Happy Black History Month! This is the 18th blog of a series of blogs called “Black History Month Heroes You Should Know”. Each blog focuses on the life and career of a Black American whose life has shaped American history.
The focus of today’s blog is Laura Wheeler Waring, the educator, and painter most widely known for her portraits of elite Black leaders, like Marian Anderson, W.E.B. DuBois, and George Washington Carver.
Education is Key
Born in 1887, Laura Wheeler Waring grew up in an upper-class family in Hartford, Connecticut (BlackPast). Having studied theology at Howard University, her father made sure she understood the value of a great education. After graduating high school with honors in 1906, Wheeler Waring attended the Pennslyvania Academy of Fine Arts (BlackPast).
First Trip To Europe
After that, she received a scholarship to study art abroad in Europe (BlackPast). She spent time at the Lourve, studying the works of master painters. This was just her first trip to Europe. Upon returning to the U.S., Wheeler Waring landed a job teaching at the Cheyney Training School for Teachers in Philadelphia. There, she established programs in art and also music. She helped run these programs for the next 30 years (BlackPast).
2nd Trip To Europe
In 1924, Wheeler Waring took another short trip to Europe (BlackPast). This time, she painted her first works of art. Several pieces, including one called Houses at Semur, were displayed in Paris art galleries. And with acclaim in Europe, a demand for more of her pieces came from American galleries. A few of these galleries include Washington D.C.’s Corcoran Gallery, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art (BlackPast). Her art soon joined those of other artists of the Harlem Renaissance.
“Anna Washington Derry”
As her art evolved, Wheeler Waring got more and more into portraits. In 1927, Wheeler Waring did a portrait of a working-class woman named Anna Washington Derry (Pennslyvania Heritage). This portrait became the talk of the art community and ended up winning several awards. She was also commissioned to do a portfolio of portraits for the Harmon Foundation called “Portraits of Outstanding American Citizens of Negro Origin.” Of this collection, she became known for her portraits of Black elites like W.E.B. DuBois, James Weldon Johnson, George Washington Carver, Leslie Pinckney Hill, Mary White Ovington, and Marian Anderson (Britannica).
Eventually, Wheeler Waring moved away from portraits and instead, started painting landscapes, both those in Europe and in the U.S. (BlackPast). Wheeler Waring was known for her portraits, landscapes, and her extensive art background and training. She passed away from illness in 1948 in her Philadelphia home (BlackPast).