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Fuller, Meta Vaux Warrick

Fuller, Meta Vaux Warrick

June 9, 1877
March 18, 1968


Named for one of her mother's clients (Meta, daughter of Pennsylvania senator Richard Vaux), sculptor Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller was born in Philadelphia, the youngest of three children of William and Emma (Jones) Warrick, prosperous hairstylists. She enjoyed a privileged childhood, with dancing and horseback-riding lessons. While attending Philadelphia public schools, Fuller took weekly courses at J. Liberty Tadd, an industrial arts school. At eighteen she won a three-year scholarship to the Pennsylvania Museum and School for Industrial Art. In 1898 she graduated with honors, a prize in metalwork for her Crucifix of Christ in Anguish, and a one-year graduate scholarship. The following year she was awarded the Crozer (first) Prize in sculpture for Procession of the Arts and Crafts, a terra-cotta bas-relief of thirty-seven medieval costumed figures.

From 1899 to 1903 Fuller studied in Paris, at first privately with Raphael Collin, and then at the Colarossi Academy. Among her supporters in France were expatriate painter Henry O. Tanner and philosopher W. E. B. Du Bois, who encouraged her to depict her racial heritage. Fuller produced clay, painted-plaster, and bronze figurative works based on Egyptian history, Greek myths, French literature, and the Bible.

In 1901, sculptor Auguste Rodin praised Fuller's clay piece Secret Sorrow (or Man Eating His Heart ). With his sponsorship, Fuller began to receive wider notice. Art dealer Samuel Bing exhibited twenty-two of her sculptures at his L'Art Nouveau Gallery in June 1902. The Wretched, a bronze group of seven figures suffering physical and mental disabilities (as well as other macabre pieces, such as Carrying the Dead Body and Oedipus, in the latter of which the figure is blinding himself), earned Fuller the title "delicate sculptor of horrors" from the French press. She later enlarged a plaster model of The Impenitent Thief, which she had shown at Bing's gallery. Although she never finished the piece, Rodin saw that it was exhibited at the prestigious Société National des Beaux Arts Salon in April 1903.

Upon her return to Philadelphia, Fuller established a studio on South Camac Street in a flourishing artistic neighborhood. Her sculptures were exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1906, 1908, 1920, and 1928. In 1907 the Jamestown Tercentennial Exposition commissioned Fuller to create fifteen tableaux of twenty-four-inch-high plaster figures depicting African-American progress since the Jamestown settlement in 1607. She received a gold medal for The Warrick Tableaux, a ten-footby-ten-foot diorama.

The artist's career slowed considerably after her marriage in 1909 to the Liberian neurologist Solomon C. Fuller and a fire in 1910 that destroyed the bulk of her work in storage. By 1911 Fuller was the devoted mother of two sons (the last was born in 1916), an active member of Saint Andrew's Episcopal Church, and host to prominent guests who frequently visited the family in the quiet town of Framingham, Massachusetts.

Fuller began to sculpt again in 1913 when Du Bois commissioned a piece for New York State's celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. The Spirit of Emancipation represented Humanity weeping for her freed children (a man and woman) as Fate tried to hold them back. Positive public response promoted Fuller to continue working. In 1914 the Boston Public Library

exhibited twenty-two of her recent works. Among the numerous requests and awards that followed from African-American and women's groups were a plaster medallion commissioned by the Framingham Equal Suffrage League (1915); a plaster group, Peace Halting the Ruthlessness of War (for which she received second prize from the Massachusetts branch of the Women's Peace Party in 1917); and a portrait relief of the NAACP's first president, Moorfield Storey, commissioned by Du Bois in 1922. The same year, the New York Making of America Exposition displayed Fuller's Ethiopia Awakening, a one-foot-high bronze sculpture of a woman shedding mummy cloths. This Pan-Africanist work symbolized the strength of womanhood, the emergence of nationhood, and the birth of what Alain Locke would call three years later the "New Negro." One of Fuller's most poignant works, Mary Turner: A Silent Protest Against Mob Violence (1919), commemorates both the silent parade of ten thousand black New Yorkers against lynching in 1917 and the lynching of a Georgian woman and her unborn child in 1918. Fuller never finished the piece because she believed northerners would find it too inflammatory and southerners would not accept it. She created numerous other works that depicted symbolic and actual African and African-American culture, including her celebrated Talking Skull (1937), based on an African fable. She also produced portrait busts of friends, family members, and African-American abolitionists and other black leaders, such as educator Charlotte Hawkins Brown, composer Samuel Coleridge Taylor, and Menelik II of Abyssinia. The Harmon Foundation exhibited Fuller's work in 1931 and 1933. She later served as a Harmon juror.

Fuller participated in numerous local organizations; she was a member of the Boston Art Club, an honorary member of the Business and Professional Women's Club, chair of the Framingham Women's Club art committee, and the only African-American president of Zonta, a women's service club. Additionally, she designed costumes for theatrical groups and produced "living pictures": recreations of artistic masterpieces with actors, costumes, sets, and lighting.

In the 1940s Fuller's husband went blind and became increasingly ill. She nursed him until his death in 1953, then contracted tuberculosis herself and stayed at the Middlesex County Sanatorium for two years. She wrote poetry there, too frail to create more than a few small sculptures.

By 1957 Fuller was strong enough to continue her work. She produced models of ten notable African-American women for the Afro-American Women's Council in Washington, D.C. She also created a number of sculptures for her community, including several religious pieces for Saint Andrew's Church, a plaque for the Framingham Union Hospital, and the bronze Storytime for the Framingham Public Library. For her achievements, Livingstone College (her husband's alma mater) awarded her an honorary doctorate of letters in 1962, and Framingham posthumously dedicated a public park in the honor of Meta and Solomon Fuller in 1973. Since then, Fuller's sculptures have been included in numerous exhibitions.

See also Du Bois, W. E. B.; Painting and Sculpture; Tanner, Henry Ossawa

Bibliography

Gordon, Joy L., and Harriet Forte Kennedy. An Independent Woman: The Life and Art of Meta Warrick Fuller. Framingham, Mass.: Danforth Museum, 1985.

Kerr, Judith Nina. "God-Given Work: The Life and Times of Sculptor Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, 18771968." Ph.D. diss., University of Massachusetts, Amherst, 1986.

theresa leininger-miller (1996)

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