Works in the Collection
Elizabeth Catlett was born in Washington, D.C. in 1915. Denied admission to the Carnegie Institute because of her race, Catlett completed her undergraduate studies at Howard University and went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Iowa. Her graduate thesis – a sculpture of a black mother and child – received first prize in the African American Exposition held in Chicago in 1940. She later worked at Dillard University in New Orleans, where she became the head of the art department. During her time at Dillard, Catlett spent the summers in Chicago where she studied ceramics at the Art Institute of Chicago and printmaking at the South Side Community Art Center. In 1941, she married Chicago artist Charles White.
In the 1940s, Catlett moved to New York and produced her first major exhibition “I Am a Negro Woman,” a series of sculptures, prints, and paintings which toured African American women’s colleges in the South. In 1946, Catlett visited Mexico on a fellowship program. She worked at the Taller de Gráfica Popular, a workshop that sought to make art more accessible to the working-class population. She and White divorced that year, a year later she married muralist and printmaker Francisco Mora. The communist affiliations of the Taller’s members and her history of political activism caused her to be banned from entering the U.S., and in 1962, she became a Mexican citizen, making Mexico her permanent home. In 1958, Catlett became the first female professor of sculpture and head of the sculpture department at the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas in Mexico City. In 1983, she and Mora bought a second home in Battery Park, NY and spent part of each year there until his death. She regained her citizenship in 2002 but continued to work in her studio in Mexico until her death in 2012.
Catlett received numerous awards and honors throughout her lifetime including an award from the Women’s Caucus for Art, a NAACP Image Award, the International Sculpture Center’s Lifetime Achievement Award in contemporary sculpture, and honorary doctorates from Pace University and Carnegie Mellon. Her work can be found in New York City’s Metropolitan Museum, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the New Orleans Museum of Art and the Amistad Research Center.