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Centering on Humanity: Encountering a New 20th-Century Hero of History

Updated: May 5, 2021

I'm so pleased to have encountered an amazing new person of the 20th century. Augusta Savage is a hero of art history, and her story rivals that of many other 20th-century sculptors whom many know much more about. But as we learn to question what we know about those deemed the canon, as our society grapples with disillusionment about many American heroes of history, Savage stands ready to take her place in our awareness, our learning, and our teaching. Chicago arts administrator, Jeffreen Hayes, called Savage's life "a blueprint of what it means to be an artist that centers on humanity,” as quoted in this article in the New York Times.

Professional learning is a journey for us art educators, and I'll be the first to admit my dependence on maps and directions on that journey. Metaphors aside, my earliest literal road trips depended on road atlases published by organizations with large memberships and plenty of resources. These guides steered me onto the fast lane, away from some of the best but less-charted features of the cultural and environmental landscape. Take food culture, for example. Mega-franchise burger joints benefited from this traffic, and they seemed to be the pinnacle of American culture in the 20th century. Few were under the illusion that these established represented high cuisine, but fast food was by its prevalence indisputably the essence of American food culture. Now back to the analogy: When I encounter the points on the map that truly are inspiring, it's usually because I chose a different map, and I want to share the discovery with other travelers. That's why I had to post about the article about Augusta Savage. I hope you, too, will share your art history heroes, so we can break away together from the powerful interests that made our worn and one-sided maps.

Augusta Savage in 1938
Savage with her sculpture “Realization” in 1938.Credit...Andrew Herman, via the New York Times and The New York Public Library/Schomburg Center

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