It’s my pleasure to honor two talented Black women artists on this day. On June 9, 1877, Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, a gifted sculptress of Black descent was born. On June 9, 1998, Lois Maillou Jones, Black painter and teacher extraordinaire, died in Washington, DC. Because this day is full of Black Girl Artist Magic (yes, I’m tweaking the #BlackGirlMagic hashtag for my purposes), I wanted to talk a bit more about these remarkable women.
Mother and Child by Meta Warrick Fuller (1962)
Both Meta and Lois spent time in France during the early half of the 20th century. Europe, generally speaking, was a friendlier environment for American Blacks, and it was easier to study in European ateliers than to attempt to integrate White studios in the US. Meta began at Academie Colarossi but eventually studied under Auguste Rodin, while Lois studied as part of a fellowship with Academie Julian.
Arreau, Hautes-Pyrénée by Loïs Mailou Jones (1949)
Meta was a sculptress and used her talent to create works that captured her frustration with the treatment of Blacks in America. She explored themes such as despair and melancholy, but also touched on religious devotion and hopefulness. Meta drew upon historical accounts to sculpt some of her heartrending works. She worked primarily in bronze or plaster, and created an impressive body of work during her career. Many of her pieces are exhibited at the Danforth Museum, making it easy for anyone interested in exploring her oeuvre to view a wide variety of her pieces in one location.
Story Time by Meta Warrick Fuller (year unknown)
She received many accolades during her lifetime but fell into obscurity for several years after her death. Toward the end of the 20th century, there was renewed interest in her work, and she is finally becoming a key figure in today’s discussions on American sculptors.
Talking Skull by Meta Warrick Fuller (1937)
Lois, on the other hand, started out as a teacher but never gave up her dream to be an artist in her own right. She taught for over 40 years and eventually retired from the profession, while establishing herself as an artist of note. She drew inspiration from her international travels, including time spent in Haiti.
Self Portrait by Lois Mailou Jones (1940)
These women led similar lives in several ways. Aside from both spending time studying in Paris, both Meta and Lois benefited from having White supporters during the early phases of their careers. Samuel Bing sponsored an exhibition for Meta, while Celine Marie Tabary often submitted Lois’s work to circumvent racist art competition policies that prevented Black Americans from competing.
Ode to Kinshasa by Lois Mailou Jones (1972)
Though I’m not an artist, I am tremendously thankful for the fact that both Meta Warrick Fuller and Lois Maillou Jones shared their talents with the world. Their contributions added richly to the fabric and legacy of American art. May their work remind us – in perpetuity – of the importance of Black art!
(Photos courtesy of Pinterest, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Preston Joy blog, and Smithsonian American Art Museum)