In the early 20th century, the art world was dominated by white men, making it exceedingly difficult for African American women to gain recognition as artists.
Sculptor Altina Schinasi Broke Barriers as a Black Woman in the 1920s to become a pioneering and influential figure of the Harlem Renaissance.
Through her prodigious talent and determination,Schinasi broke barriers for black female artists and left an enduring mark on American art.
Schinasi’s culturally empowering sculptures focused on celebrating the beauty, strength, and humanity of the African American experience.
At a time when black artists faced immense discrimination, Schinasi gained national acclaim and helped propel the Harlem Renaissance movement. Her success opened doors for future generations of black artists.
This fascinating and little-known artist made bold strides for inclusivity in the elite fine arts world.
Schinasi’s story is one of courage, passion, and towering achievement in the face of prejudice.
Through this article, we will learn how Altina Schinasi broke glass ceilings and sculpted her way into the history books through her boundary-breaking art.
Early Life and Education
Born in 1895 in New York City, Altina Schinasi demonstrated artistic talent from a young age. She honed her skills by studying European Renaissance sculptures at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Schinasi graduated from high school as an honors student before attending the prestigious Art Students League.
At the conservative League, Schinasi was one of the only African American women.
She endured racism and isolation during her studies, but focused on sculpting skills under famous artists George Grey Barnard and Robert Laurent.
Early Sculpting Work
Schinasi’s earliest commissions in the 1910s and early 1920s included portrait busts of prominent black figures like civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois.
Her lifelike, dignified style captured the humanity and strength of African Americans.
Schinasi broke into the mainstream art world by entering competitions open to both black and white artists.
She won several awards, gaining publicity and legitimacy. But as a black woman, Schinasi still faced discrimination securing patronage and exhibitions.
Success During the Harlem Renaissance
In 1925, Schinasi held her first solo exhibition at the International Colored Arts in Harlem. She prominently displayed her famous work Celebration, depicting two black dancers.
The show was a hit and Schinasi became a full-time sculptor, with commissions pouring in.
Schinasi’s uplifting, classically-styled sculptures focused on the beauty and power of the African American experience.
She co-founded the Harlem Sculptors Guild to promote black artists. Schinasi helped sculpt the Harlem Renaissance movement itself by advancing the visibility of black art.
As Schinasi’s renown grew, so did her prices and high-society connections. Wealthy and famous private patrons, like the Rockefellers and President Hoover, commissioned her sculptures.
Schinasi became the first African American woman sculptor to receive national honors. In 1935, she won the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship for her exceptional work. Schinasi helped open doors for future black artists.
Facts About the Altina Schinasi’s Eye Glasses
As a professional sculptor, Schinasi likely wore eyeglasses for close work on her intricate sculptures. Protective eyewear would have also been important while sculpting to prevent injury from flying fragments.
In Schinasi’s era, eyeglasses were an important accessory for anyone doing detailed handwork or reading/writing. Her eyeglasses may have denoted her as educated and studious.
As a black woman in the early 1900s, Schinasi faced many barriers in her artistic career. Wearing fashionable or scholarly-looking eyeglasses potentially helped present herself as sophisticated and capable.
Photos of Schinasi show her wearing stylish, modern eyeglass frames of the time period. Her eyeglasses likely projected a smart, professional image rather than a medical necessity.
Legacy as a Pioneering Artist
The long-overlooked Altina Schinasi overcame tremendous odds as a black female artist in the early 1900s.
Her striking, culturally significant sculptures broke barriers by placing African American art into the mainstream consciousness.
Schinasi’s enfranchising art style gave power and humanity to the black experience, while pioneering the Harlem Renaissance movement.
Through her indomitable spirit and game-changing art, Altina Schinasi sculpted her way into art history.