Augusta Savage works to be exhibited in Saugerties

Augusta Savage’s sculpture of Jean Hennegan Baran.

The works of Augusta Savage, a sculptor and civil-rights activist who lived in Saugerties from 1945 until her death at 70 in 1962, will be displayed at the Kiersted House every Saturday in honor of Black History Month starting this Saturday, February 17.

The exhibit, “Lift Every Voice,” derives its name from James Weldon Johnson’s poem of the same name that inspired Savage’s contribution to the 1939 World’s Fair, a sculpture entitled “The Harp.” The piece was 16 feet tall and featured a dozen singing African-Americans of varying heights as strings on the instrument. Although that work was destroyed at the end of the fair, seven of her pieces will be featured at the exhibition until August of this year.

Before relocating to Saugerties from New York City, Savage led a trailblazing career. She is considered one of the leading artists of the Harlem Renaissance. She lobbied the New Deal’s Works Projects Administration to find jobs for floundering young artists; subsequently, she was named the director of the WPA’s Harlem Community Center. In 1935, she was an organizer of the Harlem Arts Guild. Savage was the first black artist to join the National Association of Women Artists.

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During her stay in Saugerties, Savage raised chickens and pigeons. She also worked at the laboratory of Herman Knaust raising mice. Knaust supplied her with clay, and Savage often sculpted the children that came to visit her animals. Savage taught local children, wrote children’s books and poetry, and often gave talks in the community, most notably a talk on the state of the Congo at the Atonement Lutheran Church in 1961.

Among her commissions was a bust of Poultney Bigelow, who lived in Malden-on-Hudson.

For its first iteration, the display will be open from 2 to 5 p.m. On subsequent Saturdays, Savage’s works can be viewed between 1 and 4 p.m. For information, contact Marjorie Block at 246-0784 or email harry39a@aol.com.