Selma Burke

Selma Burke

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Selma Burke

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Selma Hortense Burke (31 December 1900 – 29 August 1995) was an American sculptor.

Born in Mooresville, North Carolina to a farming family, she demonstrated an early interest in art. Her parents insisted she study a more marketable profession, and she graduated from the St. Agnes Training School for Nurses in Raleigh in 1924. She then moved to Harlem, where she found work as a nurse. Burke continued sculpting in her free time, and grants in the late 1930s enabled her to study sculpture in Vienna and with Aristide Maillol in Paris, culminating in her Master of Fine Arts degree from Columbia University in 1941.

Burke was chosen to sculpt a portrait of then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1943. Completed in 1944, the 3.5-by-2.5-foot plaque was unveiled in September 1945 at the Recorder of Deeds Building in Washington, D.C., where it still hangs today. Some historians, as well as Burke herself, believe this plaque served as John R. Sinnock's inspiration for his obverse design on the Roosevelt dime.

She was committed to teaching art to others, to that end she established the Selma Burke Art School in New York City and opened the Selma Burke Art Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

At the age of 80, in 1980, Burke produced her last monumental work, a statue of Martin Luther King Jr. that graces Marshall Park in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Burke is an honorary member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority.


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