By Jenny Horn
American Artist Appreciation Month is celebrated across the U.S. throughout August. From Andy Warhol to Georgia O’Keeffe, America has been home to many extraordinary artists throughout history. American Artist Appreciation Month was started with the simple aim to celebrate artists and the incredible work that they do, as art is not just something beautiful to look at – it also reflects the human condition, emotions, and ambitions. Art portrays what we are trying to convey when words fail, but often female artists have to work twice as hard to showcase their work and pave their own way in a still largely male-dominant field. Celebrate American Artist Appreciation month today by discovering new female American artists by browsing this week’s female artist highlight, and stay tuned for a new feature each week this month, showcasing just a small portion of America’s phenomenal female artists today and throughout history. This week’s post features Georgia O’Keeffe, Emma Amos, and Augusta Savage!
Georgia O’Keeffe is one of the most significant artists of the 20th century, renowned for her contribution to modern art. By the time she graduated from high school in 1905, O’Keeffe had determined to make her way as an artist. She studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Art Students League in New York, where she learned the techniques of traditional painting. The direction of her artistic practice shifted dramatically four years later when she studied the revolutionary ideas of Arthur Wesley Dow. Dow offered O’Keeffe an alternative to established ways of thinking about art. She experimented with abstraction for two years while she taught art in West Texas. Through a series of abstract charcoal drawings, she developed a personal language to better express her feelings and ideas. By the mid-1920s, O’Keeffe was recognized as one of America’s most important and successful artists, known for her paintings of New York skyscrapers—an essentially American symbol of modernity—as well as her equally radical depictions of flowers. As an artist of national standing, Georgia O’Keeffe has been well known in America for many decades. More recently, her art has begun to attract similar attention and accolades abroad. The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum’s collections include nearly 150 paintings and hundreds of works on paper (pencil and charcoal drawings, as well as pastels and watercolors). The collections also include personal property, from rocks and bones to dresses and paintbrushes, and a significant archive of documents and photographs relating to the artist’s life and times.
Painter, printmaker, and weaver Emma Amos was born in 1937 and grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, where her parents owned a drugstore. She began painting and drawing when she was six. At age sixteen, after attending segregated public schools in Atlanta, she entered the five-year program at Antioch University in Yellow Springs, Ohio. She spent her fourth year abroad at the London Central School of Art, studying printmaking, painting, and weaving. After receiving a BA from Antioch, she returned to the Central School to earn a diploma in etching in 1959. Amos’s first solo exhibition was in an Atlanta gallery in 1960. In that same year she moved to New York, where she taught as an assistant at the Dalton School and continued her work as an artist by making prints. In 1961 she was hired by Dorothy Liebes as a designer/weaver, creating rugs for a major textile manufacturer. Amos’s work has been exhibited internationally and is included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Wadsworth Atheneum, the New Jersey and Minnesota state museums, and the Dade County and Newark museums. She won prestigious awards and grants, and served on the Board of Governors of Skowhegan and in the National Academy Museum.
Amos has received a surge in critical attention since 2016, due in part to her inclusion in major traveling exhibitions such as Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power (Tate Modern, London; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR; Brooklyn Museum, NY; Broad Museum, CA) and We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women 1965-1985 (Brooklyn Museum, NY; ICA Boston, MA, California African American Museum, Los Angeles). Check out her website to learn more about her life and work.
The career of Augusta Savage was fostered by the climate of the Harlem Renaissance. During the 1930s, she was well known in Harlem as a sculptor, art teacher, and community art program director. Born Augusta Christine Fells in Green Cove Springs, Florida, on February 29, 1892, she was the seventh of fourteen children of Cornelia and Edward Fells. Her father was a poor Methodist minister who 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.” In 1919 a local potter gave her some clay from which she modeled a group of figures that she entered in the West Palm Beach County Fair. The figures were awarded a special prize and a ribbon of honor.
Encouraged by her success, Savage moved to Jacksonville, Florida, where she hoped to support herself by sculpting portrait busts of prominent blacks in the community. When that patronage did not materialize, Savage left her daughter in the care of her parents and moved to New York City. Following her return to New York in 1932, Savage established the Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts and became an influential teacher in Harlem. In 1934 she became the first African-American member of the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors. In 1937 Savage’s career took a pivotal turn. She was appointed the first director of the Harlem Community Art Center and was commissioned by the New York World’s Fair of 1939 to create a sculpture symbolizing the musical contributions of African Americans.
Learn more about her work on the Johnson Collection’s website.