“Reach in your pocket. There … find a dime & look at the face of it.” You will find the likeness of United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Who was the artist who fashioned the likeness the graces our national currency? Mooresville native, Dr. Selma H. Burke, a native of Mooresville, Iredell County, an American woman descended from slaves.
The daughter of an African Methodist Episcopal Zion minister, Burke was born 31 December 31 1900. Around 1907, playing in the mud in a creek near School Street, Burke realized that she had a fascination with and talent for sculpting. Her mother, knowing she needed more “practical” training, persuaded her to further her education at the school now known as Winston-Salem State University. Burke made her way to Harlem, New York City, as a nurse, but by the mid-1930s was the recipient of the grants that allowed her to study sculpting in the U.S. and Europe. In 1944 she won a competition, securing commissioned to sculpt a plaque portrait of Franklin Roosevelt. It was unveiled in 1945 and adapted for use on the dime, though credited to engraver John Sinnock.
Burke, wearing a smock, seated next to her portrait bust of Booker T. Washington, 1930s.
Burke’s portrait and an original bust she sculpted can be found in the Mooresville Public Library.
Burke’s plaque portrait of F.D. Roosevelt.
Text adapted from “Dr. Selma Burke,” themooresvillemuseum.org; and “Selma Hortense Burke,” NCpedia.org; photo by Pinchos Horn, Federal Art Project, Photographic Division collection, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution; image of F.D.R. plaque courtesy of ncdcr.gov.