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Designed with the head tilted upward, it faces the world calmly with folded arms prepared for whatever challenge the world may present. Shackled by neverending family responsibilities, plagued by poverty, she also suffered the suspicion and hostility that many black trailblazers of the s experienced, when trying to challenge the established order.
Augusta Savage was the seventh of fourteen children born to Edward and Cornelia Fells. Sources seem undecided about whether she was born in or , but know definitely that five of her siblings did not live to maturity. Savage herself identified her birthplace as Green Cove, Florida , a town whose clay soil made it a thriving brick-making area. Augusta loved the clay from her earliest years, often choosing to slip off to the clay pits to model ducks and birds instead of going to school.
Whipping did nothing to stop his daughter from modeling her clay birds. She produced dozens of them during her childhood years, continuing even through her marriage to John Moore, and the birth of her only child, Irene, the following year. The marriage was a short-lived one—Moore died a couple of years later, so the teenage mother took her child and her clay birds and went back to her parents.
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The move was good for her. Poston , widowed ; died: March 26, , Education: National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors. A mature student who wrote sensitive poetry, she was welcomed by the teachers, and no longer felt the need to play truant. Her modeling, however, did not receive the same encouragement. Augusta begged a pailful of clay from the owner and modeled a little statue of the Virgin Mary for her over-strict father.
A Passport to Tomorrow By now she had begun to broaden her repertoire to include all sorts of farm animals. When the fair ended Currie did not abandon Augusta. Believing deeply in her talent, he took the time to write a letter of introduction to Solon Borglum, a New York based teacher of sculpture whose son Gutzon would one day be famous for his Mount Rushmore carvings of presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt.
Unfortunately Solon Borglum would not consider accepting Augusta as a non-paying student, but had no objection to writing a recommendation on her behalf to the registrar of Cooper Union, a public institution offering free tuition. His recommendation, as well as the bust of a Harlem minister that she modeled overnight, sent her to the top of a strong waiting list for Cooper Union, then won her immediate entry for a four-year course of study. A job as an apartment caretaker tided her over at first but proved as short-lived as her second marriage to carpenter James Savage, who left nothing permanent in her life other than the name she adopted.
Still, she was not completely alone with her problems.
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Noting that this talented, hardworking young woman had completed her first two years of schooling within her first six weeks, the Cooper Union school board voted to supply her with a scholarship to cover her living expenses for the rest of her stay. Success Tantalizingly Close Sooner or later life presents every human being with an event that determines their destiny.
Conditions for application were clearly demarcated: Savage sent the application fee immediately. Shortly thereafter she was in the process of sending the names of her references when she received her application fee back with a note explaining that she had been rejected. At first the committee claimed that the problem lay in her lack of references. However, the true reason soon revealed itself.
If the committee imagined that this rejection would cause Savage simply to fade away they were very much mistaken. With years of practice born of whippings and poverty she fought grimly for her rights.
But she did not leave matters there. Determined to open every door that was available to her she appealed to the Ethical Culture Society, which in turn wrote to every member of the American committee choosing the applicants.
The effects of all this were soon apparent. At best, the result was only a partial victory. The ban was upheld, but at least one of the committee members regretted the joint decision. The Tragic Decade This incident marked the start of a tragic decade for Savage.
The only one of her three marriages that brought her any happiness, it was doomed to an abrupt and far-too-early end. Just five months after the wedding Poston died a mysterious death aboard a steamship returning from Liberia. In there was another major setback.
Through the efforts of the distinguished W. Thrilled, she took a job in a Manhattan steam laundry in order to save the money for the fare, but was forced instead to spend it on bringing her aged parents to New York, so she could care for her paralyzed father. While these repeated blows would have been enough to discourage anyone, Savage still entertained a small spark of hope that she might, somehow, afford to get to Rome to study.
Fanning the ember of hope by keeping her priorities intact, in she showed 22 works at the Baltimore Federation of Parent Teacher Clubs, in company with paintings by Henry O.
Tanner and sculpture by her colleague Meta Warrick Fuller. She also studied incessantly in the public library, her determination to succeed inspiring the Friends of the New York Public Library to commission her for a bust of W. Savage worked carefully on this piece, intent upon showing the refinement and intelligence that marked the living model.
The work of art that resulted drew such admiration that several other orders came her way. Among them was a commission for a bust of Marcus Garvey, who sat for her in his own apartment, on Sunday mornings.
But neither hard work nor determination could break the catalog of calamities that stalked her. In her brother Fred died while rescuing Florida flood victims.
This brought her entire family to New York to live with her. Then, the following year her father died, leaving the responsibility of his funeral expenses for her to shoulder. Finally defeated, she turned her back on her dreams of Rome to take care of her family. Yet, just when things seemed darkest the tide at last began to turn, courtesy of two unlikely angels in disguise. They were John Nail, a Harlem realtor, and Eugene Kinckle Jones, president of the National Urban League, who brought her work to the attention of a charitable foundation.
The Julius Rosenwald Fund The Julius Rosenwald Fund dated back to , when the chairman of Sears, Roebuck, had started it specifically for the education of black students. In order to qualify, Savage was asked to assemble a display of her existing work for the review committee. Feverishly she put together a selection of her best works, using a small, jaunty statue of her nephew, Ellis Ford, as the centerpiece.
Augusta Savage was now quite well-known among black Americans. Appreciated for the proud black-is-beautiful quality of every character-filled statue she created, she also merited loyalty as the centerpiece of the racism that had arisen over the summer at Fontainbleau. For both these reasons parties to raise money for her clothes, her fares and her living expenses were held all over Harlem as soon as news of the scholarship became public.
Study in Europe All the adulation added to the responsibility of trying not to disappoint anyone. But within a short time in Rome, she had proved herself admirably. The Rosenwald Fund was happy enough with her work by to award her a second scholarship, and the masters at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere, her chosen place of study.
They were so impressed with her eagerness to learn and her outstanding work that they showed her sculptures at both their Autumn and the Spring Salons. In addition she had the satisfaction of having one of her African figures chosen for reproduction on a medallion at the French Colonial Exposition.
Then, to crown it all, she received a grant from the Carnegie Foundation, which allowed her to travel through France, Germany, and Belgium to study the classical forms of sculpture revered by her eminent teacher, Charles Despiau.