She graduated from the University of Iowa in 1940 with a Master of Fine Arts degree for which she had made a limestone sculpture on the theme of Mother and Child.
Catlett uses all the artistic techniques : engraving, painting, wood carving, terra-cotta, plaster and bronze, but in an early phase she practices very scarcely the direct cut. Stone carving requires a discipline and a thoroughness which are hardly in line with her priority to define and divulge a modern African-American art.
Her style inspired by Zadkine is cubist with strong remains from realism, showing in an expressive simplification the characteristic lines of people from her community.
Probably also under the influence of Zadkine, she carved another stone work circa 1943. This young man's head 33 cm high is estimated $ 200K for sale by Swann Galleries in New York on October 4, lot 20.
Throughout her career spanning seven decades, Elizabeth Catlett remained within her activist commitment, not without difficulties at her time when minorities were not welcomed. Best received in Mexico in the left wing following of Rivera and Kahlo, she lost the US citizenship from 1962 to 2002.