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~ This Gallery celebrates Hermon Atkins MacNeil,  of the Beaux Arts School American classic sculptor of Native images and American history.  ~ World’s Fairs, statues, monuments, coins, and more… ~ Hot-links ( lower right) lead to works by Hermon A. MacNeil.   ~ Over 200 of stories & 2,000 photos form this virtual MacNeil Gallery stretching east to west  New York to New Mexico ~ Oregon to S. Carolina.   ~ 2021 marks the 155th Anniversary of Hermon MacNeil’s birth. ~~Do you WALK or DRIVE by MacNeil sculptures DAILY!   ~~ CHECK it OUT!

DO YOU walk by MacNeil Statues and NOT KNOW IT ???

May
05

Hermon MacNeil Supported Black Sculptor: Augusta Savage: ~ 1923 ~~ Part #1

By

MacNeil wrote a letter in 1923 advocating for

Miss Augusta Savage

who had been denied a scholarship because of the

color of her skin.  

Augusta Savage (left) with her portrait bust of James Weldon Johnson, another Black Harlem activist/leader and supporter of Augusta Savage. c. 1920s

HER BACKGROUND

“Savage arrived in New York (in 1921) with $4.60, found a job as an apartment caretaker, and enrolled at the Cooper Union School of Art [Ironically, this was 61 years after Abe Lincoln’s famous speech at Cooper Union against the expansion of slavery]. 

She completed the four-year course at Cooper Union in just three years.

During the mid-1920s when the Harlem Renaissance was at its peak, Savage lived and worked in a small studio apartment where she earned a reputation as a portrait sculptor, completing busts of prominent personalities such as W. E. B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey,  [James Weldon Johnson and other NAACP leaders].

Savage was one of the first artists who consistently dealt with black physiognomy.”

Source: Smithsonian American Art Museum; https://americanart.si.edu/artist/augusta-savage-4269

In 1923, she had submitted a scholarship application to attend the inaugural artistic summer school at Fontainebleau, near Paris, France. (where Alden MacNeil would later study) 

W.E.B. DuBois, [prominent historian, sociologist, and Pan-Africanist civil rights activist] wrote a letter of support for her entry. 

Savage was awarded  a full scholarship

Unfortunately, the scholarship was  withdrawn  by the French selection committee on account of  her color reportedly, because white American students from Georgia would not share rooms with an African-American.[2] 

The rejection was reported in a number of newspapers.[2] The incident got press coverage on both sides of the Atlantic.  Since W. E. B. Du Bois had supported the application, Hermon A. MacNeil chose to write this letter. 

MacNeil was the sole member of the selection committee to disagree with the withdrawal of the scholarship. 

MacNeil began his career studying, traveling, and immersing himself in Native American culture.   Hermon one time had shared a studio in Paris with African-American artist Henry Ossawa Tanner

After writing his letter, MacNeil choose to invite Augusta Savage to study with him at the College Point studio.  Savage accepted!  Later in her life, she cited MacNeil as one of her influential teachers. 

Early Life of Augusta Savage

Augusta began making figures as a child, mostly small animals out of the natural red clay of her hometown.[2] Her father was a Methodist minister With over a dozen children.  His theology strongly opposed his daughter’s early interest in art. “My father licked me four or five times a week,” Savage once recalled, “and almost whipped all the art out of me.”[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augusta_Savage

She continued to work in the US, and eventually gathered sufficient funding to study in France at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière from 1929, exhibiting at the Salon d’Automne in 1930, and at the Salon de Printemps and the Paris Colonial Exposition in 1931.[2]

 

Throughout the 1930s, Savage sculpted portrait busts of African American leaders, including NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson, who wrote the lyrics of the anthem  “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”  CLICK to hear NPRs 7 min lesson on this song.

A souvenir version of Savage’s 1939 sculpture The Harp, which was inspired by “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” 1939 World’s Fair Committee.  [See #3 below]

When the 1939 New York World’s Fair commissioned Savage to make a sculpture she produced a monumental work called Lift Every Voice and Sing.

World’s Fair officials changed the name creation to The Harp. “The strings of the harp are formed by the folds of choir robes worn by 12 African American singers,” Ikemoto explains. “Then, the soundboard of the harp is formed by the hand of God.” The singers, then, become instruments of God.  Five million visitors saw The Harp and it became one of the Fair’s most photographed objects — you can see more photos of it here.

Sixteen feet high, made of painted plaster, Ikemoto says it was destroyed — smashed by clean-up bulldozers — at the end of the fair.

Now, only pictures and many miniature souvenirs remain!

~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~ 

SEE MacNeil’s 100 year old letter

with my transcription and comments BELOW

Letter from Hermon A. MacNeil to W. E. B. Du Bois

Retrieved from digitalcommonwealth.org/ on 3/23/1923. See citation below.

William E. B. DuBois

70   31th Ave
New York

My Dear Mr. Burghardt:

Yours just received regarding Miss Savage.  I have been entirely out of touch with the committee of which I am a member for several weeks as I have been more or less away and so this case of Miss Savage’s application I knew nothing about when it came up.

I am extremely sorry that a story of this kind should have gotten about as I know the gentleman of the committee are men of the broadest vision and are trying to do the very best possible.  It may be that her work was not very high in quality.  Whether that was the reason or conditions may be such for the traveling and living conditions that it would have been unpleasant for a colored person, I do not know.

Personally I have no greater joy than seeing the advancement of the colored race for I believe [in] that advancement will be the gradually era[c]ing of one of our very difficult problems here in the United States. I personally have friends of the colored blood whose friendship I prize as high as any of my associates.   In the meantime please believe me.

Sincerely yours,  H. A. MacNeil

Webmaster’s Comments:

MacNeil’s phrasing conveys the biases of white culture in phrases such as:

  • “It would have been unpleasant for a colored person” and
  • I have friends of the colored blood”

However, MacNeil was the only one sculptor taking public action and making opportunity for Augusta Savage to groom her many talents and mastery of art. 

Namely:

  1. He gave her one year of experience in his studio;
  2. Which was much more than the “summer” she sought at Fontainebleau
  3. Later in her life, she claimed Hermon MacNeil as one of her teachers
  4. MacNeil’s choices contrast those of the committee.
  5. His actions transcend the racial biases of the 1920s
  6. MacNeil’s actions speak well for his love of sculpture and teaching sculptors.

 

REFERENCE NOTES:

  1. Letter from Hermon A. MacNeil to W. E. B. Du Bois

  2. Retrieved from digitalcommonwealth.org/ on 3/23/1923. 

    [ https://www.digitalcommonwealth.org/search/commonwealth-oai:9s162k540 ]

  3. NPR https://www.npr.org/2019/07/15/740459875/sculptor-augusta-savage-said-her-legacy-was-the-work-of-her-students
  4. “Till Victory Is Won: The Staying Power Of ‘Lift Every Voice And Sing'”   By Claudette Lindsay-Habermann; Heard on Morning Edition;
  5. https://hermonatkinsmacneil.com/?s=Tanner

 

 

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WHAT YOU FIND HERE.

Here is ONE place to go to see sculpture of Hermon A. MacNeil & his students. Located in cities from east to west coast, found indoors and out, public and private, these creations point us toward the history and values that root Americans.

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2. Take close up photos of details that you like
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