16 Sep / In Her Hands: The Story of Sculptor Augusta Savage by Alan Schroeder, illustrated by JaeMe Bereal
Thank goodness young Augusta Savage had a supportive mother to balance out her discouraging father who crushed her youthful sculpture beneath his feet to prevent her from wasting time. “You ought to be reading the Bible instead,” her preacher father insisted, “cultivating your mind, saving your soul.” But lest we all be quick to condemn the man, he did have his own tough challenges with 13 kids to support, as well as a congregation that depended on his spiritual leadership: as if to keep us from casting that first stone, illustrator JaeMe Bereal gently reminds us of tolerance with a picture of a hole-y, worn boot hovering over one of Savage’s small creations mid-crush. Such sensitive little touches make this title more than just a kiddie biography.
Savage gratefully had teachers, too, who recognized her talent, who encouraged her, and even paid her (which even her father couldn’t argue against) to teach young children to work with clay. When she won the $25 first prize at a local county fair, she exchanged the money for a ticket to New York City where she could be a true artist. Arriving with less than $5 (not a lot of money even in the 1920s), Savage proved her talent to get into Cooper Union and finished two years’ worth of studies in just six short weeks. She became one of the city’s most promising artists – and a beloved teacher, especially to children – eventually acknowledged as “a central figure of the Harlem Renaissance.”
Later in life, Savage sadly destroyed much of her own work. As she was a very private person, author Schroeder warns that “little is known about her life.” He notes that “… some details and dialogue have been imagined to fill gaps in the historical record.” One of Savage’s most famous pieces, Gamin, lives up the street from our office at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. This book definitely inspires me to visit.
Tidbit: Christy Hale, who wrote The East-West House about Isamu Noguchi, another memorable ‘artist-as-a-young-person’ title from Lee & Low Books, also designed this book. See what great details you can glean from reading the copyright page?