Black History Fun Fact Friday – Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller

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Welcome back to Black History Fun Fact Friday.

Today I introduce to you Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, the first black woman to receive a federal commission for her art. Fuller’s artwork became the precursor to the resurgence of African themes in art seen during the Harlem Renaissance Movement. Not only a time of Jazz, Literature, and Flapper women, this explosion of black artistic culture also included artwork which is not discussed as much as let’s say the literature and the music.

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Born in Philadelphia in 1877, Fuller was the youngest of three children born to William and Emma Warrick. Prominent hair stylists who owned a flourishing Philadelphia store, Fuller’s father was a prosperous barber and the owner of several shops. Her mother was a hairdresser with wealthy white clients who were served in the family’s shop. The family also took vacations to the same places as did their upper-class white Philadelphian clients and lived in a three-story house. Why is it then that Fuller’s name is different from her parents?

Meta was named after one of these clients, Meta Vaux, the daughter of a Senator Richard Vaux. It makes me think about many blacks during the time and whether or not we felt we needed to assimilate into white society in order to fit into the culture of America. For instance, both W.E.B. Dubois and Meta (who was close with Dubois) felt that blacks were capable of the highest achievements but also that this meant to be educated as whites were educated. In addition, despite eventually producing “African” themed art, Meta rejected DuBois initial suggestion that she concentrate on African-American themes when they first met in Europe.

While Meta was successful and is highlighted here as an unfamiliar face, a precursor if you will to The Harlem Renaissance, the movement itself was not all rainbows and whistles. While the artistic explosion is something I love (being a poet and all) I hate that some blacks (as talented as we are) felt at the time that they needed to fit in with White America in order to make it, a truth not everyone is willing to acknowledge but this is Black History Fun Fact Friday so we must keep it real. As Carl Van Vechten titled his book, for many blacks Harlem was, at the time, “Nigger Heaven”.

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Fuller’s Work: Ethiopia Awakened

Nonetheless, in October of 1889, Fuller arrived in Paris where for the next three years she would study with prominent French sculptors which would have a major impact on her work. While in Europe this is where she would encounter Dubois for the second time and it was the beginning of a friendship that continued for many years. Dubois and Thomas Calloway was organizing a Negro exhibit for the Paris Exposition and visited Meta’s studio to her surprise.

When Meta returned to the States, she established a studio in Philadelphia where art organizations flourished and in the early 1900s through the twenties she continued to do well. In 1928, she was selected to show her work at The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

In 1909 she did a 15-piece work for The Jamestown Tercentennial Ex­position illustrating black’s progress in America since the Jamestown settlement. Fuller also received a gold medal for “The Jamestown Tab­leau,” and this  established her reputation as an artist and began a long and committed career. Despite my personal feelings, it is refreshing to study the faces of some of the unknown artists of this most important time in history.

Frank Morrison

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This isn’t exactly an article FYI, more like a random thought (perhaps I’ll make a category for that). But, in case you haven’t noticed, I use a lot of Frank Morrison images on this blog. In fact, my avatar profile is a FM piece. I have a brother who’s a very talented artist (one day I’ll feature some of his work), but I’ve never really been into the specifics of artwork such as paintings, drawings, etc. on an intimate level. Sure, I love pictures and paintings but I’m not one to visit an art gallery (unless of course admission is free ha ha…wait, do you pay to get in or you just pay for the paintings? I have no idea, but moving on…). In the past couple years I’ve come to really enjoy FM’s work. The exaggeration of the features is amazing and I think it is one of his most obvious talents; but also the authenticity of the pictures, their realness, and their truth. The facial expressions of the African American women, the cool movements of the men, the innocence of the children, the whole culture and style of the people in general is eye catching. While I don’t agree with all of the spiritualism some of the paintings suggest, there are still enough of them to love; each picture standing alone to become a story of its own. I can so see myself writing a short story based on one of the paintings themselves. And interestingly, many of them are so perfect for what I write on this blog, especially the poetry. But it’s not much of a surprise since, in many ways, these paintings are indeed poetic and add great compliment to any work. Speaking of which, I think it’s important for writers, bloggers, and those who like to write in general, to take advantage of images alongside words every now and again because they tend to not only catch the viewer’s eye, but speak much more forcibly to the reader, causing him to actually keen in more closely to the actual text. Not that text alone can’t speak (for I am a writer and my work is not pictorial in the literal sense), but I believe mankind is a visual creation. It makes faith a great challenge since it’s the proof of what is not seen lol, but I think we can strengthen that part just by learning how to properly use images alongside text. Pictures should not dominate so that they distract away from the reading, but they should compliment the reading.

 
While it probably makes for a great debate on which is more beneficial for the sharing of information (visual or written), I think none of us can deny that pictures can display quite the impression, and potentially lead to the further evaluation of the written text. Just browse through any Library or Bookstore and you’ll see that books ARE judged by their covers! It’s the cover that first grabs your attention. Of course we all want for a good story, but even before you get to the synopsis of the text it’s the image on the cover that pulls you into the title and makes you read what the book is about.

 
So great job Morrison! Because of you I may just invest a few sheckles into an art gallery, who knows. 🙂