Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller

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Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller
Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller in 1910
Born Meta Vaux Warrick
June 9, 1877
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Died March 18, 1968(1968-03-18) (aged 90)
Framingham, Massachusetts, U.S.
Education University of the Arts, College of Art and Design, Académie Colarossi, École des Beaux-Arts
Occupation Sculpture, Painting, Poetry
Movement Harlem Renaissance
Spouse(s) Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller (1909–1953)

[1]Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller (/ˈmtə ˈv/ MEE-tə VOW; born Meta Vaux Warrick, June 9, 1877 – 18 March 1968) was an African-American artist notable for celebrating Afrocentric themes. She was known as a multi-talented artist who wrote poetry, painted, and sculpted. At the turn of the twentieth century, she had achieved a reputation as a well-known sculptor in Paris before returning to the United States. She was a protege of Auguste Rodin, and has been described as "one of the most imaginative Black artists of her generation.[2] Fuller created work with strong social commentary; she made a sculpture of Mary Turner, a young, pregnant black woman who was lynched in Georgia in 1918 the day after protesting the lynching of her husband. Warrick is considered a forerunner of the Harlem Renaissance, a movement among African Americans promoting their literature and art.

Early life[edit]

Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, Ethiopia Awakening, bronze sculpture, 1914
Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, Mary Turner, painted plaster sculpture,1919
Dark Hero, National Archives and Record Administration, College Park, Maryland

Meta Vaux Warrick was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.[3] Her parents were Emma (née Jones) Warrick, a beautician, and William H. Warrick, a barber, both considered influential positions. Barbers especially often had powerful white clients. She was named after Meta Vaux, the daughter of Senator Richard Vaux, one of her mother's customers.[4]

Philadelphia's large black community was socially and intellectually active. Warrick trained in art, music, dance and horseback riding. In the 20th century, thousands of rural blacks came from the South in the Great Migration, stimulating the growth of numerous black organizations and institutions. The rich cultural resources made it possible for middle-class black society to prosper. Education, cultural enrichment, and social activity were encouraged and expected in Warrick's family. She was among the few selected from the Philadelphia public schools to attend J. Liberty Tadd's art school.[3]

Her art education and art influences began at home, as her father was interested in sculpture and painting.[4] 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."[5]


Warrick's career as an artist began after one of her high-school projects was chosen to be included in the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Based upon this work, she won a scholarship to the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art (PMSIA) (now The University of the Arts College of Art and Design) in 1894,[6] where her gift for sculpture emerged. Unwilling to limit herself to traditionally "feminine" themes, she occasionally sculpted pieces influenced by 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.[7] In 1898, she received her diploma and teacher's certificate.[7]

Upon graduation in 1899, she traveled to Paris, France, where she studied with Raphaël Collin,[6][7] working at sculpture at the Académie Colarossi and drawing at the École des Beaux-Arts. Warrick had to deal with racial discrimination at the American Women's Club, where she was refused lodging although she had made reservations before arriving in the city. Painter Henry Ossawa Tanner, a family friend, found lodging for her and introduced her to his circle of friends.

Warrick'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, she 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."[citation needed]


The Danforth Museum, which has a large collection of her works, states that Fuller is "generally considered one of the first African-American female sculptors of importance." She created work of the African-American experience that were revolutionary. They represented art, nature, religion and nation. She is considered part of the Harlem Renaissance, a flourishing of African Americans making art of various genres, literature, plays and poetry.[6]


In Paris, she met American sociologist W.E.B. DuBois, who became a lifelong friend and confidant. He encouraged Warrick to draw from African and African-American themes in her work. By the end of her time in Paris, she was widely known and had had her works exhibited in many galleries.[8] Samuel Bing, patron of Aubrey Beardsley, Mary Cassatt, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, recognized her abilities by sponsoring a one-woman exhibition including Siegfried Bing's Salon de l'Art Nouveau (Maison de l'Art Nouveau).[9][10] In 1903, just before Warrick returned to the United States, two of her works, The Wretched and The Impenitent Thief, were exhibited at the Paris Salon.

United States[edit]

Returning to Philadelphia in 1903, Warrick was shunned by members of the Philadelphia art scene because of her race and because, they said, her art was "domestic." However, this treatment did not prevent Fuller from becoming the first African-American woman to receive a U.S. government commission: she created several dioramas depicting African-American historical events for the Jamestown Tercentennial Exposition. She exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia in 1906, which was a center of art in the city.[11] The display included fourteen dioramas and 130 plaster figures depicting scenes such as slaves arriving in Virginia in 1617 and the home lives of black peoples.[12]

Warrick exhibited again at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1908.[citation needed] In 1910, a fire at a warehouse in Philadelphia, where she kept tools and stored numerous paintings and sculptures, destroyed her tools and the paintings and sculptures she had created and stored from the previous 16 years. The losses were emotionally devastating for her.[2]

Meta Fuller built a studio in the back of her house, something which her husband Dr. Fuller totally opposed. Between domestic duties she sculpted traditional religious scenes. She retained her interest in religious works even though she and her family had been subject to racial discrimination from her neighbors and church parishioners, for which she left the church.[13] Even though she was busy raising three sons, Fuller also worked steadily on her sculptures.[6]

One of her most famous works, Ethiopia, was a sculpture that she created for 'America's Making Exhibition' in 1921. This event was meant to highlight immigrants’ contributions to US artistic society and culture. This sculpture was featured in the exhibition’s “colored section,” and it symbolized a new black identity that was emerging through the Harlem Renaissance. It represented the pride of African Americans in African and black heritage and identity.[14]

Fuller exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 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 Cardinal Cushing Hospital in Framingham.[5]

Warrick Fuller viewed sculpture as a way to personally express oneself. Her work was featured in 1988 in a traveling exhibition in Crocker Art Museum, along with artists Aaron Douglas, Palmer C. Hayden and James Van Der Zee.[15] Her work was also featured in a traveling exhibition called “Three Generations of African American Women Sculptors: A Study in Paradox,” in Georgia in 1998.[16]


Her poem "Departure" was included in the 1991 collection, Now is Your Time! The African-American Struggle for Freedom.[17]

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.

Marriage and family[edit]

In 1907, Warrick married a prominent physician, Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller.[2] Of Liberian birth, Dr. Fuller was one of the first black psychiatrists in the United States. When they married, he was on staff in the pathology department at Westborough State Hospital in Westborough, Massachusetts. The couple settled in Framingham, Massachusetts, in 1910 and had three sons.[6][13]

White neighbors resented the black family. They tried to remove them via petition and isolated them from neighborhood affairs. She left her church having been subject to racial bigotry of the parishioners. Dr. Fuller died in 1953.[11][13] Her son Robert Fuller has worked as a teacher at Framingham High School.


Danforth Museum has a large collection of Fuller's sculptures. Many were exhibited in a solo retrospective show of her work from November 2008 to May 2009.[6]

  • Bacchante, painted plaster sculpture, 1930[18]
  • Ethiopia, bronze sculpture, greenish-black patina, c. 1930[18]
  • Ethiopia Awakening, bronze sculpture, 1914[18]
  • Emancipation, in plaster, 1913; in bronze, 1999.[19] Featured on the Boston Women's Heritage Trail.[20]
  • Henry Gilbert, painted plaster sculpture, 1928[18]
  • Jason, painted plaster sculpture, Danfort Museum[6][18]
  • Les Miserables, bronze sculpture, Maryhill Museum of Art, Goldendale, Washington[18]
  • Lazy Bones in the Shade, sculpture, c. 1937[18]
  • Man Eating Out His Heart, painted plaster sculpture, 1905-1906. It represents a kneeling male nude eating his heart.[18]
  • Mary Turner (A Silent Protest Against Mob Violence), painted plaster sculpture, 1919, Museum of Afro-American History, Boston, Massachusetts[18]
  • Mother and Child, cast bronze sculpture, 1962, Massachusetts Institute of Technology[18]
  • Phyllis Wheatley (c. 1753-1784), painted plaster sculpture, c. 1925. It was made based upon an engraving published in 1773[18]
  • Refugee, sculpture, c. 1940. Hunched male figure with a cane in his hand[18]
  • Talking Skull, bronze sculpture, 1937, Museum of Afro-American History, Boston, Massachusetts. Kneeling male figure facing a skull[18]
  • The Good Shepherd, painted plaster sculpture, c. 1926-1927[18]
  • Waterboy, sculpture, 1930[18]


A woman of deep religious faith, Fuller created at least one piece of religious art annually. At various times, she was a literary sculptor, at others a creator of portrait art - which she studied under Charles Grafly 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 United States.[21]

Fuller is known for sculpture that depicts crises 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 a mummy's wrappings, 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. Other artistic responses to Turner's murder included a short story, "Goldie," by Warrick Fuller's contemporary Angelina Weld Grimké.[22] [23] Talking Skull explored issues of life and death within the context of an African folktale.[citation needed]

Fuller continued to exhibit her work until her last show (1961) at Howard University (Washington, D.C.) in 1961.[11]

Awards and honors[edit]

  • Fuller received numerous awards for her work.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "American National Biography Online: Fuller, Meta Vaux Warrick". Retrieved 2017-03-11. 
  2. ^ a b c Arna Alexander Bontemps and Jacqueline Fonvielle-Bontemps (eds.), eds. (2001). "African-American Women Artists: An Historical Perspective". Black feminist cultural criticism. Keyworks in Cultural Studies. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell. pp. 133–137. ISBN 0631222391.  The editors compare Warrick with her contemporary, May Howard Jackson, another African-American sculptor from Philadelphia, who was also born in 1877.
  3. ^ a b Kerr, Judith Nina (1 January 1986), God-Given Work: The Life and Times of Sculptor Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, 1877-1968 Pennsylvania, Proquest, AAI8701179 
  4. ^ a b Sicherman, Barbara; Green, Carol Hurd (1980), Notable American Women: The Modern Period; a Biographical Dictionary, Harvard University Press, p. 255, ISBN 978-0-674-62733-8 
  5. ^ a b West, Sandra L. (2003), Fuller, Meta V. Warrick, Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance, New York: Facts On File, retrieved 28 March 2014 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Meta Warrick Fuller : Sculptures from the Studio. Danforth Museum of Art. 11 May 2014.
  7. ^ a b c Leininger-Miller, Theresa A. (2001), New Negro Artists in Paris: African American Painters and Sculptors in the City of Light, 1922-1934, Rutgers University Press, p. 9 
  8. ^ A Harlem Showcase for Black Art, New York Times, Associated Press, 1923, p. C25 
  9. ^ "Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller". Bridgewater State College Hall of Black Achievement. 2005-11-17. Retrieved 2008-03-30. 
  10. ^ Thorp, Nigel (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. 
  11. ^ 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. 
  12. ^ Manning, Patrick (2009). The African Diaspora: A History Through Culture. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 211. ISBN 978-0-231-14471-1. 
  13. ^ a b c "Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller (1877-1968)". Uncrowned Queens. Retrieved 2008-03-30. 
  14. ^ Ater, Renée (2003). "Making History: Meta Warrick Fuller's "Ethiopia".". American Art. 17 (3): 12–31. JSTOR 1215807. 
  15. ^ Van Proyen, Mark (1988). "Trail Blazers in Harlem". Artweek. 19 (1). 
  16. ^ Wilson, H.W. (1998). "African American Women Sculptors". American Art Review. 10: 162–165. 
  17. ^ Walter Dean Myers , Now Is Your Time! the African-American struggle for freedom, 1991
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Meta Warrick Fuller. SIRIS database search. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 11 May 2014.
  19. ^ "Emancipation » Public Art Boston". Retrieved 2016-04-01. 
  20. ^ "South End". Boston Women's Heritage Trail. 
  21. ^ Crisis, XXXII, 6 (October, 1926), 246.
  22. ^ Herron, Carolivia (1991)("The Introduction" to The Selected Works of Angelina Weld Grimké
  23. ^ Armstrong, Julie Buckner (2008). "The People... Took Exception to Her Remarks': Meta Warrick Fuller, Angelina Weld Grimke, and the Lynching of Mary Turner". The Mississippi Quarterly. 

Further reading[edit]