In celebration of Black History Month, we honor American sculptor William Ellisworth Artis, who was born today [February 2, 1914] in Washington, North Carolina.

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Artis’ work, along with many other African American artists, helped create an artistic revival in the Black community at this time known as the Harlem Renaissance.

Artis is known widely for his sculptures and busts. He studied sculpture and pottery under master sculptor Augusta Savage at the Augusta Savage Studios in the early 1930s. His early work was exhibited at the Harmon Foundation Exhibit in 1933.


Artis’ work during his tenure at Augusta Savage Studios helped him to receive the John Hope Prize in 1933. This award allowed Artis to earn a scholarship to be a member of the Art Students League from 1933 to 1934.

After working with the Art Students League, Artis was hired by Audrey McMahon who was the director of the College Art Association. The College Art Association was a program that commission young artists to teach crafts and paint murals at local churches and community centers. He continued to work with the program for the next few years.

In 1950 Artis received his Bachelors Degree in Fine Arts and in 1951 his Masters in Fine Arts, both form Syracuse University. At Syracuse he studied with renowned sculptor Ivan Mestrovic. In 1955 he became a professor of ceramics at Nebraska Teachers College where he stayed until 1956. After he left Nebraska Teachers College he went on to be a professor of art at Mankato State College.

Artis is featured in the Against the Odds Exhibit at the Harmon Foundation. Against the Odds is an exhibit that celebrates Black artists. Artis’ work can also be found at: Atlanta University, Whitney Museum, The Two Centries of Black American Art, Fisk University, Hampton University, The North Carolina Museum of Art, and some private collections.

Artis passed away in 1977 in his home in Northport, New York.