Key Ideas about this Work of Art
- This is a portrait bust made from terracotta (fired clay). A bust is a sculpture of the upper part of the human body. It generally depicts a person’s head and neck, and sometimes includes part of the chest and shoulders. Michael depicts the head and neck of an African American boy.
- William Ellisworth Artis sculpted portrait busts out of terracotta and stoneware. His sculptures depict anonymous figures as well as local people who modeled for him.
- Artis was born in Washington, North Carolina. He moved to New York with his family as a teenager. They were part of the Great Migration of 1910 to 1970. This was the movement of six million African Americans out of the rural South to the growing, industrialized cities of the North. Black Americans moved to escape racism and violence and to find better jobs and opportunities.
- Artis was a student of sculptor Augusta Savage. She was a key figure of the Harlem Renaissance.
- In addition to sculpting, Artis had a long career as an educator. He promoted art education in Southern Black schools in the 1940s.
William Ellisworth Artis was born in Washington, North Carolina, and moved to New York with his family at the age of 14. In the early 1930s, he studied sculpture and pottery with artist Augusta Savage in Harlem. Artis won a Harmon Foundation prize that funded his studies at the Art Students League.
Artis studied under sculptor Augusta Savage, a leading figure of the Harlem Renaissance. The Harlem Renaissance was an art movement in the early 20th century. During that time New York City’s Harlem neighborhood became a Black cultural center. It encouraged the creation of literature, music, stage performances, and art that celebrated Black culture.
In 1946 Artis received a traveling demonstration fellowship to promote art in Southern Black schools. This work likely portrays a boy he chose as a model at a school in Washington. Unlike his stylized terracotta heads, Artis’s more realistic portrait Michael captures the tenderness, innocence, and inquisitive nature of childhood.
Resources for Teachers
- Read an article about William Ellisworth Artis.
- Read an article about the Harmon Foundation.
- Watch a video about the 1933 Harmon Exhibition. (Artis is shown receiving the John Hope Prize five minutes into the video.)
Resources for Students