Elizabeth Catlett’s Satchmo

“Art can’t be the exclusive domain of the [elite]. It belongs to everyone.”
~~~Elizabeth Catlett

Satchmo Fest is in full swing this week-end here in New Orleans, an annual festival celebrating the life and music of our native son. Volumes have been written about Louis Armstrong’s musical legacy and how it changed the world. A cursory google search brings up many, many articles about him, his music and his life. This post is not about Satchmo but about Elizabeth Catlett, the African-American female artist who sculpted the 10 foot bronze image of Louis that dominates Louis Armstrong Park which opened in 1980 on the sacred land known as Congo Square.

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Photo by Infrogmation.

Elizabeth was born in 1919 in Washington, D.C. and graduated from college in 1937 with a B.A. degree from Howard University. In 1940 she earned the first master of fine arts degree in sculpture from the University of Iowa. That fall she accepted a teaching position at Dillard University here in New Orleans where she worked to advance the civil rights of African-Americans when she bussed her students to Dillard Museum (now The New Orleans Museum of Art) to view a Picasso exhibit. The museum itself wasn’t closed to African-Americans but was located in a city park where blacks were not allowed. Such an endeavor in 1940′s America was bold but in keeping with her life-long fight for equal rights for African-Americans.

Elizabeth’s art has focused primarily on the black woman’s experience and the mother and child theme has become her hallmark in sculpture and print. She’s dedicated to public art and is passionate about the accessibility of art to students and minorities as is personified in the Louis Armstrong sculpture.

Elizabeth Catlett is a woman we can all admire, not only for her amazing artistic talent, but also for forging the path of public art for all.

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References:
Elizabeth Catlett: In the Image of the People
Elizabeth Catlett: dean of women artists – Black- and Mexican-influenced art
Elizabeth Catlett: legendary artist is still creating and living life on her own terms
WOMEN ARTISTS::LIVING LEGENDS

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