Augusta Savage: The Shape of a Sculptor’s Life

Little, Brown/Christy Ottaviano. Jan. 2022. 128p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780316298025.
Gr 6 Up–Influential Harlem Renaissance artist Augusta Savage (1892–1962) rarely had the money to cast her art in bronze. Instead, what survives of her work, collected in major museums all over the country, is made of humble materials like plaster and clay. Her sculptures are realistic, insightful, and compassionate, much like the sure-footed poetry in this book by celebrated author Nelson. The artist’s life—what is known of it—is related largely in the first person. A variety of poetic forms are precisely chosen to fit opportunities, setbacks, triumphs, and encounters with famous people, children, and a truly unhinged admirer. Poems are paired with archival photos and reproductions of artwork and often describe the act of creation and the puzzles that each subject poses—how to capture Marcus Garvey’s “black light” or the clear-eyed determination of the young model for “Portrait Head of John Henry.” One of the last poems describes Savage at the kitchen table in her home in rural Saugerties, NY, creating a bas-relief of a young dancer using plaster poured into a cookie sheet. This psychological portrait gathers the artist’s natural talent, technical expertise, and love of teaching and creating, balanced against the restrictions she faced due to poverty, racism and misogyny, to leave readers with a woman as real and dimensional as the portraits she left the world.
VERDICT A master poet breathes life and color into this portrait of a historically significant sculptor and her remarkable story.

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