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Selma Hortense Burke

Painter · Printmaker · Sculptor
Born December 31, 1900, Mooresville, North Carolina
Died August 29, 1995, Newtown, Pennsylvania

Dr. Selma Burke was a world-renowned sculptor and painter whose bust of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt appears on the dime. One of ten children of an African Methodist Episcopal Zion minister in rural North Carolina, Burke first learned to sculpt while molding clay from a nearby river. Encouraged by her mother to pursue a practical career, Burke trained as a certified nurse. While working as a nurse in New York, she became involved in the Harlem Renaissance and served as a sculptor's model, all the while preparing to become an artist. In 1941 she received an M.F.A. at Columbia University, and later studied art in Europe. Primarily a sculptor, Burke crafted figures of rugged beauty from wood, bronze, or stone, hewn in a style of almost classical realism. She sculpted several celebrities, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Pearl S. Buck, the bronze statue of whom, Uplift, was dedicated at the Pearl S. Buck House in 1991. She also painted in watercolor, oil, and acrylics. A committed educator, the bearer of two earned and eight honorary doctorates, Burke established two art schools while teaching at Haverford and Swarthmore Colleges. She also taught at the Solebury School, and several other institutions.

Image: Selma Burke, photograph by Jack Rosen, photo courtesy James A. Michener Art Museum, purchased with funds provided by Anne & Joseph Gardocki


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