Selma Hortense Burke

Selma Burke BurkeSelma Hortense Burke (1900-1995) was born in  North Carolina, one of ten children of  a local Methodist minister.  She received her formal educational training from Winston Salem University and later graduated in 1924 as a registered nurse from St. Agnes Training School for Nurses in Raleigh.  After graduating she moved to New York City where she worked as a private nurse.

While in New York, Burke began to focus on her art and became associated with the Harlem Renaissance.  Working in Harlem for the Works Progress Administration and the Harlem Artists Guild, Burke began teaching art appreciation and education to New York youth.  During the 1930s, she traveled across Europe studying and honing her skills as an artist. In 1940 she opened the Selma Burke School of Sculpture in New York City and the following year graduated with a Master of Fine Arts degree from Columbia University.  In 1942 she joined the navy, making her one of the first African American women to enroll.  While in the navy, Burke was commissioned to do a bronze relief portrait of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt which is currently on the United States dime. Since the coin bears the initials of the engraver, John Sinnock, Selma Burke has never received proper credit for the portrait used on the dime.

Sources: Charlotte Striefer Rubinstein, American Women Sculptors: A History of Women Working in Three Dimensions (Boston: G. K. Hall & Company, 1990);


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