Posted on December 31, 2018
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...
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 the 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.