Art Activity Video: Augusta Savage

Sculpt an important person in your life!

Activity best for children age 4 and up

Augusta Savage was born in Florida in 1929, the seventh of fourteen children. Her father was very strict, and did not approve of her making sculptures of animals and people. However, her teachers saw her talent and encouraged her to keep making her art. Her high school principal was so impressed, he hired young Augusta to teach a clay modeling class. Later in life, she opened her own art studio to teach art in Harlem, New York during a very creative period of time called “The Harlem Renaissance.” During this time, she made portrait “busts” of important Black civil rights leaders and sculptures of ordinary, but still inspiring and beautiful, people. Augusta was one of the first American sculptors who depicted the beauty and dignity of her race in a time when there was little representation of African Americans in America, and she taught others to do the same!

In honor of Augusta Savage, let’s make a portrait “bust” of you or your favorite person!

Materials for homemade clay:

2 cups all purpose flour

3/4 cup salt

4 teaspoons cream of tartar

2 cups lukewarm water

2 Tablespoons of vegetable oil

Quart sized bags

Optional: Food coloring, spices, markers

Materials for sculpture:

Homemade clay

Paper towel or toilet paper roll


Utensils for shaping clay

Optional: Natural materials for dying clay (spices)

Optional: Child-safe mirror or a photo of the art subject

Directions for Homemade Clay

Stir together the flour, salt and cream of tartar in a large pot.

Add the water and oil. If you’re only making one color, add in the color now as well.

Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly. Continue stirring until the dough has thickened and begins to form into a ball.

Remove from heat and place clay inside a gallon sized bag or onto wax paper. Allow to cool slightly and then knead until smooth.

If you’re adding colors after cooking, divide the dough into balls (for however many colors you want) and then add the dough into a quart sized bags.

Start with about 5 drops of food coloring, water based markers, or natural spices and add more to brighten it. Knead the dough while inside the bag so it doesn’t stain your hands, OR cure it for a day and let the kids knead it and add color on a cutting board or other smooth surface.

Store the sculpture clay inside the bags once done to keep soft. Keeps for up to 1 month.

Directions for Sculpture

Gather Materials and choose who you will sculpt.

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Dye the Clay. We can use all sorts of colors found in our kitchens and craft cabinet to dye the clay to look like the people you know. Shown are examples of craft clay dyed with cocoa, turmeric, and marker. All sorts of spices and food coloring can be used!

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Draw a mark in the center of the tube. Everything above it is a face and below that line is the neck and shoulders. Draw a face on the tube using the rule of thirds (1/3 for the eyes and forehead, 1/3 for the nose and ears, 1/3 for the mouth and chin). 

For young children: Allowing them to think about the face’s details, like noses and eyes and to draw and “plan” on the tube is a great way to teach 3/D thinking. Proportions will come later when that is important to get “right” for them.

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Use clay to add features. A bust needs a neck, shoulders, and a back. Start with the neck. Once that is added with a layer of clay, then add the head and features using your tools. A paper towel (or two) pushed in the center of the sculpture will create the “crown” of the head to cover with clay.

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Add hair. The hair can be a contrasting color and texture of the clay. You can use plastic forks or toothpicks to make the texture of the hair 0r you can use embedded materials like yarn, pebbles, or leaves for hair or any feature!

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