Selma Burke


Selma Burke was born on December 31st, 1900 in Mooresville, North Carolina, United States and is the Sculptor from United States. Discover Selma Burke's biography, age, height, physical stats, dating/affair, family, hobbies, education, career updates, and networth at the age of 94 years old.

Date of Birth
December 31, 1900
United States
Place of Birth
Mooresville, North Carolina, United States
Death Date
Aug 29, 1995 (age 94)
Zodiac Sign
Sculptor, Visual Artist
Selma Burke Height, Weight, Eye Color and Hair Color

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Selma Burke Religion, Education, and Hobbies
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Columbia University, Winston-Salem State University
Selma Burke Spouse(s), Children, Affair, Parents, and Family
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About Selma Burke

Selma Hortense Burke (December 31, 1900 – August 29, 1995) was an American sculptor and a member of the Harlem Renaissance movement.

Burke is best known for a bas relief portrait of President Franklin D. Roosevelt which inspired the profile found on the obverse of the dime.

She described herself as "a people's sculptor" and created many pieces of public art, often portraits of prominent African-American figures like Duke Ellington, Mary McLeod Bethune and Booker T. Washington.

In 1979, she was awarded the Women's Caucus for Art Lifetime Achievement Award


Selma Burke was born on December 31, 1900, in Mooresville, North Carolina, the seventh of 10 children of Reverend Neil and Mary Elizabeth Coalfield Burke. Her father was an AME Church Minister who worked on the railroads for additional income. Her father died when she was twelve and at the time her mother was one hundred one years old. As a child, she attended a one-room segregated schoolhouse, and often played with the riverbed clay found near her home. She would later describe the feeling of squeezing the clay through her fingers as a first encounter with sculpture, saying "It was there in 1907 that I discovered me." Burke's interest in sculpture was encouraged by her maternal grandmother, a painter, although her mother thought she should pursue a more financially stable career. "You can't make a living at that," Burke recalls her mother saying about her desire to study art.

Burke attended Winston-Salem State University before graduating in 1924 from the St. Agnes Training School for Nurses in Raleigh. She married a childhood friend, Durant Woodward, in 1928, although the marriage ended with his death less than a year later. She later moved to Harlem to work as a private nurse. She was employed as a private nurse to a wealthy heiress. This heiress later became a patron of Burke and helped her become financially stable during the great depression.

After moving to New York City in 1935, Burke began art classes at Sarah Lawrence College. She also worked as a model in art classes to pay for that schooling. In 1935, during this time, she also became involved with the Harlem Renaissance cultural movement through her marriage with the writer Claude McKay, with whom she shared an apartment in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan. The relationship was brief and tumultuous – McKay would destroy her clay models when he did not find the work to be up to his standards – but it introduced Burke to an artistic community that would support her burgeoning career. Burke began teaching for the Harlem Community Arts Center under the leadership of sculptor Augusta Savage, and would go on to work for the Works Progress Administration on the New Deal Federal Art Project. One of her WPA works, a bust of Booker T. Washington, was given to Frederick Douglass High School in Manhattan in 1936.

Burke traveled to Europe twice in the 1930s, first on a Rosenwald fellowship to study sculpture in Vienna in 1933-34. She returned in 1936 to study in Paris with Aristide Maillol. While in Paris she met Henri Matisse, who praised her work. One of her most significant works from this period is "Frau Keller" (1937), a portrait of a German-Jewish woman in response to the rising Nazi threat which would convince Burke to leave Europe later that year. With the onset of World War II, Burke chose to work in a factory as a truck driver for the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It was her opinion that, during the war, "artists should get out of their studios."

After returning to the United States, Burke won a graduate school scholarship to Columbia University, where she would receive a Master of Fine Arts degree in 1941.

In 1940 Burke founded the Selma Burke School of Sculpture in New York City. She was committed to teaching art. She opened the Selma Burke Art School in New York City in 1946, and later opened the Selma Burke Art Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Open from 1968 to 1981, the center "was an original art center that played an integral role in the Pittsburgh art community," offering courses ranging from studio workshops to puppetry classes.

Burke used her art to make opportunities to bring people together. In Mooresville, black children were banned from use of the public library. With her rising fame, Burke chose to donate a bust of a local doctor on the condition that the ban be removed. The town accepted.

In 1949 Burke married architect Herman Kobbe, and moved with him to an artists' colony in New Hope, Pennsylvania. Kobbe died in 1955, but Burke continued to live in her New Hope home until her death in 1995, at the age of 94.

She has taught at Livingstone College, Swarthmore College, and Harvard University, as well as Friends Charter School in Pennsylvania and Harlem Center in New York.