Maria Howard Weeden

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Maria Howard Weeden
Portrait of Maria Howard Weeden.jpg
Born(1846-07-06)July 6, 1846
DiedApril 12, 1905(1905-04-12) (aged 58)
Huntsville, Alabama, U.S.
Resting place Maple Hill Cemetery
Education Tuskegee Women's College
OccupationPainter, poet
Known forArt and poetry

Maria Howard Weeden (July 6, 1846 – April 12, 1905), who signed her work and published as Howard Weeden, was an American artist and poet based in Huntsville, Alabama. After the American Civil War, she began to sell works she painted, which included portraits of many African-American freedmen and freedwomen. She exhibited her work in Berlin and Paris in 1895, where it was well received. She published four books of her poetry from 1898 to 1904, illustrated with her own art. She was posthumously inducted into the Alabama Women's Hall of Fame in 1998.


Early life

Weeden was born July 6, 1846 in Huntsville, Alabama, six months after the death of her father, Dr. William Weeden, who had also been a prosperous planter. Her mother was his second wife, the former widow Jane (née Urquhart) Watkins. Weeden and her five older siblings were raised by their mother in the Weeden House in Huntsville. [1]

During the Civil War, the Union Army took over their house for use by its officers when it occupied the city in 1862. The family first moved to the slave quarters. [2] When Jane, one of the older Weeden daughters, was attending college in Tuskegee, Alabama, the mother moved the rest of the family there. Maria Weeden also attended the same school, Tuskegee Female College during the war years. [2] [3] (It later became known as Huntingdon College.) She had written poetry and painted since childhood, and at college studied with painter William Frye. [4]

After returning to Huntsville, Weeden began to paint cards, booklets, dinner cards, and small gifts to sell to help her family. Some were watercolors of flowers and landscapes. She also taught art classes. [3] [5] [6]


A portrait by Weeden accompanying a poem in Shadows on the Wall (1898) "Beaten Biscuit" illustration - Howard Weeden, Shadows on the Wall.tif
A portrait by Weeden accompanying a poem in Shadows on the Wall (1898)

In 1893 Weeden attended the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, where she was dismayed by other artists whose works featuring freedmen and freedwomen showed them in the caricature style of minstrel shows. She returned to Huntsville determined to express the full humanity and dignity of freedmen. Her images included pictures of many freed African Americans who worked as servants for her and friends' families. [3] While she painted, she listened to their accounts of their lives and of folktales, and later adapted some of these as poems, which she wrote in the black dialect. [3] She also painted a portrait of Saint Bartley Harris, a prominent African American pastor in Huntsville, Alabama [7] .

In the 1890s, Joseph Edwin Washington and his wife Mary Bolling Kemp Washington, who owned the Wessyngton Plantation in Robertson County, Tennessee, commissioned Weeden to make portraits of several of their African-American servants, who had stayed to work for them as freedmen after emancipation. These works were about 5" x7" in size, and some were completed in pastels. [8] Weeden's near-sightedness was said to have contributed to her making closely detailed portraits having a "miniature like finish." [5] It is also thought that she may have worked from photographs of subjects. [8]

In 1895, Weeden exhibited several portraits of African-American freedmen and freedwomen in Berlin and Paris, where they were well received. [3] Her paintings were praised by writers Joel Chandler Harris and Thomas Nelson Page, [6] and Harris wrote the foreword to her book Bandanna Ballads (1899). [2]

Weeden also wrote poetry, and she combined both poetry and art in her four books published between 1898 and 1904. [5] Some of her poems were written in the black dialect, now known as African-American English, as she was inspired by stories and folktales told to her by her subjects when they were sitting for portraits. [3]

Between 1866 and 1896, Weeden also had contributed numerous essays and short stories to the Presbyterian Christian Observer, under the pseudonym of "Flake White." These were collected and reprinted in 2005. [9] [10]

Personal life and death

Weeden never married. She and her unmarried sister Kate both lived in the Weeden House as adults. [2] Weeden died of tuberculosis at age 59 on April 12, 1905 in Huntsville. [3] [6] [2] In 1998 Weeden was posthumously inducted into the Alabama Women's Hall of Fame. [11]


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  1. Timberlake, Stephanie (April 21, 2011). "Maria Howard Weeden". Encyclopedia of Alabama. Retrieved June 2, 2019.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Associated Press (August 27, 2000). "City renews bond with historic home". Pensacola News Journal. Pensacola, Florida. p. 40. Retrieved June 3, 2019 via
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Timberlake, Stephanie (2019). Knight, Elliot A. (ed.). Alabama Creates: 200 Years of Art and Artists. Tuscaloosa, Alabama: University of Alabama Press. pp. 49–50. ISBN   9780817320102. OCLC   1049578394.
  4. "Maria Howard Weeden (1846-1905)". Alabama Women's Hall of Fame. 2005. Retrieved July 6, 2019.
  5. 1 2 3 "Miss Howard Weeden. Her Funeral Will Take Place This Afternoon. Daughters of the Confederacy Will attend in a body -- Was Well Known in Nashville". The Morning Mercury. Huntsville, Alabama. April 13, 1905. p. 5. Retrieved June 2, 2019 via
  6. 1 2 3 "The Artist and Poet, Miss Howard Weeden". The Florence Herald. Florence, Alabama. May 5, 1905. pp. 2–3. Retrieved June 2, 2019 via
  7. Reeves, Robert. "Saint Bartley, The Man and The Church". WHNT News. WHNT. Retrieved October 22, 2019.
  8. 1 2 Baker, John F. (2010). The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation: Stories of My Family's Journey to Freedom. New York: Atria Books. p. 327. ISBN   9781416567417. OCLC   424555333.
  9. Howard Weeden, Maria (2005). Huff Fisk, Sarah; Wright Riley, Linda (eds.). Lost Writings of Howard Weeden as "Flake White". Huntsville, Alabama: Big Spring Press. ISBN   9780976583608. OCLC   60669383.
  10. Frear, Sarah S. (April 2007). "Lost Writings of Howard Weeden as "Flake White." (review)". Alabama Review. 60 (2): 146–148. doi:10.1353/ala.2007.0028.
  11. "Alphabetical List of Inductees". Alabama Women's Hall of Fame. 2005. Retrieved July 6, 2019.

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