Laura Wheeler Waring

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Laura Wheeler Waring
Laura Wheeler Waring.jpg
Born(1887-05-16)May 16, 1887
DiedFebruary 3, 1948(1948-02-03) (aged 60)
Nationality American
Known forPainter
Spouse(s)Walter E. Waring

Laura Wheeler Waring (May 16, 1887 February 3, 1948) was an African-American artist and educator, best known for her paintings of prominent African Americans which she made during the Harlem Renaissance. [1] She taught art for more than 30 years at Cheyney University in Pennsylvania. [2]

The Harlem Renaissance was an intellectual, social, and artistic explosion centered in Harlem, New York, spanning the 1920s. At the time, it was known as the "New Negro Movement", named after The New Negro, a 1925 anthology edited by Alain Locke. The movement also included the new African-American cultural expressions across the urban areas in the Northeast and Midwest United States affected by the Great Migration, of which Harlem was the largest.


Early life

Black and white reproduction of Heirlooms, 1916 New York Watercolor Club Exhibition Heirlooms by Laura Wheeler 1916 New York Watercolor Club Exhibition catalog.png
Black and white reproduction of Heirlooms, 1916 New York Watercolor Club Exhibition

Laura Wheeler was born on May 16, 1887 in Hartford, Connecticut, the fourth child of six, to Mary (née Freeman) and Reverend Robert Foster Wheeler. Her mother was a daughter of Amos Noë Freeman, a Presbyterian minister, and Christiana Williams Freeman, who had been prominent in anti-slavery activities, including the Underground Railroad in Portland, Maine and Brooklyn, New York. [3]

Hartford, Connecticut Capital of Connecticut

Hartford is the capital city of Connecticut. It was the seat of Hartford County until Connecticut disbanded county government in 1960. The city is nicknamed the "Insurance Capital of the World", as it hosts many insurance company headquarters and is the region's major industry. It is the core city in the Greater Hartford area of Connecticut. Census estimates since the 2010 United States Census have indicated that Hartford is the fourth-largest city in Connecticut, behind the coastal cities of Bridgeport, New Haven, and Stamford.

Amos Noë Freeman (1809—1893) was an African-American abolitionist, Presbyterian minister and educator. He was the first full-time minister of Abyssinian Congregational Church in Portland, Maine, where he led a station on the Underground Railroad, and served for decades at Siloam Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn, New York.

Underground Railroad network of secret routes and safe houses established in the United States during the early to mid-19th century, and used by African-American slaves to escape to freedom

The Underground Railroad was a network of secret routes and safe houses established in the United States during the early to mid-19th century, and used by African-American slaves to escape into free states, Canada and Nova Scotia with the aid of abolitionists and allies who were sympathetic to their cause. The term is also applied to the abolitionists, both black and white, free and enslaved, who aided the fugitives. Various other routes led to Mexico or overseas. An earlier escape route running south toward Florida, then a Spanish possession, existed from the late 17th century until Florida became a United States territory in 1821. However, the network now generally known as the Underground Railroad was formed in the late 1700s, and it ran north to the free states and Canada, and reached its height between 1850 and 1860. One estimate suggests that by 1850, 100,000 slaves had escaped via the "Railroad".

In 1906, Waring began teaching part-time in Philadelphia at Cheyney Training School for Teachers (later renamed Cheyney State Teachers College and now known as Cheyney University.) She taught art and music at Cheyney until 1914 when she traveled abroad to Europe. Her occupation at Cheyney was time consuming, as it was a boarding school and she was often needed to work evenings and Sundays. This left her without much time to practice art. 1906-1914 were slow years for her artistic career as a result of this. Waring worked long hours teaching art, sometimes spending summers teaching drawing at Harvard and Columbia for additional money.

After she returned from Europe, she continued to work at Cheyney and did so for over thirty years. In her later years at Cheyney, she was the director of the art programs. In 1914 Laura Wheeler-Waring was granted a trip to Europe by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts’ William E. Cresson Memorial Scholarship. She studied at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris, France and traveled throughout Great Britain. While living in Paris, Wheeler-Waring frequented the Jardin du Luxembourg. She painted Le Parc Du Luxembourg (1918), oil on canvas, based on a sketch she made during one of her recurrent visits. Wheeler-Waring also spent much time in the Louvre Museum studying Monet, Manet, Corot and Cézanne. “I thought again and again how little of the beauty of really great pictures is revealed in the reproductions which we see and how freely and with what ease the great masters paint." [4]

Académie de la Grande Chaumière An art school in the 6th arrondissement of Paris, France

The Académie de la Grande Chaumière is an art school in the Montparnasse district of Paris, France.

Paris Capital of France

Paris is the capital and most populous city of France, with an area of 105 square kilometres and an official estimated population of 2,140,526 residents as of 1 January 2019. Since the 17th century, Paris has been one of Europe's major centres of finance, diplomacy, commerce, fashion, science, and the arts.

Jardin du Luxembourg urban park in Paris, France

The Jardin du Luxembourg, also known in English as the Luxembourg Gardens, is located in the 6th arrondissement of Paris, France. It was created beginning in 1612 by Marie de' Medici, the widow of King Henry IV of France, for a new residence she constructed, the Luxembourg Palace. The garden today is owned by the French Senate, which meets in the Palace. It covers 23 hectares and is known for its lawns, tree-lined promenades, flowerbeds, model sailboats on its circular basin, and picturesque Medici Fountain, built in 1620.. The name Luxembourg comes from the Latin Mons Lucotitius, the name of the hill where the garden is located.

Wheeler-Waring planned on traveling more to Switzerland, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands, but her trip was cut short when war was declared in Europe. After being in Europe for three months, she was required to return to the United States. Waring’s trip at the time had very little effect on her career, but it has been remarked as a major influence on her and her work as an artist. Receiving the scholarship gave her the time to evolve as an artist and, as the award was highly regarded, she also gained publicity by it. [4]


Laura graduated from Hartford Public High School in 1906 and studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, graduating in 1914. [2]

Hartford Public High School

Hartford Public High School, in Hartford, Connecticut, was founded in 1638. It is the second-oldest public secondary school in the United States, after the Boston Latin School. It is part of the Hartford Public Schools district.

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts museum and art school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is a museum and art school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was founded in 1805 and is the first and oldest art museum and art school in the United States. The academy's museum is internationally known for its collections of 19th- and 20th-century American paintings, sculptures, and works on paper. Its archives house important materials for the study of American art history, museums, and art training.

Philadelphia Largest city in Pennsylvania, United States

Philadelphia, known colloquially as Philly, is the largest city in the U.S. state and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the sixth-most populous U.S. city, with a 2018 census-estimated population of 1,584,138. Since 1854, the city has been coterminous with Philadelphia County, the most populous county in Pennsylvania and the urban core of the eighth-largest U.S. metropolitan statistical area, with over 6 million residents as of 2017. Philadelphia is also the economic and cultural anchor of the greater Delaware Valley, located along the lower Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, within the Northeast megalopolis. The Delaware Valley's population of 7.2 million ranks it as the eighth-largest combined statistical area in the United States.

Time in Paris (1924–1925)

After the end of the war, Waring returned to Paris in June 1924. Her second trip to Paris was regarded to be a turning point in her style as well as her career. Waring described this time as the most purely art-motivated period in her life, the "only period of uninterrupted life as an artist with an environment and associates that were a constant stimulus and inspiration." [5] For approximately four months, Waring lived in France, absorbing French culture and lifestyle. She began to paint many portraits, and in October enrolled to study at the Académie de la Grande Chaumiére, where she studied painting. Instead of soft, pastel tones she painted a more vibrant and realistic method. Houses at Semur, France (1925), oil on canvas, has been noted by art historians the painting that marked Waring’s change in style. Her use of vivid color, light, and atmosphere in this work is characteristic of the style she established after this trip to Europe and which she continued throughout her career.

Besides a posthumous exhibition at Howard University in 1949, Waring's paintings made in Paris are not believed to have been exhibited and their whereabouts are unknown. In addition to painting, Waring wrote and illustrated a short story with close friend and novelist, Jessie Redmon Fauset. Fauset accompanied Waring throughout her travels in France at this time. Waring wrote the short story, "Dark Algiers and White," for The Crisis magazine of the NAACP, and it was later published. [4]

Personal life

Laura Wheeler married Walter Waring on June 23, 1927. He was from Philadelphia and worked in the public school system as a teacher. When they first married, money was scarce, so they delayed their honeymoon for two years. In 1929, the newlyweds traveled to France, spending more than two months there. They had no children. [4]

Art career

Waring was among the artists displayed in the country's first exhibition of African-American art, held in 1927 by the William E. Harmon Foundation. [6] She was commissioned by the Harmon Foundation to do portraits of prominent African Americans and chose some associated with the Harlem Renaissance. [6] Her work was soon displayed in American institutions, including the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. [7] She currently has portraits in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.


Wheeler-Waring died on February 3, 1948, in her Philadelphia home after a long illness. [7] A year later, Howard University Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. held an exhibition of art in her honor. [8]


Selected portraits

W.E.B. DuBois - NARA - 559200.jpg James Weldon Johnson - NARA - 559201.jpg "Anne Washington Derry" - NARA - 559139.jpg
W. E. B. Du Bois James Weldon Johnson Anna Washington Derry

Further reading

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  1. 1 2 Bontemps, Arna Alexander; Fonvielle-Bontemps, Jacqueline (Spring 1987). "African-American Women Artists: An Historical Perspective". Sage: A Scholarly Journal on Black Women. 4 (1): 17–24.
  2. 1 2 "Laura Wheeler Waring". Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame.
  3. "Abyssinian Congregational Church". Congregational Library & Archives. Retrieved 5 May 2019.
  4. 1 2 3 4 Leininger-Miller, Theresa (Summer 2005). "'A Constant Stimulus and Inspiration': Laura Wheeler Waring in Paris in the 1910s and 1920s". Source: Notes in the History of Art. 24 (4): 13–23. JSTOR   23207946.
  5. Kirschke, Amy Helene (2014-08-04). Women Artists of the Harlem Renaissance. University Press of Mississippi. p. 77. ISBN   9781626742079.
  6. 1 2 Art and Culture: Exploring Freedom/Laura Wheeler Waring, African American World, PBS-WNET
  7. 1 2 Biography: "Laura Wheeler Waring", Black, accessed 28 January 2014
  8. "Laura Wheeler Waring | American artist". Encyclopedia Britannica.
  9. "Anna Washington Derry by Laura Wheeler Waring / American Art".
  10. Thomas, Alma; Fort Wayne Museum of Art (1998). Alma W. Thomas: A Retrospective of the Paintings. Pomegranate. p. 22. ISBN   9780764906862.