December 31 - Happy Birthday, Selma Burke

Posted on December 31, 2018


SelmaBurke and her sculpture
of Booker T. Washington.
A member of the Harlem Renaissance movement...

A "people's sculptor"...

A creator of public art - art that should be made, art that elevates a community, art that helps us become our best...

A winner of the Women's Caucus for Art Lifetime Achievement Award...

Almost a new-century baby!

Selma Burke was born in North Carolina on this date in 1900. Since the 20th Century started in 1901, being born on the very last day of 1900 places you squarely in the "turn of the century"!

As a child, Burke often played with the clay found along the riverbed near her home. She loved the feeling of squeezing and pinching the clay between her fingers, and she once said, "It was there in 1907 that I discovered me." 

Like most parents, Burke's mom was worried that a career in art would not lend itself to a stable financial life, but Burke's grandma, a painter, encouraged her to develop her interest in sculpture. Still, Burke did the safe thing and got training as a nurse. When she moved to Harlem, she began to work as a private nurse...


...But she ALSO sculpted!

And look what she accomplished: 

Selma Burke worked for the Works Progress Administration.

Her bust of Booker T. Washington was displayed in a Manhattan high school. 

She traveled to Europe on a fellowship to study sculpture in Vienna, Austria.

She returned to Europe to study with a master sculptor in Paris, France.

She received a Master of Fine Arts degree plus several honorary doctorate degrees.

She founded several art schools and became an art teacher.

These extraordinary achievements certainly could not have been Burke's if she'd stuck to nursing!


A bit of controversy:

Selma Burke's bas-relief sculpture of President Franklin D. Roosevelt is thought by many people to have inspired the profile found on U.S. dimes. Some people even make the claim that t
he sculptor of the dime portrait, John R. Sinnock, "stole" or copied Burke's portrait. 

Burke thought she deserved credit for the portrait on the dime, but Sinnock claimed he was not in any way influenced by Burke's work.

There are memes and articles and maybe even a book or two that don't even mention Sinnock or the controversy, but instead state flat-out that Burke sculpted the profile portrait used on the dime. And some of these memes (etc.) claim "Selma Burke never got credit for her portrait of FDR..."

According to the U.S. Mint, both Burke and Sinnock did live sittings with President Roosevelt.

Also, there are a LOT of differences between the two portraits. The proportions are quite different, so if Sinnock did copy Burke's work, he didn't do it very well. 

What do you think?

Above, Burke's bas-relief sculpture of FDR.
Below, John R. Sinnock's sculpture,
which appears on United States dimes.








December 30 - Republic Day in Madagascar

Posted on December 30, 2018

Quick: What's the largest island nation in the world?

That depends on what you mean by "island" and what you mean by "nation" and what you mean by "island [singular] nation"! It may even depend on what you mean by "largest"!

Many people think that Australia is the world's smallest continent, whereas some people think that Australia is the world's largest island. (Some Australians claim that it's both - they want ALL the glory, I guess!) For those who consider Australia an island, it is definitely-for-sure the largest island nation in the world.



Greenland is considered by most to be the world's largest island, but because it is an autonomous Danish territory, it is left off of many "island nations" lists.

If you want to consider only nations that are pretty much one island, as opposed to being a group of islands scattered across a swath of ocean, when you say "island nation," then Indonesia wouldn't qualify, because the Indonesian archipelago is made up of more than 17 THOUSAND islands!! Including several large ones - the #2 and #3 largest islands in the world are partially owned by Indonesia, and the #6, 11, and 13 largest islands in the world are wholly owned by Indonesia!

However, not counting Australia as an island, and not counting Greenland as a nation, it is Madagascar that is considered the second largest "island nation" on most lists, and is the largest if you go by the size of a nation's largest island wholly owned by that nation.

The island of Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world. (Again, not counting Australia.)



Today's holiday commemorates the official formation of the Republic of Madagascar, on this date in 1975. 

When we talk about Madagascar being special, we always have to mention its plants and animals. Like other isolated islands, it has some unique species, and it also lacks entire groups of plants and animals. Plus, like many tropical locations, it has a ton of biodiversity.






For more information on Madagascar's plants and animals, check out this and this other earlier posts.

It's also interesting to note the connection of the people of Madagascar with the people of Indonesia...and the history of pirates utilizing the island's coves. For more info on these topics, check out this earlier post. 


But today I'd like to highlight an area in Madagascar that is difficult to explore: Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park and Strict Nature Reserve.

The most characteristic sight of Tsingy is needlelike formations of limestone, a sort of karst landscape that looks like a forest of stone. (Tsingy means "where one cannot walk barefoot.") 

Could you cross a bridge like this?
I MAYBE could, if I really had to, but I
would hold on tight and try not to look down!



There are a variety of birds and some lemurs who live in this fascinating area, and mangroves squeeze between formations in some places. The area is so unique, it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Another unusual feature of Madagascar is the Analavory "Geysers." These are not actually geysers, because there is no tectonic activity in that location...Instead, they are (accidentally) human-made features that resulted when people piped water away from a mine. That water is mineral rich and has built up the kind of formation that sometimes happens naturally:





December 29 - Happy Birthday, Dexter Holland

Posted on December 29, 2018

Rock star...

...and molecular biologist!!!

There are some rock or pop musicians who have ditched music, earned PhDs in science fields, and achieved a lot as scientists. Physicist Brian Cox comes to mind.


And there are several rock stars who have earned PhDs in science fields but have worked primarily in music all their lives. Queen co-founder and lead guitar player Brian May is also an astrophysicist who has worked with NASA and who started an asteroid awareness campaign. Punk rocker Greg Gaffin of Bad Religion also earned a PhD in zoology and is a university professor.


Well, here's one more:


Dexter Holland (born on this date in 1965) is best known as the lead singer, rhythm guitarist, and main songwriter for the punk rock band The Offspring. But he, too, has achieved academically. He went to USC, earned a bachelor's in biology and a master's in molecular biology, and - after a break while The Offspring became successful worldwide - completed his doctorate in molecular biology in 2017.


Holland's doctorate work involved better understanding HIV.

In addition to a huge career in music and his work in molecular biologist, Holland has started a successful hot sauce business and a record label. He also does important philanthropy - doing charity concerts and marathons to benefit AIDS research, the Innocence Project, and other worthy causes.



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