Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller - Women's History Month

Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller

Meta Warrick Fuller was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, June 9,
1877. For four years she attended the Pennsylvania School of Industrial
Art, and it was at this institution that she first began to force
serious recognition of her talent. Before very long she began to be
known as a sculptor of the horrible, one of her first original pieces
being a head of Medusa, with a hanging jaw, beads of gore, and eyes
starting from their sockets. At her graduation in 1898 she won a prize
for metal work by a crucifix upon which hung the figure of Christ in
agony, and she also won honorable mention for her work in modeling. In a
post-graduate year she won a much coveted prize in modeling. In 1899
Meta Warrick (then best known by her full name, Meta Vaux Warrick) went
to Paris, where she worked and studied three years. Her work brought her
in contact with many other artists, among them Augustus St. Gaudens, the
sculptor of the Robert Gould Shaw Monument at the head of Boston Common.
Then there came a day when by appointment the young woman went to see
Auguste Rodin, who after years of struggle and dispraise had finally won
recognition as the foremost sculptor in France if not in the world. The
great man glanced one after another at the pieces that were presented to
him, without very evident interest. At length, thrilled by the figure
in "Silent Sorrow," sometimes referred to as "Man Eating His Heart Out,"
Rodin beamed upon the young woman and said, "Mademoiselle, you _are_ a
sculptor; you have the sense of form." With encouragement from such a
source the young artist worked with renewed vigor, looking forward to
the time when something that she had produced should win a place in the
Salon, the great national gallery in Paris. "The Wretched," one of the
artist's masterpieces, was exhibited here in 1903, and along with it
went "The Impenitent Thief." This latter production was demolished in
1904, after meeting with various unhappy accidents. In the form as
presented, however, the thief, heroic in size, hung on the cross torn by
anguish. Hardened, unsympathetic, and even defiant, he still possessed
some admirable qualities of strength, and he has remained one of the
sculptor's most powerful conceptions. In "The Wretched" seven figures
greet the eye. Each represents a different form of human anguish. An old
man, worn by hunger and disease, waits for death. A mother yearns for
the loved ones she has lost. A man bowed by shame fears to look upon his
fellow-creatures. A sick child suffers from some hereditary taint. A
youth is in despair, and a woman is crazed by sorrow. Over all is the
Philosopher who suffers perhaps more keenly than the others as he views
the misery around them, and who, powerless to relieve it, also sinks
into despair.


Other early productions were similarly characterized by a strongly
romantic quality. "Silent Sorrow" has already been remarked in passing.
In this a man, worn and gaunt and in despair, is represented as leaning
over and actually eating out his own heart. "Man Carrying Dead Body" is
in similar vein. The sculptor is moved by the thought of one who will be
spurred on by the impulse of duty to the performance of some task not
only unpleasant but even loathsome. She shows a man bearing across his
shoulder the body of a comrade that has evidently lain on the
battlefield for days. The thing is horrible, and the man totters under
the great weight; but he forces his way onward until he can give it
decent burial. Another early production was based on the ancient Greek
story of Oedipus. This story was somewhat as follows: Oedipus was the
son of Laius and Jocasta, king and queen of Thebes. At his birth an
oracle foretold that the father Laius would be killed by his son. The
child was sent away to be killed by exposure, but in course of time was
saved and afterwards adopted by the King of Corinth. When he was grown,
being warned by an oracle that he would kill his father and marry his
mother, he left home. On his journey he met Laius and slew him in the
course of an altercation. Later, by solving the riddle of the sphinx, he
freed Thebes from distress, was made king of the city, and married
Jocasta. Eventually the terrible truth of the relationship became known
to all. Jocasta hanged herself and Oedipus tore out his eyes. The
sculptor portrays the hero of the old legend at the very moment that he
is thus trying to punish himself for his crime. There is nothing
delicate or pretty about all such work as this. It is grewsome in fact,
and horrible; but it is also strong and intense and vital. Its merit was
at once recognized by the French, and it gave Meta Warrick a recognized
place among the sculptors of America.

Water Boy

On her return to America the artist resumed her studies at the School of
Industrial Art, winning in 1904 the Battles first prize for pottery. In
1907 she produced a series of tableaux representing the advance of the
Negro for the Jamestown Tercentennial Exposition, and in 1913 a group
for the New York State Emancipation Proclamation Commission. In 1909 she
became the wife of Dr. Solomon C. Fuller, of Framingham, Massachusetts.
A fire in 1910 unfortunately destroyed some of her most valuable pieces
while they were in storage in Philadelphia. Only a few examples of her
early work, that happened to be elsewhere, were saved. The artist was
undaunted, however, and by May, 1914, she had sufficiently recovered
from the blow to be able to hold at her home a public exhibition of her

Talking Skull

After this fire a new note crept into the work of Meta Warrick Fuller.
This was doubtless due not so much to the fire itself as to the larger
conception of life that now came to the sculptor with the new duties of
marriage and motherhood. From this time forth it was not so much the
romantic as the social note that was emphasized. Representative of the
new influence was the second model of the group for the Emancipation
Proclamation Commission. A recently emancipated Negro youth and maiden
stand beneath a gnarled, decapitated tree that has what looks almost
like a human hand stretched over them. Humanity is pushing them forth
into the world while at the same time the hand of Destiny is restraining
them in the full exercise of their freedom. "Immigrant in America" is in
somewhat similar vein. An American woman, the mother of one strong
healthy child, is shown welcoming to the land of plenty the foreigner,
the mother of several poorly nourished children. Closely related in
subject is the smaller piece, "The Silent Appeal," in which a mother
capable of producing and caring for three sturdy children is shown as
making a quiet demand for the suffrage and for any other privileges to
which a human being is entitled. All of these productions are clear cut,
straightforward, and dignified.

Bisque Head

In May, 1917, Meta Warrick Fuller took second prize in a competition
under the auspices of the Massachusetts Branch of the Woman's Peace
Party, her subject being "Peace Halting the Ruthlessness of War." War is
personified as on a mighty steed and trampling to death numberless human
beings. In one hand he holds a spear on which he has transfixed the head
of one of his victims. As he goes on his masterful career Peace meets
him and commands him to cease his ravages. The work as exhibited was in
gray-green wax and was a production of most unusual spirit.

Among other prominent titles are "Watching for Dawn," a conception of
remarkable beauty and yearning, and "Mother and Child." An early
production somewhat detached from other pieces is a head of John the
Baptist. This is one of the most haunting creations of Mrs. Fuller. In
it she was especially successful in the infinite yearning and pathos
that she somehow managed to give to the eyes of the seer. It bears the
unmistakable stamp of power.

In this whole review of this sculptor's work we have indicated only the
chief titles. She is an indefatigable worker and has produced numerous
smaller pieces, many of these being naturally for commercial purposes.
As has been remarked, while her work was at first romantic and often
even horrible, in recent years she has been interested rather in social
themes. There are those, however, who hope that she will not utterly
forsake the field in which she first became distinguished. Through the
sternness of her early work speaks the very tragedy of the Negro race.
In any case it is pleasant to record that the foremost sculptor of the
race is not only an artist of rank but also a woman who knows and
appreciates in the highest possible manner the virtues and the beauties
of the home.

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