African American sculptor and print maker, Elizabeth Catlett was born in Washington, DC on April 15, 1915. She studied design, printmaking and drawing at Howard University and became the first student to receive a Master's degree in sculpture at the University of Iowa in 1940.
In 1946 Catlett received a prestigious Rosenwald fellowship that allowed her to travel to Mexico City where she studied painting, sculpture and lithography. Later, she became a Mexican citizen.
Most known for her politically charged black expressionist abstract sculpture in bronze and marble as well as prints and paintings, many of her works of art depicted the female figure and were greatly influenced by African American, Native American, and Mexican art. Elizabeth Catlett passed away last year on April 2nd. She was 96 years old and lived a long, full, rich, and complicated life.
Having only just learned about her life and her work, my heart was broken when I got the news. I had wanted Elizabeth Catlett to know about the play and perhaps read it as Samella Lewis had. I wanted her to know that her work had resonated so deeply and profoundly with me, and that a play devoted to her life and legacy would be in the works soon. Such are the selfish, but dear wishes of the living.
Today's reading of the THE HAMPTON YEARS at the Phillips Collection is dedicated to her memory. I hope to see you there. Please take a moment to enjoy some of her masterful and inspiring works of art.
Earlier this year, my friend D.C. Actor James J. Johnson introduced me to this beautiful poem by Sonia Sanchez, “6 haiku (for Elizabeth Catlett in Cuernavaca),” and I want to offer it here as a blessing for the work we do as artists.
(for Elizabeth Catlett
making us remember
flesh and wind
O how you
help us catch
each other’s breath
arms climbing with
slides into the pool
hands kissing the water
up your breath and
“In loving memory of a great woman. You will be missed. It was an honor to walk on this earth with you.” —Sonia Sanchez
Sanchez, Sonia, from her new book Morning Haiku. Boston: Beacon Press, 2010.
I'm a playwright, dramaturg, and teaching artist. It is here where you'll find my queries and musings on life, theater and the world. My posts advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity in the American Theatre and updates on my own work. Please enjoy!