My highlight of 2022 was visiting the Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller collection at Danforth Art Museum, Framingham, Massachusetts with support from the University of Kent.
Danse Macabre (1914) Courtesy of the Danforth Art Museum at Framingham State University. Gift of the Fuller Family Trust.
Fuller had two major periods of fame in her lifetime. Firstly, in Fin de siècle Paris, with raw, uncompromising sculptures and secondly with Ethiopia Awakening (1921), which heralded the Harlem Renaissance.
All of Fuller’s sculptures in the Danforth collection were on display when I visited, with the exception of her Maquette for Ethiopia Awakening (1921), which was on loan to the Venice Biennale Biennale Arte 2022 | Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller (labiennale.org).
Danforth holds the largest collection of Fuller’s sculpture in the world. Limited exhibition space means one misses viewing her work in the round. But one gains from the sculptures being together. Pull-out-drawers, plaster moulds and brown numbered labels create an archive effect that brings one close to Fuller’s craft.
Folktales, midnight stories, performance and poetry animate her sculpture. Loss, suffering and love predominate, accompanied by a sliver of humour. In Danse Macabre (1914) the dancers’ bodies press against the viscous clay. Their inexorable journey to death summoned by their enclosure in its swirls and hollows.
Busts and bas-reliefs of famous personalities, including Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia and the folk singer Joan Baez, embody Fuller’s Afrocentric and feminist concerns.
Viewing Fuller’s sculpture on mass impacts consciousness. Some works reach out, others with dense surfaces press in, while the portrait busts glance sideways from the cabinets. From every direction, one feels the call to life.
Sculptures in the display cabinet, Courtesy of the Danforth Art Museum at Framingham State University. Gift of the Fuller Family Trust.
I would like to thank the staff at Danforth Art Museum The Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller Collection – Danforth (framingham.edu), in particular Rachel Passannante, Collections Manager, and Jessica Roscio, Director and Curator, for generously sharing their time, knowledge and expertise.
I am excited to be teaching the Single Artist module on Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller once again in 2023. On the module we will explore Fuller’s practice through making, including modelling in clay and constructing maquettes.
If you have any queries, I would be happy to answer them: Catherine Hahn firstname.lastname@example.org
On July 10th 2022 I gave a public lecture on Fuller at the Danforth. The video is available here: Storytelling Sculpture with Dr. Catherine Hahn (vimeo.com)
Armstrong, Julie Buckner. “‘The people … took exception to her remarks’: Meta Warrick Fuller, Angelina Weld Grimke, and the lynching of Mary Turner.” The Mississippi Quarterly, vol. 61, no. 1-2, winter-spring 2008, pp. 113-141
Ater, Renee. Remaking Race and History: The Sculpture of Meta Warrick Fuller, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011
Miyatsu, Tami. Bodies That Work: African American Women’s Corporeal Activism in Progressive America, Peter Lang: New York, 2020