Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller: Visual Artist of the Harlem Renaissance

Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, 1919. Public Domain

Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller was born Meta Vaux Warrick on June 9, 1877, in Philadelphia. Her parents, Emma Jones Warrick and William H. Warrick were entrepreneurs who owned a hair salon and barbershop. At an early age, Fuller became interested in visual art—her father was an artist with an interest in sculpture and painting. Fuller attended J. Liberty Tadd’s art school.

In 1893, Fuller’s work was chosen to be in the World’s Columbian Exposition. As a result, she received a scholarship to the Pennsylvania Museum & School of Industrial Art. It was here that Fuller’s passion for creating sculptures developed. In 1898 Fuller graduated, receiving a diploma and teacher’s certificate.

Learning Artistry in Paris

The following year, Fuller traveled to Paris to study with Raphaël Collin. While studying with Collin, Fuller was mentored by painter Henry Ossawa Tanner. She also continued to develop her craft as a sculpturist at Academie Colarossi and sketching at Ecole des Beaux-Arts. She was influenced by the conceptual realism of Auguste Rodin, who declared, “My child, you are a sculptor; you have the sense of form in your fingers.”

In addition to her relationship with Tanner and other artists, Fuller developed a relationship with W.E.B. Du Bois, who inspired Fuller to incorporate African-American themes in her artwork. 

When Fuller left Paris in 1903, she had much of her work displayed in galleries throughout the city including a private one-woman exhibit and two of her sculptures, The Wretched and The Impenitent Thief were on display at the Paris Salon. 

An African-American Artist in the United States

When Fuller returned to the United States in 1903, her work was not readily embraced by members of the Philadelphia art community. Critics said her work was “domestic” while others discriminated solely on her race.

Fuller continued to work and was the first female African-American artist to receive a commission from the U.S. government. In 1906, Fuller created a series of dioramas depicting African-American life and culture in the United States at the Jamestown Tercentennial Exposition. The dioramas included historical events such as 1619 when the first Africans were brought to Virginia and were enslaved to Frederick Douglas delivering a commencement address at Howard University.

Two years later Fuller exhibited her work at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. In 1910, a fire destroyed many of her paintings and sculptures. For the next ten years, Fuller would work out her home studio, raise a family and focus on developing sculptures mostly religious themes.

But in 1914 Fuller deviated from religious themes to create Ethiopia Awakening. The statue is considered in many circles as one of the symbols of the Harlem Renaissance.

In 1920, Fuller exhibited her work again at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Two years later, her work appeared at the Boston Public Library.

Personal Life

Fuller married Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller in 1907. Once married, the couple moved to Framingham, Mass. and had three sons.


Fuller died on March 3, 1968, at Cardinal Cushing Hospital in Framingham.