Sculptress Augusta Savage

Sculptress Augusta Savage

 “I was a Leap Year baby, and it seems to me that I have been leaping ever since.” 

Remembering and appreciating
February 29, 1892 — March 27, 1962

Sculptress Augusta Savage

Sculptress Augusta Savage

Woodstock Music and Art Fair

500,000 attendees and its long list of now-famous performers have overshadowed the original goal of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair.  As its name implied, it was going to be a weekend of art and music.

Now located on the festival site, the mission statement of Bethel Woods Center for the Arts reflects that intention to:

“…inspire(s), educate(s) and empower(s) individuals through the arts and humanities.”

Sculptress Augusta Savage

Her Life

Savage’s 1942 terracotta Portrait of a Baby recalls the small, red clay sculptures she made as a child (New-York Historical Society)

The life of Augusta Savage reflected the Center’s mission.

She was born Augusta Christine Fell in Green Cove Springs, Florida on February 29, 1892. She loved sculpting animals and other small figures as a child with the red clay others used to make bricks, but her father, a poor Methodist minister, frowned upon such an activity.

Sculptress Augusta Savage


Augusta persisted.

Augusta Savage (her second husband was James Savage, the name she kept even after their divorce) moved to Harlem in 1921, where she cleaned houses to pay her rent and studied art at the tuition-free Cooper Union. She finished her degree in three years.

A bust she made of W.E.B. DuBois led to another commission for a busts of other African American leaders such as Marcus Garvey.

Her best-known work of the 1920s was Gamin, an informal bust portrait of her nephew, for which she was awarded a Julius Rosenwald Fellowship to study at the Fontainebleau School of the Arts in Paris.

Wendy N.E. Ikemoto of the New York Historical Society explains that the selection committee rescinded the scholarship.  The reasoning was the white women “would feel uncomfortable sharing accommodations on the ship, sharing a studio, sharing living spaces. ...the way that these committee members expressed that decision and the justification for it — they were concerned about Savage. It would be uncomfortable for her.”

Despite the withdrawal, Savage stayed in Paris for three years studying, working, and winning awards.

Sculptress Augusta Savage

Sculptress Augusta Savage

Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts

According to the Smithsonian site, in 1932,  she “returned to New York and 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. Negro spirituals and hymns were the forms Savage decided to symbolize in The Harp. Inspired by the lyrics of James Weldon Johnson’s poem Lift Every Voice and Sing, The Harp was Savage’s largest work and her last major commission. She took a leave of absence from her position at the Harlem Community Art Center and spent almost two years completing the sixteen-foot sculpture. Cast in plaster and finished to resemble black basalt, The Harp was exhibited in the court of the Contemporary Arts building where it received much acclaim. The sculpture depicted a group of twelve stylized black singers in graduated heights that symbolized the strings of the harp. The sounding board was formed by the hand and arm of God, and a kneeling man holding music represented the foot pedal. No funds were available to cast The Harp, nor were there any facilities to store it. After the fair closed it was demolished as was all the art.” (NYT announcement)

Sculptress Augusta Savage
The Harp by Augusta Savage, displayed at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City

Sculptress Augusta Savage

Lost job

When Savage returned to Harlem, her job at the Harlem Center was taken. She attempted to establish two other centers, but a lack of funds during the late Depression, caused their failure.

In 1945, Savage moved to Saugerties, New York, in the Catskill Mountains to be with her daughter and her daughter’s family.

Although she visited NYC occasionally, the peace of rural Saugerties (as had been the case for earlier artists and would be the case for some other artists in the not-too-distant future) continued to attract her. She taught children in local summer camps, and produced a few portrait sculptures of tourists.

In 1962 Savage moved back to New York where she died in relative obscurity on March 26, 1962. (NYT obit)

Sculptress Augusta Savage


Douglas Anderson School of the Arts

On September 14, 2017 the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts dedicated the Augusta Savage Sculpture Garden.

“Augusta Savage was an African-American artist who failed to receive the recognition she deserved in her lifetime,” said Khanh Tran, the sculpture instructor at DA. “This sculpture garden is our way of commemorating her contributions to the local and national artistic landscape.”

Restore art to replace Confederate statues

Aviva Kempner wrote in The NY Times that as important as the removal of Confederate statues was, it was just as important to replace them with appropriate art such as Augusta Savage’s. Kempner wrote, “First on the list should be “The Harp,” a magnificent work by the noted African-American sculptor Augusta Savage that was demolished at the closing of the 1939 World’s Fair in New York..” 

This short video shows Savage at work.


Sculptress Augusta Savage

Guitarist Extraordinaire John Fahey

Guitarist Extraordinaire John Fahey

Remembering, appreciating, and recognizing his genius
February 28, 1939 — February 22, 2001

John Fahey

Guitarist Extraordinaire John Fahey

First light

I’m not sure when I first heard John Fahey. Probably on New York’s WNEW-FM and during Christmas time 1968 when his The New Possibility album came out.

Guitarist Extraordinaire John Fahey

Guitarist Extraordinaire John Fahey


I was often on the musical lookout for something new, good, and an outlier. For me, John Fahey fit all three. It seemed like he was doing more without words (most of the time), than many musicians were doing with them (most of the time).

Even a song as simple as Amazing Grace had this seesaw rhythm to it that somehow enhanced the whole experience. Songs seemed to stretch out slowly to new paths. The New Possibility.


His story is similar to others who found the music was their avocation. Both parents liked music and played the piano. Before television’s takeover, pianos were often a home’s entertainment system. John’s parents brought him to local bluegrass concerts near their home in Tacoma, Maryland. And like so many other young people, hearing Jimmie Rogers lighted an acoustic flame.

Unlike many young people, hearing Blind Willie Johnson ignited a love of the acoustic blues. His own playing progressed to the point that he began to record his music, but thinking no company would be interested in pressing the music, he decided to start his own label and name it after his hometown.

Tacoma Records

Thus in 1959 Tacoma Records was born.

To honor his musical progenitor, he  decided to name himself Blind Joe Death. He pressed only 100 albums. Of course they are very rare today, but thanks to that world-wide-internet, we can hear that album:

Guitarist Extraordinaire John Fahey


Fahey graduated from American University and moved west where he met fellow blues enthusiast, Alan”Blind Owl” Wilson. Wilson, of course, later went on to co-found Canned Heat, a band named after, what else, an  old Tommy Johnson‘s blues song.

Fahey’s Tacoma label struggled on, but he insisted on finding other musicians whose abilities far outweighed their commercial prospects. He discovered fellow guitarists Leo Kottke, Robbie Basho, Bola Seteand Peter Lang, as well as pianist George Winston.

Health and lifestyle issues plagued Fahey. Tacoma was sold and Fahey eventually moved to Salem, Oregon where to survive he sometimes sold one of his guitars or rare records.

Guitarist Extraordinaire John Fahey

John Fahey

Guitarist John Fahey pioneered the American primitive guitar style. (Photo from John Fahey site)

Revenant Records

In the late 90s, a new generation discovered his genius and Fortuna smiled. Or at least she grinned a bit. He released new albums, created a new label (Revenant Records) Not surprisingly it sought out obscure recordings of early blues, old-time music, and things that caught Fahey’s fancy.

In 2000, he published a book of loosely autobiographical stories, ”How Bluegrass Music Destroyed My Life” (Drag City Press). In it he said: ”I never considered for a minute that I had talent, What I did have was divine inspiration and an open subconscious.”

On February 22, 2001 Fahey died at Salem Hospital (Oregon) after undergoing a coronary bypass operation.


Guitarist Extraordinaire John Fahey

Walter Cronkite Vietnam

Walter Cronkite Vietnam

February 27, 1968
Walter Cronkite Vietnam
Cronkite in Vietnam (photo from CBS news)
Walter Cronkite Vietnam

The News

In 1968 you got your news from newspapers, radio, or TV. Newspapers typically published a morning edition, though there were certainly afternoon papers that the grammar school paperboy delivered while listening to his transistor radio.

At 7 PM (ET), that paperboy might have sat down with his father (Mom was putting younger siblings to bed) and watched the half-hour evening news. There were three networks: ABC, NBC, and CBS and until 1963 the shows were just 15 minutes long.

Walter Cronkite Vietnam

Walter Cronkite

The news anchors were Chet Huntley and David Brinkley on NBC,  Frank Reynolds on ABC, and  Walter Cronkite on CBS. They ruled the news airwaves, particularly Walter Cronkite, who was sometimes referred to as “the most trusted man in America.” I learned the word avuncular when someone used it describing him.

Every news organization has biases. It selects what to report and what not to report, but the aim is to be objective. Reports tried to stick with observable facts. Editorializing during the evening news was unusual.

Reporting from the field was different, too.  Unlike today when reporters are “embedded” with a military group and go only where that group go, reporters then could go where they could go. In other words, if a reporter could find a way to get to the front or wherever, that reporter could go there.

Walter Cronkite Vietnam

Tet Offensive

On January 30, 1968, the Viet Cong and North Vietnam Army troops launched the Tet Offensive attacking a hundred cities and towns throughout South Vietnam. The surprise offensive was closely observed by American TV news crews in Vietnam which filmed the U.S. embassy in Saigon being attacked by 17 Viet Cong commandos, along with bloody scenes from battle areas showing American soldiers under fire, dead and wounded. The graphic color film footage was then quickly relayed back to the states for broadcast on nightly news programs.

While the American and South Vietnamese troops repulsed the Tet Offensive, the near success of the campaign forced many back home to question the idea that we had been in control, that we were winning, that the war would end soon.  Questioned particularly in light of  Gen. William Westmoreland, commander of U.S. Military Assistance Command Vietnam, telling U.S. news reporters the previous November: “I am absolutely certain that whereas in 1965 the enemy was winning, today he is certainly losing.”

Walter Cronkite Vietnam

February 27, 1968

On February 27, 1968, Walter Cronkite delivered the news as always: objectively and calmly, but at the end of his report he did something unusual.

Prepared. Not off script. Cronkite said…

Tonight, back in more familiar surroundings in New York, we’d like to sum up our findings in Vietnam, an analysis that must be speculative, personal, subjective. Who won and who lost in the great Tet Offensive against the cities? I’m not sure. The Vietcong did not win by a knockout but neither did we.

We’ve been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders…

Both in Vietnam and Washington to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds. For it seems now more certain than ever, that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate. To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past.

To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, if unsatisfactory conclusion. On the off chance that military and political analysts are right, in the next few months we must test the enemy’s intentions, in case this is indeed his last big gasp before negotiations.

But it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.

This is Walter Cronkite. Good night.

Here is a piece of that report:

The common story after Cronkite’s report is that President Lyndon Johnson turned to his press secretary, George Christian, and said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost the country.”

It can be argued that Cronkite’s statement didn’t actually have the impact that history credits it, but it can’t be argued that at time of relatively limited news media when a generally well-respected man whom people watched five nights a week and depended upon for their news went against something, opinion scales were tipped toward getting out of Vietnam.

Walter Cronkite Vietnam