Waring, Laura Wheeler (1887-1948)

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Waring, Laura Wheeler (1887–1948)

African-American artist and educator . Born in 1887 in Hartford, Connecticut; died on February 3, 1948; daughter of Robert Foster Wheeler (a minister) and Mary (Freeman) Wheeler ; attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts; attended the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris; married Walter E. Waring.

Laura Wheeler Waring was born in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1887, into a progressive and prominent African-American family. Her father Robert Foster Wheeler graduated from Howard University's theology school and served as minister of the Talcott Street Congregational Church. Waring was a bright student and a gifted artist. Her early education in Hartford included Arsenal Grade School and the Hartford High School. Her artistic talents then drew her to Philadelphia where she enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in September 1906. Displaying originality and mastery in her technique, Waring was awarded the Cresson Travel Scholarship in 1914, which enabled her to journey to many Western European countries to further her studies. Her early works reflect the scenes she witnessed during her first trips to such capitals as London, Dublin, Paris, and Rome. With the onset of World War I, she returned to America and completed her studies in Philadelphia.

Waring became director of the art and music departments at Cheyney State Teachers College, remaining there for three decades and influencing hundreds of students. During this tenure, she produced many of her best-known portraits, including those of Leslie Pickney Hill, president emeritus of Cheyney, and numerous trustees and faculty. Although well known for her portraits, Waring also produced excellent landscapes of Chester and Delaware County, Pennsylvania. According to Notable Black American Women, she developed a style in these works that combined impressionism and academicism. In 1924, Waring again traveled to Paris, where she enrolled in the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. Here, she was influenced by the French masters Boutet de Monvel and Eugène Delécluse. She also visited Italy and North Africa.

Waring began to enjoy increased recognition, and in 1926 she was the official in charge of the Negro Art section at the Sesquicentennial Exposition in Philadelphia. In 1927, she performed a similar function at the Texas Centennial Exposition. That same year, she won a gold medal in the annual Harmon Foundation Salon. Waring was also invited to exhibit in well-known galleries, such as the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Carlen Galleries, the National Collection of Arts, the Corcoran Gallery, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Brooklyn Museum, and Howard University. She made a third and final trip abroad, where she held a one-woman show at the Galerie du Luxembourg in Paris.

Known primarily as a portrait painter, Waring was praised for her use of color, her vivid imagination, and a steady strength of line. Her work is especially significant for having preserved the images of many distinguished African-Americans who were instrumental in securing freedom in America, in particular such great personalities as W.E.B. Du Bois, John Haynes Holmes, Marian Anderson , and Jessie Redmon Fauset . In 1946, two years before her death, Waring began a series of religious paintings depicting her understanding of the Negro spiritual, including Jacob's Ladder, The Coming of the Lord, and Heaven, Heaven.


Rubinstein, Charlotte Streifer. American Women Artists. NY: Avon, 1982.

Smith, Jessie Carney, ed. Notable Black American Women. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1992.

Judith C. Reveal , freelance writer, Greensboro, Maryland