Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller

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Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller
Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller in 1919
Born Meta Vaux Warrick
June 9, 1877
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Died March 18, 1968(1968-03-18) (aged 90)
Framingham, Massachusetts, U.S.
Political movement
Black Renaissance
Spouse(s) Solomon Carter Fuller (1909–1953)

Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller (/ˈmtə ˈv/ MEE-tə VOW; June 9, 1877 – March 18, 1968) was an African-American artist, notable as the first to make art celebrating Afrocentric themes. A multi-talented artist who created poetry and paintings, and at the turn of the century was a celebrated sculptor in Paris before her return to the United States.[1] Fuller created emotion-packed work with strong social commentary of deep anguish and solitude that characterized her life , and became a forerunner of the Black Renaissance, a movement promoting African-American art.

Early life[edit]

Meta Vaux Warrick was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,into a black elite family in a city whose black community was socially and intellectually active and trained her in art, music, dance and horseback riding. The city's fast-growing black population, increasing numbers of black organizations and institutions, and rich cultural resources made it possible for a middle-class black society to prosper. Education, cultural enrichment, and social activity were encouraged and expected. She was among the fortunate few selected from the Philadelphia public schools to attend J. Liberty Tadd's art school.[2] Her career as an artist began after one of her high-school projects was chosen to be included in the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. Based upon this work, she won a scholarship to the Pennsylvania Museum & School of Industrial Art (PMSIA), now The University of the Arts College of Art and Design, in 1894, where her gift for sculpture emerged. Unwilling to limit herself to tradi-tionally "feminine" themes, she occasionally adopted the gruesome imagery of fin de siecle Symbolist literature and painting—a choice that represented a rare act of independence on the part of a woman artist.[3] In 1898, she received her diploma and teacher's certificate. Upon graduation in 1899, she traveled to Paris, France, where she studied with Raphaël Collin,[4] at the Académie Colarossi (sculpture,) and at the École des Beaux-Arts (drawing.)There, Warrick ran head-on into racial discrimination at the American Women's Club, where even though she had made reservations she was refused lodging. Painter Henry Ossawa Tanner, a family friend, found lodging for her and introduced her to his circle of friends. Fuller's work grew stronger in Paris, where she studied until 1902. Influenced by the conceptual realism of Auguste Rodin, she became so adept at depicting sensitively the spirituality of human suffering that the French press named her "the delicate sculptor of horrors." In 1902, Fuller became the protege of Rodin.Of her plaster sketch entitled Man Eating His Heart, Rodin remarked, "My child, you are a sculptor; you have the sense of form in your fingers."[5] Another friend met in Paris, and one who evolved into a lifelong confidant, was intellectual W. E. B. DuBois, later noted for his editorship of the magazine Crisis: A Record of the Darker Races. DuBois, a Pan-Africanist, encouraged Warrick to utilize African and African-American themes in her work. By the end of her career in Paris, she had her works exhibited in many galleries.Samuel Bing, patron of such innovators as Aubrey Beardsley, Mary Cassatt, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, also recognized her abilities by sponsoring a one-woman exhibition including Siegfried Bing's Salon de l'Art Nouveau (Maison de l'Art Nouveau).[6][7] In 1903, just before Warrick returned to the United States, two of her works, The Wretched and The Impenitent Thief, exhibited at the Salon in Paris.

Later life[edit]

Returning to Philadelphia in 1903, she was shunned by members of the Philadelphia art scene because of her race and because, they said, it was "domestic.". However, this treatment did not prevent Fuller from becoming the first African-American woman to receive a U.S. government commission when she was commissioned to create several dioramas depicting African-American historical events for the Jamestown Tercentennial Exposition and she exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1906.[8]

Fuller again exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1908 and 1920. In 1922, she showed at the Boston Public Library, and her work was included in an exhibition for the Tanner League held in the studios of Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C. The federal commissions kept her employed, but she was neither encouraged nor nurtured, as she had been in Paris where her artistic genius was exalted. Moreover, a suspicious fire in 1910 destroyed the warehouse in which was housed most of the work she had created for 16 years. Fuller was, at that point in her life, financially dependent upon her family, socially detached from African-American contacts, and desolate about her career.

Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller died on March 13, 1968, at Cushing Hospital in Framingham.[9]


Fuller's home in Philadelphia, at the corner of 12th and Manning, in Center City

Meta Vaux Warrick was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on June 9, 1877. Her mother, Emma Jones Warrick, was a beautician. Her father, William H. Warrick, was a barber and caterer. Warrick's unusual middle name came from one of her mother's beauty salon customers. Mrs. Vaux, an upper-class white woman, was the daughter of Senator Richard Vaux and suggested that the latest Warrick child be named after her family. With middle-class domestic surroundings and the name of a well-heeled political white family, Meta Vaux Warrick was groomed to be a proper, sheltered, Victorian gentlewoman. Her art education and art influences began at home. Her older sister, who later became a beautician like her mother, had an interest in art and kept clay that Meta was able to play with. Her brother and grandfather entertained and fascinated her with endless horror stories. These influences partly shaped her sculpture as she eventually progressed into an internationally trained artist known as "the sculptor of horrors."[9] In 1907, Warrick married Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller. Of Liberian birth, Dr. Fuller became the first black psychiatrist in the world. When they married, he was on staff in the pathology department at Westboro State Hospital in Massachusetts. The couple settled in Framingham, Massachusetts, in 1910. That same year, a fire at a warehouse in Philadelphia destroyed her tools and the paintings and sculptures she had created over the previous sixteen years. Emotionally devastated by the loss, Fuller turned her energies towards her family and had three sons. White neighbors resented the presence of the black family, tried to remove them via petition, and isolated them from neighborhood affairs. Meta Fuller built a studio in the back of her house, something Dr. Fuller was totally against, and in between domestic duties sculpted less powerful, traditional religious scenes, even though she was estranged from her church due to the racial bigotry of Parishioners. Dr. Fuller lost his eyesight and died in 1953.[8][10]

Currently, her son Robert Fuller is a teacher at Framingham High School.


A woman of deep religious faith who believed her artistic gifts to be God-given, she created at least one piece of religious art a year in thanks. At various times, she was a literary sculptor, at others a creator of portrait art (which she studied under Charles Grafley at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts). Although she declared that she could not specialize in African-^ American types, Fuller became one of the most effective chroniclers of the black experience within the context of the American experience.[11] Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller is best known for sculpture that depicts the horrors and sadness of African-American life. These include: Ethiopia Awakening (1914), Mary Turner: A Silent Protest Against Mob Violence (1919), and Talking Skull (1937). Ethiopia Awakening, drawn from Egyptian sculptural concepts, is an academic sculpture of an African woman emerging from mummy's bandages, like a chrysalis from a cocoon, represented her statement on black consciousness in Africa and in the United States. Mary Turner was her response to the lynching of a black woman from Valdosta, Georgia. And Talking Skull explored issues of life and death within the context of an African folktale.

There is a middle school (Fuller Middle School) named after her and her husband located in Framingham, Massachusetts. That school was formerly the Framingham South High School but was converted to its current use when Framingham South and North High Schools merged in 1991. The School's History reads: "The Fuller Middle School was established in September of 1994. The school is named in honor of Dr. Solomon Fuller, a psychiatrist, and his wife Meta Fuller, a sculptor. The Fullers, a pioneering African-American family, lived on Warren Road near the current location of the Fuller Middle School during the early part of the twentiethcentury. Dr. and Mrs. Fuller were leaders in their professions and in the Framingham Community during their lives. The roles they played during their lifetimes serve as models for the students of the school named in their memory." [12]

Winning numerous awards for her work over her lifetime, Fuller continued to exhibit her work until her last show at Howard University (Washington, D.C.) in 1961.[8]



The time is near (reluctance laid aside)
  I see the barque afloat upon the ebbing tide
While on the shores my friends and loved ones stand.
  I wave to them a cheerful parting hand,
Then take my place with Charon at the helm,
  And turn and wave again to them.
Oh, may the voyage not be arduous nor long,
  But echoing with chant and joyful song,
May I behold with reverence and grace,
  The wondrous vision of the Master's face.

- excerpted from Now Is Your Time! the African-American struggle for freedom, Walter Dean Myers 1991

See also[edit]



  1. ^ A Harlem Showcase for Black Art By The Associated Press New York Times (1923-Current file); Aug 27, 1987; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2009) pg. C25
  2. ^ JUDITH NINA KERR, "GOD-GIVEN WORK: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF SCULPTOR META VAUX WARRICK FULLER, 1877-1968 (PENNSYLVANIA)" (January 1, 1986). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. Paper AAI8701179.
  3. ^ . From 1895 to 1899, she studied at the Pennsylvania Museum School of the Industrial Arts, where her gift for sculpture emerged. Unwilling to limit herself to tradi-tionally "feminine" themes, she occasionally adopted the gruesome imagery of fin de siecle Symbolist literature and painting--a choice that represented a rare act of independence on the part of a woman artist.
  4. ^ Theresa A. Leininger-Miller, New Negro Artists in Paris: African American Painters and Sculptors in the City of Light, 1922-1934, Rutgers University Press, 2001, p. 9.
  5. ^ Of her plaster sketch entitled Man Eating His Heart, Rodin remarked, "My child, you are a sculptor; you have the sense of form in your fingers."
  6. ^ "Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller". Bridgewater State College Hall of Black Achievement. 2005-11-17. Retrieved 2008-03-30. 
  7. ^ Prof. Nigel Thorp, Project Director (2007-05-08). "Siegfried Bing, 1838-1905". The James McNeill Whistler project at the University of Glasgow. Archived from the original on 2008-01-02. Retrieved 2008-03-30. 
  8. ^ a b c "Meta V.W. Fuller, sculptor of Black themes.". The African-American Registry. 2005-06-09. Archived from the original on 2008-03-17. Retrieved 2008-03-29. 
  9. ^ a b West, Sandra L. "Fuller, Meta V. Warrick." In Aberjhani, and Sandra L. West. Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2003. African-American History Online. Facts On File, Inc. ItemID=WE01&iPin=EHR0130&SingleRecord=True (accessed March 28, 2014).
  10. ^ "Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller (1877-1968)". Uncrowned Queens. Retrieved 2008-03-30. 
  11. ^ Crisis, XXXII, 6(October, 1926), 246.
  12. ^

Further reading[edit]

  • Rhapsodies in Black: Art of the Harlem Renaissance (1997) by Richard J. Powell and David A. Bailey
  • Harlem Renaissance: Art of Black America (1994) by Mary Schmidt Campbell
  • 250 years of Afro-American Art: An Annotated Bibliography by Lynn Moody Igoe with James Igoe. New York: Bowker, 1981.
  • An Independent Woman: The Life and Art of Meta Warrick Fuller (1877-1968) (exhibition catalogue). Framingham, MA: Danforth Museum of Art. [1984]. 
  • Ater, Renée (2011). Remaking Race and History: The Sculpture of Meta Warrick Fuller. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 9780520262126. 
  • Perkins, Kathy A. (1990). "The Genius of Meta Warrick Fuller". Black American Literature Forum 24 (1): 65–72. Focuses on Fuller's designs for theater.