February marks Black History Month. Follow the AJC this month for a series of short stories and videos and people, places and events that played a significant role in the development of black people in America.
The Harp: In 1937, Augusta Savage, the director of the Harlem Community Art Center and the Harlem Renaissance’s leading sculptor, received the commission of a lifetime – to create a piece for the 1939 World’s Fair.
Inspired by the work of brothers James Weldon and Rosamond Johnson, she created “Lift Every Voice and Sing (The Harp),” a 16-foot-tall sculpture that represented everything about the black experience.
Cast in plaster and finished to resemble black basalt, the sculpture depicted a row of 12 black singers in graduated heights, who formed the strings of the harp.
The arm and hand of God formed the harp’s sounding board, while the harp’s pedal was represented by a kneeling man holding a sheet of music.
The Harp was exhibited in the court of the Contemporary Arts building and was one of the most popular and photographed pieces of art at the fair.
But Savage had no money to cast the “The Harp,” nor did she have any place to store it.
So after the fair closed the most iconic image of it, and a lasting image of black art, was simply destroyed.
Savage did make and sell a few souvenir replicas of the piece, but in 1988 when the Schomburg Center had a retrospective of all of her work, only 19 pieces were located. Savage died in relative obscurity on March 26, 1962.