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Marion M Perkins

 (1908 - 1961)
Marion M. Perkins was active/lived in Illinois.  Marion Perkins is known for modernist sculptor of female figures.

Marion M. Perkins

Biography from Tyler Fine Art

Marion Perkins was born in 1908 near Marche, Arkansas. When his parents died in 1916, he
was sent to live with an aunt in Chicago. He attended Wendell Phillips High School in the
Bronzeville area. Perkins quit school just before his senior year, married and started a family.

His wife, Eva, was his muse and model for many of the feminine sculptures he created. Perkins
owned a newspaper stand for many years and had aspirations to become a playwright for a
short time. Sculpting was something he chose as a hobby in early days, and he was largely self-taught.

His work caught the eye of Margaret Burroughs, who was in his circle of friends, as well as Peter Pollack, gallery owner and administrator for the Illinois Art Project. The latter eventually became a patron and was instrumental in introducing him to Si Gordon, an Illinois Art Project sculptor and teacher. He gave Perkins his first formal training in sculpting at the black YMCA at 38th and Wabash. Perkins showed his work there for the first time in 1938 as part of a student show.

In the 1940’s, Perkins grew rapidly as an artist, and by the end of the decade, his work demonstrated a clear personal aesthetic. His technique was conservative by many critic’s standards as Abstraction was coming into vogue. Perkins process involved direct carving in stone or wood, a process that was favored by European Modernists like Constantin Brancusi,
André Derain, and Modigliani.

His politics also informed his work. Perkins was a committed Marxian activist and intellectual and “believed art could convey ideas effectively only through recognizable imagery.” Abstraction, in his views, was biased toward the elite, whereas figurative sculpture applied to all.

Perkins gleaned much of the marble and sandstone he used for his sculptures from homes
being wrecked in the Chicago area and worked in his backyard. In 1940, two of his
sculptures were chosen to appear in the American Negro Exposition. His work appeared
regularly in shows at the Art Institute of Chicago throughout the 1940’s and 50’s.

In 1947 he received a Rosenwald Grant, and in 1948, he won 2nd prize at the 52nd Annual Chicago and Vicinity Exhibition held at the Art Institute of Chicago for his work, Ethiopia Awakening. He taught classes at the South Side Community Art Center and took a ceramics course at Hull House.

By the 1950’s, Perkins’ work took on a more political tone. One of his most important works,
Man of Sorrow, not only received a prize from the Art Institute of Chicago in the 1951
Chicago and Vicinity Exhibition, but was also purchased for their collection. This work was
notable for its portrayal of a black Christ - strong in its presence, yet clearly expressing his

In 1952, he won the Joseph Golde prize at the Art Institute of Chicago for Dying Soldier. The last work he exhibited at the Art Institute in his lifetime was Unknown Political Prisoner in 1957.

Perkins was quite direct with the political themes in his art and wrote about his convictions in the Marxist monthly, Masses & Mainstream. He had been planning a series of figures, a monument to Hiroshima called the Skywatchers series. Although he did execute a number of marble reliefs and works in plaster, the project remained in the “study” stage.

Both Perkins and his wife died in 1961.

Schulman, Daniel. Marion Perkins: A Chicago Sculptor Rediscovered. Art Institute of
Chicago Museum Studies, vol. 24, no. 2, 1999, p. 220-243+267-271

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About  Marion M. Perkins

Born:  1908 - Marche, Arkansas
Died:   1961
Known for:  modernist sculptor of female figures