Elizabeth Catlett (April 15, 1915-April 2, 2012) was an African-American graphic artist and sculptor best known for her depictions of the African-American experience in the 20th century, which often had the female experience as their focus. Born and raised in Washington, D.C., she was the grandchild of freed slaves. Catlett did her undergraduate studies at Howard University after being refused admission into the Carnegie Institute of Technology because she was black. At the time the idea of a career as an artist for blacks was far-fetched, so she did her undergraduate studies with the aim of being a teacher. While at Howard University, Catlett's professors included artist Lois Mailou Jones and philosopher Alain Locke. She graduated with honors in 1937. She entered the graduate program of the University of Iowa, studying drawing and painting with Grant Wood and sculpture with Henry Stinson. Catlett graduated in 1940, one of three to earn the first masters in fine arts from the university and the first African-American woman to receive the degree.
A fellowship awarded to her in 1946 allowed her to travel to Mexico City, where she would work with the Taller de Gráfica Popular for twenty years and head the sculpture department of the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas. In the 1950s, her main means of artistic expression shifted from print to sculpture, though she would never give up the former. Her work is a mixture of abstract and figurative in the Modernist tradition, with influence from African and Mexican art traditions. According to the artist, the main purpose of her work is to convey social messages rather than pure aesthetics. During her lifetime, Catlett received many awards and recognitions including membership in the Salón de la Plástica Mexicana, the Art Institute of Chicago Legends and Legacy Award, honorary doctorates from Pace University and Carnegie Mellon and the International Sculpture Center’s Lifetime Achievement Award in contemporary sculpture. http://elizabethcatlett.net