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On this date in 1915, Elizabeth Catlett was born. She was a Black sculptor and leader of the genre in Mexico.
From Washington D.C., Elizabeth Catlett Mora was the youngest of three children and both of her parents were teachers. Catlett attended the Lucretia Mott Elementary School, Dunbar High School, and then Howard University. Later, she earned a Masters degree at the State University of Iowa where she worked with white people for the first time in her life. It was here where her piece Mother and Child 1939, (done for her thesis) won first prize in sculpture at the American Negro Exposition in Chicago in 1940.
Catlett then attended the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Art Students League in New York. Deeply influenced by James Porter, she became the 'promotion director' for the George Washington Carver School in Harlem. Roy De Carava was one of the students. Some of the teachers included Ernie Crichlow, Norman Lewis, and Charles White (her husband). Upon winning a Rosenwald Fund Fellowship in 1946, she completed more studies in wood carving in Mexico. She went to Mexico to study 'mural' painting and printmaking. She attended the Graphic Arts Workshop where she and other artists created a series of linoleum cuts on Black heroes. They quality of her work during this time remained; Catlett won second prize the Atlanta University annual exhibition in 1956.
She taught sculpture at the National University in Mexico for sixteen years. This is one of the oldest art schools in the Americas. She has received numerous awards including the Women's Caucus For Art. The Graphic Arts Workshop won an international peace prize. In Berkeley, California an Elizabeth Catlett Week was proclaimed, and an Elizabeth Catlett Day in Cleveland, Ohio. She's an honorary citizen of New Orleans and has received the keys to many cities. She has created numerous outdoor sculptures, which are displayed in Mexico, Jackson, Mississippi, and Washington, D.C.
She is represented in many collections through the world including the Institute of Fine Arts, Mexico, the Museum of Modern Art, NY; Museum of Modern Art, Mexico; National Museum of Prague; Library of Congress, Washington, D. C; State University of Iowa; Howard University; Fisk University; Atlanta University; the Barnett-Aden Collection, Tampa, Fl.; Schomburg Collection, NY; Rothman Gallery, L.A.; Museum of New Orleans, High Museum, Atlanta; and the Metropolitan Museum, NY.
Some of her best-known paintings are Sharecropper 1968 and Malcolm X Speaks for Us 1969. Sculptured pieces include Dancing Figure 1961, The Black Woman Speaks and Target 1970, and The Singing Head (shown). In 2003 Catlett designed a memorial to author Ralph Ellison, which stands in West Harlem, NY.
Elizabeth Catlett died on April 3, 2012 at her home in Cuernavaca, Mexico.
The St. James Guide to Black Artist
Edited by Thomas Riggs
Copyright 1997, St. James Press, Detroit, MI