Selma Burke: The Real Designer of The Roosevelt Image on The U.S Dime in 1944, She Received No Recognition
Selma Burke, born December 31, 1900, was a talented artist, her father was a railway serviceman and her mother was a housewife. Selma began showing a keen interest in painting and sculpture from a very young age. She would often create using old cardboard and clay
Coming from a low-income family, Selma’s parents did not support her artistic pursuits however, her maternal grandmother was also an artist and she often encouraged her to follow her passion for the arts.
Selma was a bright spark and her academic grades were exceptional, which prompted her parents to encourage her to take up nursing. Selma went on to study at Winston Salem University where she met William Ariel, a college employee who eventually became her first patron. As a white man, Ariel was constantly criticized for mentoring Selma as this type of association was frowned upon at this time. Despite the obstacles, Ariel continued to coach and encourage Selma to perfect her artistic skills.
In 1943, Selma took part in a national contest which she won. The contest was funded by the Fine Arts Commission in Washington D.C. The challenge was to design a profile portrait of U.S President Franklin D Roosevelt. Selma attended the White House to create the piece. After a 45 minute session, Selma had produced a 3.4 by 2.5-foot plaque of President Roosevelt.
The plaque is still on display at the Recorder of Deeds Building where President Truman uncovered it in September 1945. Selma was a respected and admired artist in the African-American community however, her work went largely unnoticed in the white community.
In 1946, John R. Sinnock who was the American chief engraver at the time designed the Roosevelt dime. The image was a replica of the Roosevelt portrait designed by Selma for the contest.
Selma received no recognition for the part she played in designing the Roosevelt portrait however, later on, the National Archives and the Record Administration of the Roosevelt Library in New York admitted that Selma was the original designer of the image.
In 1946, Selma launched the Selma Burke School of Sculpture and the Selma Burke Art Centre in Pittsburg. Her mission was to inspire African American youth to work in the arts industry. The school and the art center inspired many young African Americans to take up careers in art and design.
Selma’s last artistic project was a bronze sculpture of Martin Luther King Jr. She died in 1995, she was 94 years old.
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