When I started this project, I was immediately drawn to the work of Elizabeth Catlett and her linocut prints. Catlett was born in Washington, D.C. on April 15, 1915, the youngest of three children. As the grandchild of former slaves, Catlett grew up with stories about slavery from her grandmother and these shaped much of her artistic work in the future. Catlett went on to obtain her Bachelors of Science in Art from Howard University and a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Iowa, and, by the end of her life, had accumulated multiple honorary degrees. In an interesting twist, Catlett had been accepted to Carnegie Mellon University (then known as the Carnegie Institute of Technology) and was even given a scholarship. It was withdrawn, however, when they discovered she was Black. In 2008 upon learning of this, CMU’s president, Jared Leigh Cohon, awarded her an honorary doctorate in fine arts.
In 1945, she obtained a Julius Rosenwald Fund Fellowship and started a series that would eventually become The Black Woman, a series that focused on the struggles and labors of Black women both as historical figures and as original citizens. Catlett eventually left the U.S. in search of a more intellectually safe atmosphere and became a citizen of Mexico, and, due to her political affiliations, she was denied reentry into the U.S. until 1971. Eventually, in 2002, her U.S. citizenship was restored and her work can be found at multiple galleries, museums and parks all over the U.S. She died on April 2, 2012.
You can find beautiful digital versions of her work on the artist’s website as well as a list of galleries and museums currently exhibiting her work for your post-pandemic travel plans! If you want to learn more about print making check out our video inspired by Elizabeth Catlett on YouTube @clpvideo.