The Art of Elizabeth Catlett

From the Collection of Samella Lewis

February 17 – April 15, 2023

Sculptor and printmaker Elizabeth Catlett is widely considered one of the most important African American artists of the 20th century. Her work blends art and social consciousness and confronts disturbing injustices against African Americans. She is best known for her work during the 1960s and 70s, when she created politically charged expressionistic sculptures and prints.

Catlett attended Howard University to study design, printmaking, and drawing, and in 1940, became the first student to receive a Masters in Sculpture at the University of Iowa. Soon after she moved to Mexico City, where she worked with the People’s Graphic Arts Workshop, a group of printmakers dedicated to using their art to promote social change. During her life, Catlett participated in numerous organized protests, including one on the steps of the Supreme Court. Her art and activism were shaped by her social convictions, and were inarguably fueled by the legacy of her enslaved grandparents, as well as by a strong sense of responsibility to draw attention to those whose voices were often silenced: women, African Americans, and Mexican laborers. She moved to Mexico in the 1940s, and continued to make art through her mid-90s.

This exhibition comes from the collection of Dr. Samella Lewis (1924-2022), a student of Catlett and an accomplished artist, professor, and author. Dr. Lewis advocated for artists of African descent and sought to preserve aspects of the African American experience that had largely been ignored by institutions in the United States. She wrote one of the first surveys of Black artists Art: African American in 1978. Dr. Lewis was an artist herself and a professor at several historically black colleges and universities in the country including Florida A & M University in Tallahassee during the 1950s.

This collection features 30 works by Elizabeth Catlett including lithographs, mixed media, woodcuts, bronze and wood sculptures; a few works by her husband, Francisco Mora; and works by Lewis herself. This exhibition was organized by Landau Traveling Exhibitions, Los Angeles, CA.

Image: Elizabeth Catlett, American, 1915-2012, Sharecropper, 1965, linocut, edition AP, 17 3/8 x 16 1/2 inches, Collection of Samella Lewis. Image courtesy of Landau Traveling Exhibitions.

Malcolm X Speaks for Us by Elizabeth Catlett

Elizabeth Catlett, American, 1915-2012, Malcolm X Speaks for Us, 1969, linocut, 59/50, 27 x 35 inches, Collection of Samella Lewis. Image courtesy of Landau Traveling Exhibitions.

Maternity by Elizabeth Catlett

Elizabeth Catlett, American, 1915-2012, Maternity, 1971, wood, 20 x 15 1/2 x 6 inches. Collection of Samella Lewis. Image courtesy of Landau Traveling Exhibitions.

Door Key Child by Elizabeth Catlett

Elizabeth Catlett, American, 1915-2012, Door Key Child, 1987, edition A/P, 21 x 14 3/4 inches. Collection of Samella Lewis. Image courtesy of Landau Traveling Exhibitions.

Exhibition made possible in part by