Elizabeth Catlett was born in 1915 in Washington, DC. In 1931 she began attending Howard University where she studied design, printmaking and drawing. Catlett won a scholarship to Carnegie Tech but was refused enrollment when the prestigious school realized she was black. After graduating with honors from Howard University in 1935 and teaching art in the Jim Crow South, she studied with painter Grant Wood at the University of Iowa. Catlett eventually became the first African-American student to receive an M.F.A. in sculpture from the school.
Catlett briefly lived and worked in Harlem, New York, while married to Charles White. After studying in Mexico, she in 1947 married Mexican artist Francisco Mora and made Mexico her permanent home, where she lives today. Although Catlett officially retired from teaching sculpture and heading the sculpture department at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in 1975, she continues to be active in the Cuernavaca art community.
Throughout her career, Catlett has been a political progressive whose art reflects her commitment to improving the lives of African American and indigenous peoples. In Mexico, she worked with the Taller de Gráfica Popular (People’s Graphic Arts Workshop), a group of printmakers dedicated to using their art to promote social change. There she and other artists created posters, leaflets, collective booklets, illustrations for textbooks, posters and illustrations advocating for schools and literacy in Mexico.
Pictured: Woman Fixing her Hair, 1993, Mahogany and opals, collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY.
Listen to Catlett speak about her work and see a timeline of her accomplishments: