Painter and educator Laura Wheeler Waring was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1887. The fourth child of six born to Reverend Robert Foster and Mary Wheeler, Laura was unusual in some respects because she had the advantage of a superior education and middle and upper-class associations. Her father studied Theology at Howard University and received his diploma ten years before Laura’s birth.
Laura’s education was exemplary. She graduated from Hartford High School in 1906 with honors and went on to study for another six years at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, one of the leading art institutes in the United States. In 1914, she received the A. William Emlen Cresson Memorial Travel Scholarship that allowed her to continue her studies of arts in major cities of Europe for a short period of time.
Upon her return, she worked at the all-black Cheyney Training School for Teachers in Philadelphia, where she established both art and music programs, which she directed for over thirty years. In 1924, she traveled again to Europe for a short visit, accompanied by novelist Jessie Redmond Fauset. While in Europe she produced her first paintings, some of which would be exhibited in Paris art galleries. One-piece, Houses at Semur, which she painted in France, would receive wide acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic. With European recognition, Waring’s work was now in demand in American galleries as well including the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C., the Brooklyn Museum, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Waring’s most remembered work was her portraiture, which was largely of upper-class Negroes and whites including James Weldon Johnson, W.E.B. DuBois, Mary White Ovington, and Leslie Pinckney Hill. The focus of her painting promoted charges of her being elitist; this is unfair since few people who were not of the upper classes could afford to have their portraits done by professional artists. Also, Waring’s other work such as The Co-Ed, Mother and Daughter, and The Magician all pursue themes that challenge the elitist label.
Waring also painted murals and landscapes of both America and Europe, which gained her wide acclaim. She is distinguished from other American painters of the period not only for her talent but also for the unusual amount of formal training she underwent. On her first trip abroad in 1914, she spent much time in the Louvre where she studied the works of several master painters. She also traveled to Luxembourg to study the paintings of Claude Monet. Her second trip in 1924 took her to London (UK), Dublin (Ireland), Rome (Italy), Paris (France), and North Africa.
Laura Wheeler married Walter E. Waring, who was a professor at Lincoln University, in 1927. They had no children. On February 3, 1948, Laura Wheeler Waring died after a long illness in her home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.