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Laura Waring

 (1887 - 1948)
Laura Wheeler Waring was active/lived in Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut.  Laura Waring is known for portrait-Black American, still life.

Laura Waring

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Laura Waring
In a time when African-American women were a silent force in American arts, Laura Wheeler Waring stepped out from the pew at her father's Hartford church and quietly set standards for dignity in portraiture. Of her work, it was written: "Her portraits from the 1920s extend the bravura brush strokes and haughty poses of American painter John Singer Sargent using African-American subjects". (Taha) Her subjects included historian W.E.B. DuBois and artist Alma Thomas.

In an era when few African-American women attended school, Waring finished high school and college, and traveled extensively in Europe, although that was not a comfortable time for black women to be traveling in Europe.

She returned to America to start an arts department in a traditionally black college.

Waring was a quiet but forceful voice among painters during the Harlem Renaissance with her realistic and serene portraits of African Americans. "She was a formidable portrait artist," said Deidre Bibby, executive director of the Amistad Foundation and curator of African-American art at the Wadsworth Atheneum. "She was absolutely fantastic. Her work goes beyond the sheer representation. Her work achieves the essence of the individual she portrays."

While the rest of the art world was watching that tiny portion of New York for its music, art and literature, Waring fit in perfectly with the likes of poet Langston Hughes, writer Zora Neale Hurston and actor Charles Gilpin. Her work and the work of other African-American artists introduced -- often for the first time -- the music and literature that had traditionally been segregated to the South. And the rest of the world embraced it, the music of Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton, and the art of Waring and W.H. Johnson and Lois Mailou Jones.

Born in Hartford in 1887, Waring was the daughter of college-educated Reverend Robert Wheeler, who had for two years been pastor of the Talcott Street Congregational Church, home of Connecticut's first black congregation. Originally called the African Religious Society, the members built their church in 1826, and housed fugitive slaves there before the end of the Civil War. The church began operating a public school in 1829, and it was the only place in the city where black children could learn to read and write. They also learned their African history, a novel idea at a time when most black children were not being taught to read at all.

Awash in that illustrious past, young Waring thrived in an uncommon exposure to her people's culture and history.

She graduated from Hartford High School in 1906, and spent several years at the prestigious Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, which upon her graduation in 1914, awarded Waring a Cresson Traveling scholarship to study in Europe. In the interim, she attended the Harvard University Summer School, Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1918, and the Columbia University Summer School, New York in 1920. Then, for a year starting in 1924, she studied at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere, a popular Paris workshop/studio.

There, she was exposed to Expressionism and what were known as the Romantics, which includes elements of Expressionism but is unrestrained in regard to structure and treatment of forms. The Romantics were dominant in France in the 1920s, and Waring's work uses some of the same techniques of light and color blending, but her work remains particularly, grittily American.

In 1928, she was among the artists displayed in the country's first all African-American art exhibit held by the Harmon Foundation, which 16 years later selected Waring to paint portraits of outstanding Americans. She made several more trips to study in Europe, but her main focus on returning home in the late 1920s was to make art education available to black students at the historically black Cheyney State Teachers College in Pennsylvania, now Cheyney University. There, she organized and directed both the music and art departments until her death in 1948.

Her other work is noteworthy, but she is best remembered for her portraits, many of them of notable black people such as W.E.B. DuBois, Marian Anderson and James Weldon Johnson, as well as the lesser-known Anne Washington Derry and a portrait called "Frankie," also known as "Portrait of a Child."

Exhibitions of Laura Wheeler Waring's work include the Galerie du Luxembourg, Paris, 1929; Howard University, Washington, D.C., 1940, 1949; National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., 1944, 1997; Brooklyn Museum, New York, 1945; and the Newark Museum, New Jersey, 1989

Halima Taha, "Collecting African-American Art"

Biography from the Archives of askART
Biography photo for Laura Waring
Born in New York on Aug. 30, 1877. Wheeler moved to Riverside, CA in 1932. She worked there as a secretary while painting in her leisure. A spinster, she died in Riverside on May 26, 1958. Exh: Riverside AA, 1941.

Edan Hughes, author of the book "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Death Record

Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

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About  Laura Waring

Born:  1887 - Hartford, Connecticut
Died:   1948
Known for:  portrait-Black American, still life

Essays referring to
Laura Waring

Black American Artists