Updated: Feb 25, 2021
Selma Hortense Burke was born December 31, 1900, in Mooresville, North Carolina, the seventh of ten children born to Neal Burke and Mary Jackson Burke Cofield. Burke’s artistic interest was in part fostered by her grandmother who had been an artist, and her father, who, was a chef aboard several oceangoing ships. He acquired numerous artifacts throughout his travels to the Caribbean, Africa, South America, and Europe (Burke, Selma 1900–1995, 2020).
Inspired by the Harlem Renaissance movement emerging around her, Burke began to focus on art. In 1938, she studied with Aristide Maillol and Henri Matisse in Europe after earning both Rosenwald and Boehler Foundation Fellowships. After completing an M.F.A. at Columbia University in 1941, Burke began to teach art, at the Harlem Community Art Center in New York.
Many are not aware of the fact that Selma Burke is responsible for the sculpture of Franklin Delano Roosevelt that was minted on the American dime. Burke originally had planned on creating the profile from photographs, but, unable to find an appropriate picture in newspapers or in library records, she wrote to the president requesting a sitting. President Roosevelt granted an appointment on February 22, 1944.
In addition to being a great artist and poet, she founded the Selma Burke Art Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She taught many and supported numerous artists from the period of the Depression through the present day.
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