By Anita Plous and Lester Sullivan
Title: Elizabeth Catlett papers, 1959-1984
Creator: Catlett, Elizabeth (1915 - )
Extent: 1.6 Linear Feet
Arrangement: The materials arrived at the Center with an arrangement developed by Peggy Straus, a close friend of Elizabeth Catlett, and was further refined by Anita Plous, an art historian from Emory Museum of Art. The collection is arranged alphabetically and chronologically.
Date Acquired: 01/01/1984. More info below under Accruals.
Scope and Contents of the Materials
The papers of Elizabeth Catlett, sculptor, graphic artist, teacher, and political activist, consist of correspondence, audiotape cassettes, biographical data, news clippings, notes, photographs, exhibition catalogs, posters, writings, and a reel-to-reel film. The papers have been arranged into three general groups: correspondence, non-correspondence and oversized items, and is arranged alphabetically according to topic and chronologically within each file unit. Non-correspondence includes photographs, Catlett's writings, biographical information, exhibition catalogs, and other collected material. Oversized materials consist of posters and a reel-to-reel film entitled The Works of Elizabeth Catlett.
Elizabeth Catlett, sculptor, printmaker, graphic artist, teacher, and political activist has specialized in realistic art designed to preserve black cultural traditions. She was a fellow of the Julius Rosenwald Foundation and art educator in both the United States and Mexico.
Elizabeth Alice Catlett was born April 15, 1915, at Freedmen's Hospital in Washington D.C., and was the third child of Mary Carson Catlett and John Catlett. Her mother worked as a social worker and truant officer and her father was a teacher in the Washington D.C. public schools. Her father also served as a professor of mathematics at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and taught alongside Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver.
In 1931, Catlett enrolled at Howard University in Washington D.C., where she majored in design and studied printmaking, drawing, and art history. At Howard, she studied under Lois M. Jones, James Herring, James Wells and James Porter. Following her studies at Howard, Catlett took a teaching job in Durham, North Carolina, and became involved in a struggle to win equitable pay for African American teachers. During this time she enrolled in the graduate school program at the University of Iowa to pursue a master's degree in art and majored in sculpture. Catlett roomed with author Margaret Walker and studied under painter Grant Wood. Wood encouraged her to work with wood and to depict subjects in which she could directly identify with. She took Wood's advice and worked on images of African American women, mothers, daughters, and children.
In 1940, Catlett became the first person to receive a Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Iowa for sculpture. Her thesis piece, Mother and Child, a 36-inch high limestone sculpture, became a characteristic theme of her art. While studying ceramics at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1940, Catlett exhibited the Mother and Child sculpture at the Columbian Exposition, a national exhibition of African American art and won first prize. While in Chicago, Catlett roomed with Margaret Burroughs, a founder of the DuSable Museum and the South Side Community Center. The South Side Community Center was a place artists and writers, such as Margaret Walker, Margaret Burroughs, Katherine Dunham, and Charles Sebree would come together to discuss new ideas. Following her studies in Iowa and Illinois, Catlett became chair of the art department at Dillard University in New Orleans and taught drawing, painting, sculpture, printmaking, and art history. An incident of discrimination profoundly affected Catlett's focus on art during her stay at Dillard. Catlett escorted her art class to see a retrospective exhibition of Picasso's paintings at the New Orleans Museum of Art. During this time the museum's entrance was through City Park; the park was closed to African Americans, which required the class to enter the museum directly from the bus.
In 1942, Catlett moved to New York City where she studied with French sculptor Ossip Zadkine and lithography at the Art Students League. In the summer of 1942, she began teaching sculpture at Hampton Institute in Virginia. While there, she met artist and art educator Viktor Lowenfield. Catlett went back to New York and joined the faculty of the George Washington Carver School in Harlem, New York. The students consisted of laborers and blue-collar workers and the curriculum was an experimental hybrid of continuing and alternative education, offering courses in popular and classical music, practical economics, literature, photography, and sculpture. Catlett would recreate these workers in a series of generalized studies in oil and graphic media executed between 1942 to 1946 in works such as War Worker, Pensive, Portrait, Red Cross Woman - Nurse and Black Worker.
The Julius Rosenwald Foundation awarded Catlett with a grant in 1946. Catlett decided to create a series of works dedicated to African American Women. The series would be entitled I Am the Negro Woman and conveyed the determination of African American women in the face of overwhelming odds.
Catlett traveled to Mexico in 1945, where she instantly fell in love with the country. In Mexico she studied terracotta sculpture with Francisco Zuniga, learning the Mexican way of building hollow ceramic sculpture at Escuela de Pintura y Escultura in Mexico City, and became involved in the Mexican government's campaign for literacy. Catlett returned to Mexico in 1947 and married painter and printmaker Francisco Mora. The couple had three sons Francisco Jr. born in 1947, Juan in 1949 and David in 1951. Catlett joined the Taller de Grafica Popular (People's Graphic Arts Workshop) of printmakers. The workshop's mission was to maintain the social and political ideals of the Mexican revolution. While at the workshop Catlett produced a series of linocuts of black labors, artist and farmers entitled, The Negro Woman.
In 1958 Catlett became director of the sculpture department at the National School of Fines Arts at National Autonomous University of Mexico and remained so until her retirement in 1976. Catlett became a Mexican citizen in 1962, and during the 1960s, she created art using variations on the theme of the dignified woman of great strength, physicality, and primitive grandeur reminiscent of African goddesses and queens.
The late 1960s and early 1970s were years of social protest and political activism. Catlett created her most polemical works, Black Unity, two mask-like faces in front of a clenched fist, and Homage to My Black Sisters, an abstracted standing female figure with raised right arm. She created the works Target and the Torture of Black Mothers, which allude to death, massacre, and dismemberment. Since 1966, Catlett has been awarded several commissions and has continued to work and exhibit throughout the world.
There is one addition to the papers, which is available for research.
The Elizabeth Catlett Papers are open and available for use.
Copyright to these papers has not been assigned to the Amistad Research Center. It is the responsibility of an author to secure permission for publication from the holder of the copyright to any material contained in this collection.
Physical Access Note:
The film reel, The Works of Elizabeth Catlett, are currenly unavailable for research use. Please contact the reference services department for more information.
The collection documents Elizabeth Catlett personal and professional career.
The papers of Francisco Mora, Jack Jordan, John Scott, Jacob Lawrence and William Pajaud, as well as, the records of Stella Jones Art Gallery in New Orleans, the National Conference of Artists and Julius Rosenwald Fund.
Elizabeth Catlett papers at Amistad Research Center at Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana
This collection was processed between July and November 1984.
Correspondence Index attached as PDF.
Box and Folder Listing Browse by Series:
[Series 1: Correspondence, 1959-1984
[Series 2: Non-correspondence, 1962-1984
[Series 3: Oversized Items, undated
Browse by Series:
- Series 1: Correspondence, 1959-1984
- The first series is correspondence, which includes Catlett's personal and professional correspondence dating from 1959-1984 and reflects her relationship with her family, including her husband and artist Francisco Mora, sons Francisco Jr. and Juan. The majority of the correspondence is professional in nature and includes letters from admirers, museums, galleries and school personnel, as well as contracts, prices, and programs. The letters discuss lectures, exhibitions, commissions, honors, and prices for art pieces. Correspondents include Crystal Britton, a gallery owner; Alonzo Davis, owner of Brockman Gallery; Floyd Levin, leader of the movement to erect a statue of Louis Armstrong in New Orleans; and Samella Lewis, art historian and Catlett's biographer. Other prominent names include Margaret Walker Alexander, Amiri Baraka, Romare Bearden, John Biggers, Celestine S. Cook, David C. Driskell, Elton C. Fax, Rupert Garcia, Vincent Harding, Stanley Hoskins, Jean Blackwell Hutson, Moon Landrieu, Edward A. Love, Ernest Nathan "Dutch" Morial, James A. Porter, Andrew Salkey, and Francisco Zuniga.
- Box 1
- Folder 1: Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University, Normal, Alabama, 1976-1979
- Folder 2: Archives of American Art, Houston Texas, 1979-1980
- Folder 3: Artist, Art Scholars, and Admirers, 1959-1976
- Folder 4: Artist, Art Scholars, and Admirers, 1977-1983, undated
- Folder 5: Black Scholar, Sausalito, California, 1975-1980
- Folder 6: The British Council, London, U.K., 1970-1971
- Folder 7: Brockman Gallery, Los Angeles, California, 1969-1978
- Folder 8: Collectors, other, 1964-1982, undated
- Folder 9: College of Wooster, Wooster, Ohio, 1981
- Folder 10: Colleges and Universities, other, 1959-1983
- Folder 11: Crystal Britton Gallery and Chi-Wara Gallery, Atlanta, Georgia, 1979-1980
- Folder 12: Crystal Britton Gallery and Chi-Wara Gallery, Atlanta, Georgia, 1981-1984
- Folder 13: Davis, Angela: regarding her incarceration, undated
- Folder 14: Driskell, David C., College Park, Maryland, 1978-1979
- Folder 15: Escula Nacional de Artes Plasticas de U.N.A.M, Mexico City, Mexico, 1959-1983
- Folder 16: Evans, Walter O., Detroit, Michigan, 1983-1984
- Folder 17: Excelsior, Mexico City, Mexico, 1975
- Folder 18: Family, 1968-1971
- Folder 19: Family, 1972-1981, undated
- Folder 20: Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee, 1973-1978
- Folder 21: Freedomways, New York, N.Y., 1972-1979
- Folder 22: The Gallery Tanner, The Gallery for the Museum of African American Art, and Contemporary Crafts, Los Angeles, California, 1973-1983
- Folder 23: Garcia, Rupert, San Francisco, California, 1974-1982
- Folder 24: Goings, Russell L. Jr., New York, N.Y., 1974-1979
- Folder 25: Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company, Los Angeles, California, 1977
- Box 2
- Folder 1: Harlem Art Collection, New York, N.Y., 1977
- Folder 2: Highland Park Community College, Detroit, Michigan, 1979
- Folder 3: Howard University, Washington, D.C.: Art Seminar, 1977
- Folder 4: Howard University: "Charter Day", 1977
- Folder 5: Howard University: Hospital, 1978-1979
- Folder 6: Howard University: Moorland - Spingarn Research Center, 1974-1978
- Folder 7: Howard University: "Students Aspire" Statue, 1975-1977
- Folder 8: Howard University: "Students Aspire" Statue, 1978
- Folder 9: Illinois State University, Normal, Illinois, 1974-1979
- Folder 10: The Institute of the Black World, Atlanta, Georgia, 1973-1980
- Folder 11: Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artesy Salon de la Plastica Mexicana, Mexico City, Mexico, 1958-1982
- Folder 12: Jackson State College, Jackson, Mississippi, 1973-1976
- Folder 13: Junior Black Academy of Arts and Letters, Inc., Dallas, Texas, 1981
- Folder 14: Lewis, Samella regarding Black Art and Claremont Colleges, 1969-1979
- Folder 15: Lewis, Samella regarding Black Art and Claremont Colleges, 1980-1983
- Folder 16: The Links, Inc., Washington D.C., 1976-1980, undated
- Folder 17: Louis Armstrong Statue, New Orleans, Louisiana, 1972-1976
- Folder 18: Louis Armstrong Statue, New Orleans, Louisiana, 1980-1984
- Folder 19: Love, Edward A., Washington D.C., 1976-1979, undated
- Folder 20: Lynch, Acklyn, Baltimore, Maryland, 1979-1981
- Box 3
- Folder 1: Malcolm Brown Art Gallery, Shaker Heights, Ohio, 1981-1982, undated
- Folder 2: Museums, galleries, and institutions, other, 1963-1981, undated
- Folder 3: NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, New York, N.Y., 1976
- Folder 4: National Conference of Artists, Richmond, Virginia., 1980
- Folder 5: Ninth National / International Sculpture Conference, New Orleans, Louisiana, 1975-1980
- Folder 6: New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, Louisiana, 1983
- Folder 7: New Visions Gallery, San Diego, California, 1980-1981
- Folder 8: Printmaking Workshop, New York, N.Y., 1977-1980
- Folder 9: Pyramid Gallery of Art, Detroit, Michigan, 1979-1980
- Folder 10: Rainbow Sign, Berkeley, California, 1972-1975
- Folder 11: Ramsey, Henry, Jr., Berkeley, California, 1974-1981
- Folder 12: Randall Gallery, New York, N.Y., 1978-1980
- Folder 13: Renaissance Gallery of Art, Shaker Heights, Ohio, 1980-1981
- Folder 14: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York , N.Y., 1974-1980
- Folder 15: Southern University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1974
- Folder 16: Straight Ahead International, New York, N.Y., 1979-1981
- Folder 17: The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, N.Y., 1970-1976
- Folder 18: The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, N.Y., 1977-1983
- Folder 19: United Nations Children's Fund, New York, N.Y., 1972-1981
- Folder 20: University of California, Santa Barbara, California, 1981-1982
- Folder 21: The William A. Patterson Foundation, New York, N.Y., 1979-1980
- Folder 22: Women's Caucus for Art, San Francisco, California, 1975-1981
- Folder 23: Your Heritage House, Inc., Detroit, Michigan, 1972-1981
- Series 2: Non-correspondence, 1962-1984
- Non-correspondence dates from 1962-1984 and contains photographs; notes; writings by Catlett; exhibition catalogs; news and press clippings; list of works by Catlett; and publications and collected items related to organizations seeking the release of Angela Davis, a teacher and activist who was imprisoned and accused of being an accomplice to conspiracy, kidnapping and homicide. An oral history interview with Elizabeth Catlett and her husband, Francisco Mora, by Dr. Clifton Johnson of the Amistad Research Center is also included.
- Box 3
- Folder 24: Audiotape cassettes of interviews of Elizabeth Catlett and Francisco Mora by Dr. Clifton H. Johnson, 1984
- Box 4
- Folder 1: Notes, with photographs, regarding a trip to China, 1981
- Folder 2: Writings by Catlett regarding organizations seeking the release of Angela Davis, undated
- Folder 3: List of works by Catlett, 1972-1973, undated
- Folder 4: Other writings by Catlett, 1961-1978, undated
- Folder 5: Biographical data, 1971-1983, undated
- Folder 6: Collected items regarding statues of Jaime Torres Bodet and Jose Vasconcelos, 1981
- Folder 7: Other photographs, 1983, undated
- Folder 8: Exhibition catalogs and other publications about Catlett, 1962-1976
- Folder 9: Exhibition catalogs and other publications about Catlett, ca. 1977-1984, undated
- Folder 10: Press clippings about Catlett, 1945-1972
- Folder 11: Press clippings about Catlett, 1973-1984, undated
- Folder 12: Collected items about the Class of 1931 Fiftieth Anniversary, Dunbar High School, Washington D.C., 1981
- Folder 13: Collected writings by others, 1970-1983, undated
- Folder 14: Catalogs for exhibits of art by others, including Francisco Mora, 1970-1983, undated
- Folder 15: Publications about women's art, 1979-1982
- Folder 16: Collected items regarding organizations seeking the release of Angela Davis, 1970-1971, undated
- Folder 17: Other collected items, undated
- Series 3: Oversized Items, undated
- Oversized items include posters and a reel-to-reel motion picture.
- Box 5
- Folder 1: Posters of works by Catlett
- Folder 2: Film: The Works of Elizabeth Catlett
- Folder 3: Sketchbook, circa 1984
- 27 leaves in Joseph Torch ledger pad, 9 x 12 in., contains drawings of human figures and heads
[Series 1: Correspondence, 1959-1984
[Series 2: Non-correspondence, 1962-1984
[Series 3: Oversized Items, undated