Dr. Selma H. Burke

(New Hope, Pennsylvania) – Famous sculptress, Painter, creator of the FDR profile that appears on the dime [inducted 1991]

You are probably carrying sculptress Selma Burke’s work in your pocket; it’s a replica of her most famous creation — a dime bearing the profile of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

She taught art in Pittsburgh and ran the Selma Burke Art Center from 1972 to 1981. She was chosen in the 1943 competition to design President Roosevelt’s profile. Before the profile was unveiled, it had to be approved by the Roosevelt family. Mrs. Roosevelt said, “Oh, it’s well done, but you’ve made him too young.” Mrs. Burke replied “I’ve not done it for today, but for tomorrow and tomorrow.”

Selma Burke was born in Mooresville, North Carolina and studied in Paris under French sculptor Aristide Maillol. She was a member of the Harlem Renaissance, a noted artistic movement in New York City in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Her first husband, Claude McKay, was a well-known black poet who died in 1947.

Dr. Burke did busts and bas relief sculptures of other famous people — Booker T. Washington, Duke Ellington, President Calvin Coolidge, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mary McLeod Bethune.

At age 83, she took a tour of classical Greece. On climbing to the Parthenon, she said, “I have taught this building so many times. I never thought I would live to see it.” (Tom Barnes, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) Comments from Dr. Selma Hortense Burke at the 1991 Pierian Assembly during her Honorary Membership Induction:

“I am forever grateful to The Pierians and the Pittsburgh chapter…you have tied your arms around me and it makes my heart cry inside. Thank you for sharing the last days of my life. It gives me great joy and satisfaction to know you are with me. Thank you.”

Selma H. Burke, 94, died on Tuesday August 29, 1995 in New Hope, Pennsylvania.