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Wednesday’s Wise Woman … Elizabeth Catlett

May 15, 2013

Images from:-  Elizabeth Catlett ; an American artist in Mexico by Melanie Anne Herzog and Lift every voice and sing by James Weldon Johnson ;  illustrations by Elizabeth Catlett.  

I came across Elizabeth Catlett, the sculptor and print -maker when I was researching Angela Davis and learned that she was involved in the international movement to free the Black Nationalist activist when she was in prison.  Catlette with other African American women in Mexico City organised the Comte Mexicano Provisional de Solidaridad con Angela Davis,  she produced leaflets and posters to publicise the cause. So when I came across this book some months later with my ‘illustration and printmaking hat on I was really pleased.  

Elizabeth Catlett (1915-2012) was born in Washington DC; her parents were teachers.  Her grandparents were slaves and their parents were brought from Africa  to the United States on slaves ships.  Elizabeth began her education at the Lucretia Mott Elementary School and Dunbar High School; then the Howard University where she studied design. printmaking and drawing.  Elizabeth  was best known for her black, expressionistic sculptures, that she produced in the 1960s and 70s.  She was described by Anne Herzog as a ‘politically and socially engaged artist.’

She worked as a teacher in North Carolina for two years but Elizabeth was actively discouraged by the low salary for black teachers.

In 1940 Elizabeth became the first student to receive a Master of Fine Arts in sculpture at the University of Iowa School of Art and Art History.  While she was there she was influenced by Grant Wood the American landscape artist, who encouraged his students to work with subjects they knew best.  For Elizabeth this meant black people and particularly black women.  

This transition in 1939 was marked by her piece the Mother and Child sculpted in lime stone for her thesis that won first prize in the American Negro Exposition in Chicago in 1940.

Elizabeth studied ceramics at the Art Institute (1941) and Lithography at the Art Students League in 1942-1943 and with the sculptor Ossip Zadkine in New York.

She became the ‘promotional director’ of the George Washington Carver School in Harlem.  In 1946 Elizabeth received a Rosenwald Fund Fellowship that allow her to travel to Mexico; where she studied wood carving and ceramic sculpture.  Later she moved there and married the Mexican artist Francisco Moro and had three sons.  In Mexico she worked with the Taller de Gracita Popular People’s Graphic Arts Workshop, a group of printmakers who formed in 1937 and were dedicated to using their art to promote social change.  They created a series of linocuts featuring black heros; tat were made  into posters, leaflets, textbooks and illustrations to promote the building of schools and to eradicate illiteracy in Mexico.

Elizabeth became the first female professor of sculpture and head of the sculpture department at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, School of Fine Arts, San Carlos in Mexico City in 1958.  and taught there until retiring in 1975.  She remained active in the art community and died in 2012 aged 96.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 15, 2013 10:21 am

    Thanks for that. You’ve got me interested in finding all I can about her work.

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