Elizabeth Catlett
American, born 1915
1952, printed 1970

Color linocut on cream Japanese paper
450 x 431 mm (block); 544 x 513 mm (sheet)
Signed recto, lower right: "Elizabeth Catlett"; inscribed recto, lower left: "A/P Sharecropper"
Restricted gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert S. Hartman, 1992.182
© Elizabeth Catlett/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Sharecropper reveals Elizabeth Catlett’s lifelong concern for the oppressed and the dignity of women. The print focuses on a female farm worker whose face, made rough and leathery by years of toil, is nonetheless determined and commanding.

After the Civil War, many former slaves became sharecroppers, or farmers who worked on rented land and received an agreed share of the crop as payment. This economic system trapped many of these African Americans, as well as white workers, in a cycle of poverty. Set in the 1950s, Catlett’s Sharecropper refers to the injustices that this unfair system exerted on the poor. Emphasizing the triumph of the worker over her harsh conditions, Catlett represented this poor, anonymous figure with the strength, dignity, and heroism generally reserved for individuals of power.

Catlett, a sculptor and graphic artist, has lived and worked in Mexico for many years. Born in Washington, D.C., she attended Howard University and the University of Iowa. In 1946, Catlett traveled to Mexico, where she worked with the People’s Graphic Arts Workshop (Taller de Gráfica Popular), a group of printmakers dedicated to using their art to promote social change. Catlett became a Mexican citizen in 1962. She became the first female professor of sculpture at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City, a position she held until retiring in 1975.