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Tue, 06.07.1927

Lilian Burwell, Sculptor born

Lilian Thomas Burwell

*Lilian Thomas Burwell was born on this date in 1927.  She is a Black sculptor and painter. Lilian Thomas Burwell was born in Washington, DC. into a creative family; her father was a photographer, her mother was an artist and craftsperson, and both taught art. Her aunt, Hilda Wilkinson Brown, was a renowned painter.

She was educated at the prestigious High School of Music and Art in New York City and Dunbar High School in Washington, DC. She then completed her studies at Pratt Institute in 1946 and earned a B.A. from DC Teachers College and M.F.A. in 1975 from Catholic University. Burwell studied abstract expressionism with famed artist Benjamin Abramowitz in the mid-1960s and worked in this genre until the early 1980s. Following her mother's death, her work moved into the sculptural with hand-carved wood and "paintings as sculpture."

She is a longtime member of the Washington, D.C., and African American arts communities and maintained close friendships with the painters Felrath Hines, Alma Thomas, and Sylvia Snowden. Burwell’s work is shaped by paintings that often blur the line between the two disciplines. Her artwork uses abstraction to create a personal response to the natural world.  She has exhibited in over 20 exhibits in the United States and abroad, including the Smithsonian Institution’s Anacostia Community Museum, the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library. In 1997, Hampton University Museum held a 30-year retrospective of her work and published From Painting to Painting as Sculpture: the Journey of Lilian Thomas Burwell

Her curatorial career spans 15 years and includes being the founding director of the Alma Thomas Memorial Gallery in Shaw for the D.C. Department of Education, curatorial director of the Sumner Museum and Archives, designer of art curriculum for DCPS, art teacher at Pratt Institute NYC, head of visual arts department at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, and adjunct art teacher as recently as 2012 at Anne Arundel Community College. She curated the exhibition "The Art of a People: Finding a Way Out of No Way" at the Banneker-Douglass Museum in 2015. In addition, Burwell has 30 years of graphic design experience, including work as a publication and exhibits specialist for the U.S. Department of Commerce.

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