Elizabeth Catlett, American (1915 - 2012)

Elizabeth Catlett Mora was born April 15, 1915 in Washington DC to John and Mary Carson Catlett, both of whom had taught school. Catlett combines the basic elements of African traditions with those of west Mexico and U.S. African American. Catlett decided to become an artist while attending Dunbar High School, and won a competitive examination for a scholarship to the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, but was rejected because of her race.

While living and working in Harlem, New York, she was briefly married to Charles White.
In 1947, she married Mexican artist Francisco Mora, and made Mexico her permanent home, later becoming a Mexican citizen. They have three sons, including film director Juan Mora. Her granddaughter, Naima Mora, was the Cycle 4 winner of the America's Next Top Model television show. Catlett's sculpture, Naima, is of Naima as a child.
After retiring in 1975, Catlett continued to be active in the Cuernavaca, Mexico art community.

Catlett went on to study at Howard University with such luminaries as Dr. Alain Leroy Locke, Professor James A. Porter, James Lesense Wells, and Lois Mailou Jones. With the passing of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, and the oppressive McCarthy hearings, the loyalty oath and other such irritants drove artists into seclusion by the hundreds. By 1947, Catlett decided to retreat to Mexico where she had previously spent time while working on a Rosenfeld Fellowship.

Her artistic talent has won Catlett significant recognition as an artist in two very different cultures. Catletts prints have been exhibited all over the world. She has received grants and fellowships which have allowed her to study in England, east Germany, China, and the Soviet Union. The work of Elizabeth Catlett is in many museums, including the National Institute of Fine Arts in Mexico City, Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Museum of American Art in Washington, DC. Catlett continue to reside in Mexico with her husband, artist Victor Mora, and their sons.

Elizabeth Catlett has made sculpture in wood, mostly of the female nude, since the mid-1950s in Mexico Catlett studied sculpture at the University of Iowa and then in New York with the Modernist Ossip Zadkine. According to Melanie Herzog, when she returned to sculpture after 8 years of motherhood, she began working in wood for the first time, studying with Jose L. Ruiz at the Esmeralda school; from 1955-1959. Catlett describes her work as representations of women, black women and herself - " I am a black woman. I use my body in working. When I am bathing or dresing, I see and feeel how my body looks and moves. I never do sculpture from a nude model... Mostly I watch women."


1955 - Studied wood carving with Jose L. Ruiz

1947 - sculpture with Francisco Zuniga, Escuela de Pintura y Escultura, Esmeralda, Mexico

1943 - Studied with Sculptor Ossip Zadkine, NY

1942 - Studied lithography at Art Students League, NY

1941 Studied cerams, Art Institute of Chicago, IL

1940 - MFA, University of Iowa

1935 - BS, Cum Laude, Howard University School of Art, Washington, DC

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