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Master Artist Bios:

Margaret Burroughs

by Henry S.H. Young

 

Margaret Taylor-Burroughs

United States, November 1, 1917 - November 21, 2010

Painter, Poet, Author and Printmaker

 

 

 

Margaret Taylor-Burroughs (November 1, 1915 - November 21, 2010) was a prominent African-American artist and writer and a co-founder of the DuSable Museum of African American History.  She also helped to establish the South Side Community Art Center, whose opening on May 1, 1941 was dedicated by the First Lady of the United States, Eleanor Roosevelt.  There at the age of 23, Burroughs served as the youngest member of its board of directors.  She was a prolific writer, with her efforts directed toward the exploration of the Black experience and to children, especially to their appreciation of their cultural identity and to their introduction and growing awareness of art.

 

She is also credited with the founding of Chicago's Lake Meadows Art Fair in the early 1950s. At its inception there were very limited venues and galleries for African American Artists to exhibit and sell their artwork, so she launched the Fair, which rapidly grew in popularity and became one of the most anticipated exhibitions for artists, collectors and others throughout the greater Chicago area. After a brief hiatus beginning in the early 1980s, it was resurrected by Helen Y. West in 2005 - and another of Margaret Burroughs' legacies lives on.

 

Margaret Burroughs Sojourner Truth, c.1990's

Linocut, 21 x 14 inches

Margaret Burroughs African Odalisque, 1996

Linocut, 15 1/2 x 19 3/4 inches

 

Burroughs was born in St. Rose, Louisiana, and by the time she was five years old the family had moved to Chicago. There she attended Englewood High School along with Gwendolyn Brooks, who in 1985-1986 served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (now United States Poet Laureate). As classmates, the two joined the NAACP Youth Council. She earned teacher's certificates from Chicago Teachers College in 1936 and 1939, and in 1948 earned her Masters in Fine Arts from the Art Institute of Chicago after having earned her Bachelor's there in 1946.

Taylor-Burroughs married the artist Bernard Goss (1913–1966) in 1939, and they divorced in 1947. In 1949 she married Charles Gordon Burroughs, and they had been married for forty-five years at the time he died in 1994 

Taylor-Burroughs taught at DuSable High School from 1946 to 1969, and from 1969 to 1979 was a professor of humanities at Kennedy-King College, a community college in Chicago. She also taught African American Art and Culture at Elmhurst College in 1968. 

Margaret and her husband Charles co-founded what is now called the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago in 1961. The institution was originally known as the Ebony Museum of Negro History and Art and made its debut in the living room of their house at 3806 S. Michigan Avenue in the Bronzeville neighborhood on Chicago's south side [6], and Taylor-Burroughs served as its executive director for the first ten years of its existence. She was proud of the institution's grass-roots beginnings: "...we’re the only one that grew out of the indigenous Black community. We weren’t started by anybody downtown; we were started by ordinary folks.”

The DuSable Museum, Chicago, Illinois

Released under the GNU Free Documentation License.

 

The museum moved to its current location at 740 E. 56th Place in Washington Park in 1973, and today is the oldest museum of Black culture in the United States.

Margaret Burroughs has created many of her own works of art as well. In one of Burroughs' linocuts, "Birthday Party," both black and white children are seen celebrating. The black and white children are not isolated from each other; instead they are intermixed and mingling around the table together waiting for birthday cake. An article published by The Art Institute of Chicago described Burroughs' "Birthday Party and said, "Through her career, as both a visual artist and a writer, she has often chosen themes concerning family, community, and history. 'Art is communication,' she has said. 'I wish my art to speak not only for my people - but for all humanity.' This aim is achieved in Birthday Party, in which both black and white children dance, while mothers cut cake in a quintessential image of neighbors and family enjoying a special day together".

Burroughs was impacted by Harriet Tubman, Gerard L. Lew, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, and W.E.B. DuBois. In Eugene Feldman’s “The Birth and Building of the DuSable Museum” he writes about the influence DuBois had on Burroughs’ life. Feldman believes that Burroughs greatly admired DuBois and writes that she campaigned to bring him to Chicago to lecture to audiences. Feldman wrote, “If we read about ‘cannibalistic and primitive Africa,’…It is a deliberate effort to put down a whole people and Dr. DuBois fought this… Dr. Burroughs saw Dr. DuBois and what he stood for and how he suffered himself to attain exposure of his views. She identified entirely with this important effort." Therefore, Burroughs clearly believed in Dr. DuBois and the power of his message.

In many of Burroughs' pieces, she depicts people with half black and half white faces. In "The Faces of My People" Burroughs carved five people staring at the viewer. One of the women is all black, three of the people are half black and half white and one is mostly white. While Burroughs is attempting to blend together the black and white communities, she also shows the barriers that stop the communities from uniting. None of the people in “The Faces of My People” are looking at each other, and this implies a sense of disconnect among them. On another level, "The Faces of My People deals with diversity. An article from "The Collector Magazine" website

describes Burroughs' attempts to unify in the picture. The article says, "Burroughs sees her art as a catalyst for bringing people together. This tableau of diverse individuals illustrates her commitment to mutual respect and understanding".

Burroughs once again depicts faces that are half black and half white in “My People." Even though the title is similar to the last piece, the woodcut has some differences. In this scene, there are four different faces – each of which is half white and half black. The head on the far left is tilted to the side and close to the head next to it. It seems as both heads are coming out of the same body – taking the idea of split personalities to the extreme. The women are all very close together, suggesting that they relate to each other. In “The Faces of My People” there were others pictured with different skin tones, but in “My People” all of the people have the same half black and half white split. Therefore, “My People” focuses on a common conflict that all the women in the picture face.

The holdings of the Koehnline Museum of Art at Oakton Community College include a collection of fifteen of Burroughs' linocut prints from the 1990s.

Taylor-Burroughs won the Paul Robeson Award in 1989.

 

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