Elizabeth Catlett was nearly an expatriate of the U.S. because the U.S. government thought her activism included interactions with communists. She has lived, since 1946, in Mexico city. It wasn’t until Clinton was President that she was offered her passport at the U.S. embassy and she now holds dual citizenship. She has owned an apartment in New York since the 1970s.
She was born in Washington, D.C., April 15, 1915. She has sculpted some of the most improtant pieces of the 20th century. Catlett, a granddaughter of enslaved family, has seen her works placed in the permanent collections of many major museums. At 95 years old, she’s still working as much as ever. Last Spring, she had a 10-foot sculpture of gospel great Mahalia Jackson dedicated to New Orleans’ Treme neighborhood near the sculpture she did of Louis Armstrong in 1975.
Catlett’s presence in her work gave it authenticity and a feel unlike other sculptors. Her work conveys the stories and problems of our people in so poignantly that she is celebrated by all. But her work is dedicated especially to the lives of black women.
Her mother struggled to raise three children and was able to pay for Catlett’s first semester at Howard University with the understanding that she would earn a scholarship from that point on. After graduating from Howard, cum laude, she sat as art supervisor for teachers at nine black elementary schools in Durham, N.C.
According to the Root, “Samella Lewis quoted Catlett 32 years ago in her book Art: African American, “I have always wanted my art to service black people–to reflect us, to relate to us, to stimulate us, to make us aware of our potential. Learning how to do this and passing that learning on to other people have been my goals.” Read more about her here. Check out her work.