Laura Wheeler Waring

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Laura Wheeler Waring
Photo of Laura Wheeler Waring.jpg
Born(1887-05-16)May 16, 1887
DiedFebruary 3, 1948(1948-02-03) (aged 60)
Known forPainter
SpouseWalter E. Waring

Laura Wheeler Waring (May 16, 1887 – February 3, 1948) was an American artist and educator, most renowned for her realistic portraits, landscapes, still-life,[1] and well-known African American portraitures she made during the Harlem Renaissance.[1] She was one of the few African American artists in France, a turning point of her career and profession where she attained widespread attention, exhibited in Paris, won awards,[2] and spent the next 30 years teaching art for more than 30 years at Cheyney University in Pennsylvania.[3]

Early life[edit]

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.[4] Her father was the pastor of Talcott Street Congregational Church, the first all-black church in Connecticut.[3] She came from an educated family with five previous generations of college graduates before her.[3]

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.

While attending Hartford Public High School, Wheeler was recognized for her talent in painting.[3] She later went on to attend Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. In 1914, she graduated from college, and she was granted the A. William Emlen Cresson Memorial Travel Scholarship to study art at the Louvre in Paris.[3] She the first Black woman to receive the award. Ellen Powell Tiberino was awarded the scholarship in 1959.

First time in Paris[edit]

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."[5]

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.[5]

Return to United States[edit]

After she returned from Europe, she continued to work at Cheyney and did so for more than thirty years.[5] There, she founded the school's art and music departments.[3] In her later years at Cheyney, she was the director of the art programs.[5]

Second time in Paris (1924–1925)[edit]

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."[6] 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.[5] During this trip, she exhibited her work in Parisian art galleries for the first time.[3]

In January 1925, Waring traveled to the South of France where she spent four days in Ville-franche-sur-Mer. There she spent her time creating illustrations of short travel stories and figurative pen and ink drawings for the Crisis Magazine. These drawings included an illustration titled Once More We Exchange Adieu, a pen and ink drawing of a African American woman dressed in a modern collard long sleeve dress, with black pumps holding a briefcase waving goodbye to a white woman and child dressed in winter attire. [7]

Waring continued her studies at the Chaumière and stayed in the Villa de Villiers in Neuilly-sur-Seine in the spring of 1925, where she documented her artistic progress. [8]

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.[5]

Later work[edit]

Marian Anderson portrayed (1944).

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.[9] She was commissioned by the Harmon Foundation to do portraits of prominent African Americans and chose some associated with the Harlem Renaissance.[9] Her work was soon displayed in American institutions, including the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.[10] She currently has portraits in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.

In 1931, Waring's illustration appeared in The Crisis; a black and white drawing of a nativity scene with a black Magus admiring the birth of Christ.[11]

In 1944, eight of her portraits were included in the Portraits of Outstanding Americans of Negro Origin.[3] Subjects of her portraits included Marian Anderson, W.E.B. DuBois, James Weldon Johnson, and Mary White Ovington.[3]

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.[5]

Waring graduated from Hartford Public High School in 1906 and studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, graduating in 1914.[3]

She not only participated in national shows but also local ones in the Philadelphia area. She, Allan R. Freelon and Henry B. Jones provided artwork for an exhibition by the Negro Study Club at the Berean School in 1930.[12]

Personal life[edit]

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.[5] Wheeler was known to shun publicity.[3]


Waring died on February 3, 1948, in her Philadelphia home after a long illness.[10] She was interred at Eden Cemetery in Collingdale, Pennsylvania.[13] A year later, Howard University Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. held an exhibition of art in her honor.[14]

Waring's work was included in the 2015 exhibition We Speak: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s-1970s at the Woodmere Art Museum.[15]


Still Life with Tulips and Figurine
  • Heirlooms (watercolor) (1916)[1]
  • Anna Washington Derry (1927)[16]
  • A Dance in the Round (1935)
  • Nude in Relief (1937)
  • Jazz Dancer 1 (1939)[17]
  • Still Life with Tulips and Figurine (ca.1940)
  • Portrait of Alma Thomas (1945)[18]

Selected portraits[edit]

W. E. B. Du Bois by Laura Wheeler Waring.jpg James Weldon Johnson by Laura Wheeler Waring.png Anna Washington Derry by Laura Wheeler Waring.jpg Smithsonian - NPG - Alice Dunbar Nelson - NPG.2016.125.jpg
W. E. B. Du Bois James Weldon Johnson Anna Washington Derry Alice Dunbar Nelson

Selected illustrations[edit]

Once We Exchange Adieu.png
Laura Wheeler Waring Neptivity interpretation.png
"Once We Exchange Adieu." 1925. Drawing after Peter Paul Rubens's

Adoration of the Magi (1626 1627). 1931.

Further reading[edit]

  • Rosenfeld, Michael (2008). African American art : 200 years : 40 distinctive voices reveal the breadth of nineteenth and twentieth century art. New York, NY: Michael Rosenfeld Gallery. ISBN 9781930416437. OCLC 226235431.
  • Farrington, Lisa E. (2011). Creating their own image : the history of African-American women artists (paperback ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0199767601. OCLC 712600445.


  1. ^ a b c Bontemps, Arna Alexander; Fonvielle-Bontemps, Jacqueline (Spring 1987). "African-American Women Artists: An Historical Perspective". Sage. 4 (1): 17–24. OCLC 425778311. ERIC EJ374484. Republished in: Bontemps, Arna Alexander; Fonvielle-Bontemps, Jacqueline (1996). "African-American Women Artists: An Historical Perspective". In Wintz, Cary D. (ed.). Analysis and Assessment, 1980-1994. Taylor & Francis. pp. 443–450. ISBN 978-0-8153-2218-4.
  2. ^ Leininger-Miller, Theresa (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. ISSN 0737-4453.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Laura Wheeler Waring". Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame.
  4. ^ "Abyssinian Congregational Church". Congregational Library & Archives. Retrieved May 5, 2019.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h 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. doi:10.1086/sou.24.4.23207946. JSTOR 23207946. S2CID 191406901.
  6. ^ Kirschke, Amy Helene (August 4, 2014). Women Artists of the Harlem Renaissance. University Press of Mississippi. p. 77. ISBN 9781626742079.
  7. ^ Leininger-Miller, Theresa (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. ISSN 0737-4453.
  8. ^ Leininger-Miller, Theresa (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. ISSN 0737-4453.
  9. ^ a b Art and Culture: Exploring Freedom/Laura Wheeler Waring, African American World, PBS-WNET
  10. ^ a b Mennenga, Lacinda (May 30, 2008), "Laura Wheeler Waring (1887–1948)", Black, accessed January 28, 2014.
  11. ^ Leininger-Miller, Theresa (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. ISSN 0737-4453.
  12. ^ "Mrs. Lawson Speaker At Berean Celebration Of Negro History Week". Philadelphia Tribune. 20 February 1930. p. 5. ProQuest 531000841.
  13. ^ "Historic Eden Cemetery: Preserving Memory and Protecting Legacy". Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Office. 10 February 2021. Retrieved 23 March 2023.
  14. ^ "Laura Wheeler Waring | American artist". Encyclopedia Britannica.
  15. ^ "We Speak: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s-1970s". Woodmere Art Museum. Retrieved 4 June 2022.
  16. ^ "Anna Washington Derry by Laura Wheeler Waring / American Art".
  17. ^ Fonvielle-Bontemps, Jacqueline (1980). forever free: Art by African-American Women 1862-1980. Alexandria Virginia: Stephenson Incorporated.
  18. ^ Thomas, Alma; Fort Wayne Museum of Art (1998). Alma W. Thomas: A Retrospective of the Paintings. Pomegranate. pp. 22. ISBN 9780764906862.

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