GREEN COVE SPRINGS – More than 100 years ago, a little girl named Augusta Savage played in the mud. Just imagine the state of her dress: arms plastered with red clay up to her elbows. Picture her …
GREEN COVE SPRINGS – More than 100 years ago, a little girl named Augusta Savage played in the mud. Just imagine the state of her dress: arms plastered with red clay up to her elbows. Picture her scooping the sticky, fine-grained earth into her hand, molding and forming it until the miraculous moment when it transforms into a human figure. She manipulated the clay with precision and care, fashioning the beginnings of a woman’s face.
Her work was honored on Monday when the Augusta Savage Museum and Mentoring Center was dedicated with a historical marker and a grand re-opening following more than two years of remodeling and construction.
“She had an undeniable persistence and a refusal to be denied,” said Henrietta Francis of the Friends of Augusta Savage Arts Community Center
Francis spoke to Savage’s strength of character.
“Augusta knew that she had an innate talent at the age of four or five. Her father did not understand it. So it became, at an early age, a parent to discourage her love of art, but that didn’t stop her,” Francis said.
Augusta’s father, the minister of the Black Episcopal Church, chastised his daughter’s “graven images.” According to the Smithsonian Arts Museum, Savage’s claimed, “he licked me four or five times a week, and almost whipped all the art out of me,” but Savage was determined and undaunted, cultivating her imagination and talent into a force that would later shape the face of sculpting in the 1920s.
Savage molded more than just clay. She molded a future for generations of artists. More than just a sculptor, Savage was one of the major players in the New Negro movement just before the Harlem Renaissance. After moving to New York at the height of the Harlem Renaissance, Augusta found her voice in portrait busts of prominent Black figures such as W. E. B. Du Bois and Marcus Garvey. In 1937, she worked with the Federal Art Project to establish the Harlem Community Art Center and became its first director, dedicating her life to expanding educational and professional opportunities for African American artists.
Even now, nearly 50 years after her death, she remains an important part of Clay County History. Now her legacy will be commemorated for all to see.
Through a partnership with the Historical Preservation Board, the State Division of Historical Resources, the City of Green Cove Springs and the Board of County Commissioners, there is now a permanent tribute to both the art of Augusta Savage and her legacy of activism in the form of the Florida Historical Marker titled: Augusta Savage: Sculptor, Teacher, Civil Rights Activist. The historical maker can be found at the childhood home of Augusta Savage at 1107 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Her family home was the site of Dunbar High, the only Back high school in Clay County. The marker is not only a reminder of Savage’s dedication, perseverance, and fortitude but the ambition and undeniable persistence of Clay County’s Black student leaders.
“Having a mentor center and having the historical marker and all the pieces coming together is bringing life back to that center which brings more notoriety to the community,” said Green Cove Springs City Vice Mayor Connie Buter. “It’s been a long time coming. Another piece of the puzzle is to complete the auditorium. You know, we got $1.3 (million in funding). We’re looking to complete that, and once that’s completed, it will be improving lives.”
Now, what used to be Dunbar now is a mentoring center and museum. It will pave the way for the next generation of student leaders as a mentorship center.
“The Augusta Savage Museum and Mentoring Center, the newest addition to the Augusta Savage Arts and Community Center complex will keep Savage’s spirit alive,” Francis said.
Constructed in 2021, the mentoring center opened its doors to the community this fall with free classes in visual arts, dance, and tutoring in math and reading for youth from first-through-12th grades. It is Clay County and the City of Green Cove Springs’ goal that the volunteer-run programming at the mentoring center will blossom to inspire future generations in the same way that Augusta Savage’s classes inspired generations of artists.
“It was Augusta Savages’ dream – her ambition in life – to inspire others to develop their talent,” says District 5 Commissioner Kristen Burke. “And, the City of Green Cove Springs has so beautifully recognized her dream and made it a remarkable reality for young people in our community to be inspired to achieve greatness in their lifetimes, and for many generations to come.”
The Augusta Savage dedication is one of many historical markers in Clay County dedicated to uncovering new voices and looking more closely at our complex past to shine a light on the extraordinary visionaries of our past and present.
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