Savitsky was born in Silver Creek (now New Philadelphia), Pennsylvania, to immigrant parents from Russia and Poland who settled in eastern Pennsylvania in the latter part of the nineteenth century. His father worked in the rich anthracite mines, and for Savitsky life was difficult, dirty, and dangerous from an early age; he started work as a slate picker at the age of 12 and joined the miners soon thereafter. After years of labor in the region, he settled in Lansford, where he eventually found work in the No. 9 Coaldale Colliery. He saved enough money to purchase a red brick house, where he lived with his wife, Mae Spack, and their son, John Jr.
Over the course of thirty-two years underground, he developed many – ailments black lung and emphysema among them – and when the mine closed in 1969, he retired. While he always had an interest in art, it was only during his retirement that he began to draw and paint, first as recreation and later as a way to make money.1
1 American Folk Art Museum