By Louisa Talucci Iacurci
Laura Wheeler was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1887. Her father was the pastor of the first all-Black church in Connecticut and her mother was a teacher and artist. Her grandparents, Amos and Christina Freeman, were active in the Underground Railroad. Laura graduated from Hartford High School in 1906 and her parents encouraged her to attend the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. In 1914, she became the sixth generation of college graduates in her family. She then traveled to Europe and studied art at the Louvre, an experience that helped her become an eminent portrait artist of prominent African Americans.
Waring was an artist during the Harlem Renaissance—an influential movement in African American literary, artistic, and cultural history from 1918 to the mid-to-late 1930s. In 1944, The Harmon Foundation organized an exhibit of fifty “Portraits of Outstanding Americans of Negro Origin.” The exhibit toured the United States for ten years and included eight portraits by Waring. Many of her original portraits now reside in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. These include one of fellow Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame inductee, Marian Anderson—a celebrated African American opera singer.
Waring’s portraits of African Americans helped bring their subject’s achievements to light and were a testament to their accomplishments—aiding the early civil rights movement. Waring was also a member of the NAACP and a contributing artist to the organization’s monthly publication, The Crisis.
In addition to her art, Laura Wheeler Waring valued education as an integral part of her life’s work. She founded the art and music departments at the all-Black Cheyney Training School for Teachers in Philadelphia. She taught and chaired these departments for thirty years, until her death in 1948. In 1997, the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame inducted her, honoring her decades-long commitment to teaching and art and her prolific influence on future generations of African American artists and teachers.
Louisa Talucci Iacurci has a Master’s in Education from American University and has been teaching students age five through adults for 28 years. Louisa is an Education Program Associate at the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame. This article is the result of a collaboration between the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame and Connecticut Humanities and is based on original research conducted by the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame.