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Image of Gamin 41646

Artist

Augusta Savage (Green Cove Springs, FL, 2/29/1892 – 3/27/1962, New York, NY)

Title

Gamin

Creation Date

ca. 1930

Century

mid-20th century

Dimensions

9 x 5 3/4 x 4 1/4 in. (22.86 x 14.61 x 10.8 cm)

Object Type

sculpture

Creation Place

North America, United States

Medium and Support

painted plaster

Credit Line

Gift of halley k harrisburg, Class of 1990, and Michael Rosenfeld

Copyright

This artwork may be under copyright. For further information, please consult the Museum’s Copyright Terms and Conditions.

Accession Number

2020.52
An artist and educator, Augusta Savage was one of the leading figures of the Harlem Renaissance. Her sculptures often treated Black subjects and physiognomy with great sensitivity, countering mainstream representations of African Americans during the 1920s and ’30s. Savage took meticulous care in sculpting this bust of a young child, dressed in a wrinkled shirt and flat cap. Created in 1929, Savage’s Gamin garnered acclaim and earned the artist a fellowship that enabled her to study for two years in Paris. This painted sculpture embodies the spirit of Savage’s works in that it represents the dignity of African Americans that many Black artists sought to promote during this period. Harlem and its community were a great source of inspiration for Black artists, and Savage dedicated her life to training emerging African American artists and creating opportunities for them to showcase their work.

Object Description

Per Donor at time of Acqusition, 2020:
Gamin (c.1930) by Augusta Savage is regarded as an iconic sculpture of the Harlem Renaissance. Created early in her career, Gamin is Savage’s best-known work and is emblematic of the artist’s commitment to capturing Black physiognomy through her sculpture. For Gamin, Savage used the classical sculptural form of a portrait bust. This format was frequently reserved for the royal or famous throughout history, with powerful sitters insisting on dignified or idealized likenesses that would reflect a desired persona. Employing the bust format for Gamin, Savage challenged this tradition and paid homage to a more personal, empathetic character. Portrayed intimately from the chest up, the depicted boy reveals and engaging expression. Texture on the plaster’s surface reveals Savage’s hand; these wrinkles and bumps illustrated on the figure’s cap and hat lend the child an approachable and informal air.

Translated from French, Gamin refers to a “street urchin” or, more generally, a “kid.” Some scholars suggest that Savage’s subject was inspired by a homeless boy on the street, while others believe it is based on the artist’s nephew, Ellis Ford.1 Like Savage, Ford resided in Harlem, New York, and reportedly gained the nickname “gamin” for his spirited, defiant nature. In Gamin, Savage sensitively modeled her subject in contemporary dress; the figure’s wrinkled shirt and cap emphasize his impoverished appearance. His expression is both jaunty
and vulnerable, making the child appear wiser and older than he first appears. Through this depiction, Savage poignantly implies the hardship of the boy’s experience.

This version of Gamin was executed in plaster that Savage painted to simulate bronze. The bronze version of this work first gained Savage widespread acclaim and was so well received that Savage was awarded a Julius Rosenwald Fellowship to fund her studies in Paris in 1929. A large bronze version of Gamin is in the collection of the Art and Artifacts Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library, New York, NY. A smaller bronze version is in the collection of the Howard University Gallery of Art, Howard University, Washington, DC.

Savage was the first visual artist to receive a fellowship from the Julius Rosenwald Fund, a philanthropic fund chartered in 1917 with a concentration on the equalization of opportunities among Americans. Rosenwald Fund president Edwin Embree was so taken with Savage’s work that he ordered a cast of Gamin for his own collection. The sculpture illustrated the cover of the June 1929 issue of the National Urban League’s Opportunity2

In Gamin, Savage captured the essence of her subject’s youth and personality. With the psychologically- penetrating expressiveness of the youthful figure, Gamin conveys a sense of humanity and empathy. In addition to working as a sculptor, Savage was a highly respected art teacher and community art program director in Harlem, active from the 1920s through the 1940s. As curator Jeffreen M. Hayes explained, “Savage taught children throughout her career, and considered them hope for the future. ...this early work depicts Black youth in a humane way, challenging the visual culture of the period that presented African American children as dirty and ragtag.”3 Gamin embodies the beautiful informality and immediate appeal of Savage’s figurative works.

With its combined qualities of individuality and universality, Gamin has remained relevant and of scholarly interest throughout the past century. With other examples of this plaster bust appearing in museum collections and traveling exhibitions worldwide, Savage’s early sculpture has continued to maintain the artist’s legacy. On the occasion of a retrospective of Savage’s work, Augusta Savage: Renaissance Woman—which opened in 2018 and traveled nationwide—curator Wendy N.E. Ikemoto explained of Gamin: “What’s so remarkable about this work is that, quite simply, it represented an African American child in a realistic and humane way.” When children visited the exhibition, Ikemoto continued, “they saw themselves as fine art.”
4

Born and raised in Green Cove Springs, Florida, Savage moved to New York City in 1921 after failing to support herself as a sculptor in Jacksonville, FL. Upon arrival in New York, Savage worked as an apartment caretaker and enrolled at the Cooper Union School of Art. She lived and worked in a small studio apartment, earning a reputation as a portrait sculptor by completing busts of prominent Black personalities including W.E.B. Du Bois and Marcus Garvey. Awarded a Julius Rosenwald Fellowship for study in Paris in 1929, she studied at the Académie de la Grand Chaumière with impressionist sculptor Felix Benneteau. Two of Savage’s works were exhibited in the Salon d’Automne at the Grand Palais in Paris, and a second Rosenwald fellowship in 1931
enabled her to extend her stay in Paris. A Carnegie Foundation grant allowed her to travel in France, Belgium and Germany.

Returning to New York in 1932, Savage founded the Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts in Harlem. She was immediately an influential teacher, becoming the first African American member of the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors. She described of her role as an artist and advocate: “I have created nothing really beautiful, really lasting, but if I can inspire one of these youngsters to develop the talent I know they possess, then my monument will be in their work.”5 Savage was appointed the first director of the Harlem Community Art Center in 1937 and was instrumental in convincing the Works Progress Administration to include Black artists in its Federal Art Program. Her role as an educator, leader and activist was performed in tandem with her work as a sculptor; Savage was commissioned by the New York World’s Fair of 1939 to create a sculpture symbolizing the musical contributions of African Americans.

The exact number of Gamin painted plaster sculptures executed by Augusta Savage is not known but it is estimated to be around twenty-five. Gamin was executed in painted plaster in two sizes—approximately 9.25 inches and approximately 17.5 inches in height. The 17.5-inch-tall Gamin is exceedingly rare with two documented examples, one of which was acquired in 2003 by Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH, from Michael Rosenfeld Gallery. During the past twenty years, painted plaster examples of Gamin measuring approximately 9.25 inches tall have been acquired from Michael Rosenfeld Gallery by distinguished institutions including The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, Jacksonville, FL; Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI; The Mint Museum, Charlotte, NC; The Newark Museum, Newark, NJ; and Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, FL. Additional plaster examples of Gamin are in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC; Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH; the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Newfields, Indianapolis, IN; The James Weldon Memorial Collection of African American Arts and Letters, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, CT; Art and Artifacts Division; Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library, New York, NY; Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Memphis, TN; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA; and The Fralin Museum of Art, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA.


1 Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery, Luce Foundation Center, Collections Database, http://americanart.si.edu/collections/search/artwork/?id=21658, February 15, 2014.
2 Daniel Schulman, A Force for Change: African American Art and the Julius Rosenwald Fund (Chicago: Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies, 2009), p.52. The present whereabouts of this cast is unknown.
3 Jeffreen M. Hayes, Augusta Savage: Renaissance Woman, exhibition catalogue (Jacksonville, FL: Cummer Museum, published jointly with D Giles Limited, London, 2018), 69.
4 Wendy N.E. Ikemoto, quoted in Susan Stamberg, “Sculptor Augusta Savage Said Her Legacy Was The Work of Her Students,” NPR.org, July 15, 2019, https://www.npr.org/2019/07/15/740459875/sculptor-augusta-savage-said-her-legacy- was-the-work-of-her-students.
5 Augusta Savage, in T. R. Poston, “Augusta Savage,” Metropolitan Magazine, January 1935, n.p.



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