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Elizabeth Catlett
(b. 1919)

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For 60 years, Elizabeth Catlett, a sculptor and graphic artist, has been producing politically powerful art in both the United States and her adopted country of Mexico. Catlett was raised in Washington, DC, the granddaughter of former slaves. Refused admission to Carnegie Institute of Technology because of her race, Catlett enrolled at Howard University, where she studied painting and design, the latter with Lois Mailou Jones. She was graduated with honors in 1937. She has spent her life creating images that champion poor and working people of all colors.

Catlett was the first person to earn an M.F.A. degree from the University of Iowa, in 1940. Her teacher, Grant Wood, encouraged students to make art about what they knew best and to experiment with media. This inspired Catlett to create lithographs, linoleum cuts, and sculpture in wood, stone, clay, and bronze, all based on African American and later Mexican life. She established her reputation when she won first prize for sculpture at an exhibition in 1941, but she also developed a career teaching at Dillard University in New Orleans.

In 1946 a grant from the Rosenwald Foundation enabled Catlett to move to Mexico City with her husband, the printmaker Charles White. There she joined the Taller de Gráfica Popular (People's Graphic Arts Workshop), a group of printmakers dedicated to using their art to promote social change. At the Taller Catlett met the Mexican artist Francisco Mora, whom she married after divorcing White. Catlett taught at the National School of Fine Arts in Mexico City from 1958 until 1976. Meanwhile, she produced realistic and highly stylized figures in two and three dimensions. Her work ranges from maternal images to symbols of the Black Power movement and portraits of leaders like Martin Luther King Jr.

Catlett became a Mexican citizen in 1962. She became the first female professor of sculpture at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City, a position she held until retiring in 1975. During the past 40 years Catlett has had more than 50 solo shows of her work, including retrospectives in 1993 and 1999. In her mid-80s, Catlett continues to make art in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

 

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Late 19th and early 20th century American art with an emphasis on the 1930s since 1977
international fine print dealers association