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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Laura Wheeler Waring

Still Life with Heather, 1927, Laura Wheeler Waring
Laura Wheeler Waring
Sometimes, an artist who happens also the to an educator leaves a longer, more lasting trail in touching the lives of others than one who may simply be an outstanding artist. An artist creates paintings or some other type of art. An art educator creates artists who, in turn, create art, resulting in far greater quantities than their mentor might ever dream of. It's not uncommon for an art educator to be remembered far more for having trained some particular famous artist than for any work of their own. Laura Wheeler Waring was one such art educator, although there's no record of her having trained any particularly outstanding artist, after thirty years teaching and directing the art program at Cheyney Training School for Teachers (later renamed Cheyney State Teachers College and now known as Cheyney University), it's very likely she became the guiding influence and inspiration for literally thousands of young African-American artist and art teachers passing through the college.

Corner of Laura Wheeler Waring's studio
Laura Wheeler was born in 1887, in Hartford, Connecticut. She was the fourth child of six children, the daughter of Rev-erend Robert Foster Wheeler. Her mother was a daughter of Amos Noë Freeman, a Pres-byterian minister, who had been prominent in various anti-slavery activities, includ-ing the Underground Railroad in Portland, Maine, and Brook-lyn, New York. Laura gradu-ated from Hartford Public High School in 1906 and Phila-delphia's Pennsylvania Acad-emy of the Fine Arts in 1914. She had been teaching at Cheyney since graduating from high school. Her painting of one corner of her studio (above, left) is undated but probably survives from the early 1920s.

Portrait of Anne Washington Derry,
1927, Laura Wheeler Waring
Laura Waring worked long hours teaching art and music at Cheyney, sometimes spending summers teaching drawing at Harvard and Columbia for additional money which she saved for a trip to Europe hoping to study art there. Her persistence paid of when, in 1914 she was granted a trip to Europe by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts’ William E. Cresson Memorial Scholarship fund. She studied at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris and traveled throughout Great Britain. While living in Paris, Wheeler-Waring often painted in the Jardin du Luxembourg. Virtually all of her Paris works have been lost. She also spent much time in the Louvre studying Monet, Manet, Corot, and Cézanne. She had planned to travel to Switzerland, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands, but her trip was cut short as war broke out in Europe. After three months, Waring, was required to return to the United States. Her trip to Europe seemed at the time to have had very little effect on her career, but in later years has come to be seen as a major influence on her work as an artist. Receiving the scholarship gave her the time to evolve as an artist affording her some degree of public recognition.

The Harlem Renaissance, 1920s, Laura Wheeler Waring.
Singer, Marian Anderson,
1944, Laura Wheeler Waring.
Laura Wheeler married Walter Waring in 1927. He was from a teacher in the Philadelphia public school system. When they first married, money was scarce, so they delayed their honeymoon for two years. In 1929, Laura Waring was once more able to return to Paris as the not-so newlyweds traveled to France, spending more than two months there. Upon returning, Waring was among the artists displaying work in the country's first exhibition of African-American art, held in 1927 by the William E. Harmon Foundation. Later, she was commissioned by the Harmon Foundation to do portraits of prominent African Americans associated with the Harlem Renaissance. Her work came to be displayed in the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. With her involvement in the Harlem Renaissance during the 1920s and 30s, Laura Waring came to know several key figures such as James Weldon Johnson, W.E.B Du Bois, Marian Anderson, and fellow artist, Alma Thomas, all of whom she painted during the 1930s and 40s. Retiring from Cheyney after more than thirty years, Laura Wheeler Waring died at her Philadelphia home in 1948 following a long illness.

Two of the major figures from the earliest days of the Civil Rights Movement.
Portrait of Alma Thomas, 1945, Laura Wheeler Waring


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