Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller: Visual Artist of the Harlem Renaissance

Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller sits on a wicker chair, poised for a photo

 Library of Congress

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. Her father was an artist with an interest in sculpture and painting, and from an early age, Fuller was interested in visual art. She 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. Here, Fuller’s passion for creating sculptures developed. Fuller graduated in 1898, receiving a diploma and teacher’s certificate.

Studying Art 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 sculptor at Academie Colarossi while 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 U.S.

When Fuller returned to the U.S. 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 African-American woman 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 U.S. at the Jamestown Tercentennial Exposition. The dioramas included historical events like the first African slaves being delivered to Virginia in 1619 and 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 from her home studio, raise a family, and focus on developing sculptures with 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, and in 1922, her work appeared at the Boston Public Library.

Personal Life and Death

Fuller married Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller in 1907. Once married, the couple moved to Framingham, Massachusetts, and had three sons. Fuller died on March 3, 1968, at Cardinal Cushing Hospital in Framingham.