Born April 15, 1919 in Washington, DC
Internationally acclaimed artist; painter, sculptor and printmaker
Acclaimed for her abstract sculptures, prints, and paintings, Elizabeth Catlett is one of the most prominent artists of the twentieth century. Her expansive collection of work reflects her commitment to the preservation of African American cultural traditions and the depiction of the lives of everyday, working-class people. The celebration of strong black women and mothers is also a consistent theme throughout her art, evident in her sculptures such as “Homage to My Young Black Sisters” (1968) and various mother-child pairings.
After becoming the first student to earn a Master of Fine Arts degree in sculpture from the University of Iowa in 1940, she exhibited her work in several group shows across the country. A turning point in her career occurred in 1946, when she accepted an invitation to work in Mexico City’s Taller de Grafica Popular (TGP), a collective graphic arts and mural workshop. In the company of other socially conscious artists, she immersed herself in Mexican culture and politics. In 1947, she produced her much celebrated “I am a Negro Woman” series of sculptures, prints, and paintings through a Julius Rosenwald Foundation fellowship. That same year, she married her second husband, Mexican painter Francisco “Pancho” Mora, with whom she had three sons, Francisco, Juan, and David. Making Mexico her home, she accepted the position of professor of sculpture in the National School of Fine Arts at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico in 1958. In the decades that followed, her artistic reputation grew. Her work was included in pioneering African American exhibitions, including “Evolution of Afro-American Artists, 1800-1950” (New York 1967); “Two Centuries of Black American Art” (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1976-1977); and “Forever Free: Art by African American Women, 1862-1980” (Normal, Illinois, 1980).
Catlett’s tremendous contributions to the African American art movement have garnered her wide recognition over the past decade. In February of 1998, the Neurberger Museum of Art at the State University of New York honored Catlett with a 50-year retrospective that traveled throughout the United States and Mexico. She was honored again in 2003, when the International Sculpture Center, the world’s leading international sculpture organization, awarded her its Lifetime Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award.
Although retired from teaching, she continues with her art. In 2003, she unveiled her monumental sculpture honoring the late author Ralph Ellison, author of the groundbreaking 1952 novel, Invisible Man. Commissioned by the City of New York Parks & Recreation Department, the monolithic work is situated in Riverside Park in Harlem. Today, Catlett divides her time between New York City and Curenavaca, Mexico.
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