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Portraying the blacks in calm, friendly and dignified images of non-threatening African-American and struggling for their civil rights through her art, the African-American painter and educator, Laura Wheeler Waring, is best remembered for her educational work and the portraits which displayed the achievement and dignity of her people.

Celebrated as an artist of consummate skill and imagination, Wheeler was born in Hartford, Connecticut, on May 16, 1887 in a prominent family of New England. Her father was the pastor at a historic African-American church while her mother was a teacher and armature artist. Wheeler's intellectual and artistic talent was evident from an early age. She graduated from Hartford Public High School with honours during a time when few African-American women attended school.

In 1908, Wheeler enrolled in courses at the Pennsylvania University of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. After graduating from the Academy, she founded and taught in the art and music departments at the State Normal School at Cheyney (now known as Cheyney University). In 1914, she received a scholarship to continue her art studies in Europe.

After returning to the United States in 1918, Wheeler resumed working at Cheyney, where she would eventually head the department of art and music. While teaching, she continued to work on her own art and arranged several trips to Europe for further study. During a trip in 1924, she exhibited her paintings for the first time in Parisian art galleries and could study at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris.

During her distinguished career, Wheeler received acclaim as a portrait artist but created landscapes and still lifes as well. In 1927, she received the “Harmon Award” for achievement in fine art. That same year, she became Laura Wheeler Waring upon her marriage to Walter E. Waring, a professor at Lincoln University in Philadelphia.

Between 1927 and 1931, Waring's work was displayed at several institutions, including the Smithsonian Institution and the Art Institute of Chicago. Her illustrations depicting African American subjects appeared in several books and magazines.

In 1943, the Harmon Foundation, a New York City organization developed to recognize the achievements of African Americans, commissioned Wheeler to paint the series “Portraits of Outstanding American Citizens of Negro Origin”. Among her well-known portrait subjects for this project were W.E.B. DuBois, George Washington Carver, Marian Anderson, and James Weldon Johnson. P

After an extended illness, Waring died at age 60 in Philadelphia on February 3, 1948. One year after her death, the Howard University Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., held an exhibit of her work. Today many of the portraits that make up part of her artistic legacy  are in the National Portrait Gallery’s permanent collection.



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