Selma Hortense Burke: Renowned African American Sculptor During the Harlem Renaissance

Written by Jae Jones

Sculptor Selma Hortense Burke achieved a high level of national recognition for her relief portrait of Frank Delano Roosevelt, which was his model on the dime.

Burke was born in Mooresville, North Carolina, and was one of ten children of Neal Burke, a local Methodist minister and Mary Jackson Burke. Selma received her formal educational training from Winston-Salem University and later graduated in 1924 as a registered nurse from St. Agnes Training for Nurses in Raleigh, North Carolina.

After graduating Burke moved to New York where she worked as a private duty nurse. While in New York, Selma began to focus on her artistic creations. Through a second brief marriage to Claude Mckay, she became associated with the Harlem Renaissance. While working in Harlem for the Progress Administration and Harlem Artist Guild, Burke began teaching art appreciation and education to the youth in the area.

Burke founded the Selma Burke Art Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1968 where she continued to introduce art to inner-city youth. She was widely praised for her engagement in civic organizations and endeavors in the Pittsburgh area. July 20, 1975, was adopted as Selma Burke Day by former Governor Milton Shapp of Pennsylvania.

Burke’s most notable sculptures include Temptation (1938), Despair (1951), and Fallen Angel (1958).  A nine-foot statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. that she completed while in her eighties is on display in Marshall Park in Charlotte, North Carolina. Many of Burke’s other sculptors can be seen at Winston-Salem State University. Selma Burke died at 94 years of age.





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About the author

Jae Jones

Jae Jones has been writing professionally for over 10 years. She holds a degree in Business Administration, and enjoys writing on various topics.

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