight portrait, The White Dress (1999):


Knight rejected abstract expressionism in favor of figurative painting: many portraits and landscapes, using bold, intense, patches of color, almost all depicting black people and scenes from black life (in the Caribbean, New Orleans, and so on).

Here are the Lawrences at Black Mountain College in 1946:


Not the best photo of them, but it shows them with the smoky mountains in the background. From a 2/23/17 story in the Mountain XPress in Asheville NC, “Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence and the integration of Black Mountain College” by Alli Marshall:

It was Josef Albers who invited the Lawrences for the 1946 summer session. They were provided with private transportation to shield them from segregation.

On the college, from Wikipedia:

Black Mountain College, a school founded in 1933 in Black Mountain, North Carolina (near Asheville, North Carolina), was a new kind of college in the United States in which the study of art was seen to be central to a liberal arts education, and in which John Dewey’s principles of education played a major role. Many of the school’s students and faculty were influential in the arts or other fields, or went on to become influential. Although notable even during its short life, the school closed in 1957 after only 24 years. The history and legacy of Black Mountain College are preserved and extended through Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, in downtown Asheville, NC.

Among those who taught there in the 1940s and 1950s: Josef and Anni Albers, Eric Bentley, John Cage, Robert Creeley, Merce Cunningham, Willem de Kooning, Robert Duncan, Buckminster Fuller, Paul Goodman, Walter Gropius, Lou Harrison, Alfred Kazin, Franz Kline, Leo Lionni, Richard Lippold, Katherine Litz, Robert Motherwell, Charles Olson, Ben Shahn. Guest lecturers included Albert Einstein, Clement Greenberg, Bernard Rudofsky, Richard Lippold, and William Carlos Williams. The list of alumni is equally impressive.

On Savage, from Wikipedia:

Augusta Savage, born Augusta Christine Fells (February 29, 1892 – March 27, 1962) was an African-American sculptor associated with the Harlem Renaissance. She was also a teacher and her studio was important to the careers of a rising generation of artists who would become nationally known. She worked for equal rights for African Americans in the arts.


Savage working on a sculpture

Knight painted Savage. And Savage sculpted Knight. From the Seattle Art Museum site:


Bust by Augusta Savage: Gwendolyn Knight, 1934-35

Augusta Savage unveiled this bust in an exhibition of the works of her students at the Harlem Art Workshop in February, 1935. The subject is one of those students, the young artist Gwendolyn Knight.

Knight was a stunning beauty. Tall and graceful, she loved dance as much as painting. But it was her reserve that most impressed Knight’s friends. A high school classmate had commented on Knight’s inscrutability: “Still water runs deep,” she said of her friend, writing in Knight’s yearbook in 1930. We sense that quality of introspection in Savage’s portrayal.

Savage was 21 years older than Knight, but they were friends and regarded each other’s work highly. I’m reminded of the relationship between Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Mozart: though Haydn was 24 years older than Mozart, they were friends and regarded each other’s work highly. From Wikipedia:

The “Haydn” Quartets by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart are a set of six string quartets published in 1785 in Vienna as his Op. 10, dedicated to the composer Joseph Haydn. They are considered to be the pinnacle of Classical string quartet writing, containing some of Mozart’s most memorable melodic writing and refined compositional thought.

… Haydn had recently completed his influential “Opus 33” set of quartets in 1781, the year that Mozart arrived in Vienna. Mozart studied Haydn’s string quartets and began composing this set of six, which were published in 1785. During this time, Haydn and Mozart had become friends, and sometimes played quartets together in Mozart’s apartment, with Mozart playing the viola, and Haydn playing violin…

Haydn first heard the quartets at two gatherings at Mozart’s home, 15 January and 12 February 1785 (on these occasions he apparently just listened, rather than playing a part himself). After hearing them all, Haydn made a now-famous remark to Mozart’s father Leopold, who was visiting from Salzburg: “Before God, and as an honest man, I tell you that your son is the greatest composer known to me either in person or by name. He has taste, and, what is more, the most profound knowledge of composition.” The comment was preserved in a letter Leopold wrote 16 February to his daughter Nannerl.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: