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Jacob Burck

Jacob Burck
Jacob Burck circa 1935 by wife Esther Kriger
Born January 10, 1907
near Białystok, Poland
Died May 11, 1982(1982-05-11) (aged 75)
near Chicago
Education Art Students League
Known for painting, sculpture, cartooning
Spouse(s) Esther Kriger
Awards Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning 1941

Jacob "Jake" Burck (1907–1982) was an American painter, sculptor, and Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist.


  • Biography 1
    • Early years 1.1
    • New York years 1.2
    • Chicago years 1.3
    • Death and Legacy 1.4
  • Works 2
    • Art 2.1
    • Books 2.2
    • Awards 2.3
  • Footnotes 3
  • External links 4


Early years

Jacob Burck was born January 10, 1907,[1] near Białystok, Poland, the son of ethnic Jewish parents, Abraham Burke and Rebecca Lev Burke.[1]

Burck lived in Cleveland until 1924.[2] He attended the Cleveland School of Art on a scholarship after he was discovered on a Cleveland sidewalk sketching instead of attending elementary school.

Thereafter, Burck moved to New York City where he studied at the Art Students League of New York with Albert Sterner and Boardman Robinson.[2] It was there that he met and married fellow art student Esther Kriger.

New York years

"Working Class Bulwark," a cartoon by Burck from The Daily Worker, circa 1934.
Burck first worked professionally as an artist as a portrait painter, an occupation which he pursued full-time for one year.[2] He subsequently worked for a short time as a sign painter, his 1935 official biography claiming this decision was related to Burck's belief that this constituted "a more wholesome means of earning a living [than painting society portraits]."[2] Nevertheless, Burck continued his artistic practice, including portraiture.[3]

In 1928 Burck began to draw occasional editorial cartoons for the Communist Party's daily newspaper, The Daily Worker, as well as its monthly artistic-literary magazine, The New Masses.[2] He was added to the staff of The Daily Worker as a full-time cartoonist in 1929.[2]

Burck was close friends with José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, Jean Charlot, Thomas Hart Benton, Hugo Gellert, William Gropper, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Julio Castellanos, John Flannagan (sculptor), and Louis Lozowick.[5]

During the middle 1930s, Burck was a contributing editor of International Workers Order.[6]

In 1935, Burck traveled to Moscow with Kriger and their young son to complete and install a set of [7] This was a period in which the so-called "Cult of Personality" around Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was in full swing and Burck took umbrage to the Soviet government's insistence that he modify the content of his work so as to glorify Stalin. The couple returned without completing the mural.[8] This episode seems to have marked the end of Burck's connection with the Communist movement.

Chicago years

After returning from the USSR, Burck went to work as an editorial cartoonist for the St. Louis Post Dispatch, before moving to the Chicago Times in 1938. Burck's incisive and biting style led to his daily cartoons being syndicated by Field Newspaper Syndicate of Field Enterprises in more than 200 newspapers across the United States. Burck's signature style, with India ink with brush, grease pencil, or lithograph crayon, was soon adopted by Bill Mauldin and most other editorial cartoonists of the 1940s and 1950s.[9]

Burck won the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning while at the Chicago Times in 1941 for a cartoon titled, If I Should Die Before I Wake.[3] In 1942, he received the inaugural Society of Professional Journalists prize for editorial cartooning, the Sigma Delta Chi Award.[1]

Burck's continued style and criticism through cartooning of politicians, hypocrisy, and social injustice left him an open target during the Second Red Scare of the 1950s. Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee investigated his early, radical associations. In 1953, they attempted to have the bohemian Burck (who had neglected to formalize his US citizenship) deported.[8] The Government claimed that Burck had joined the Communist Party in 1934 and remained a member at least through 1936.[8] Burck denied ever joining the Party, claiming membership had been pressed on him by his employer, the Daily Worker.[8]

Burck's defense was able to demonstrate "a long record of anti-communism... [was] exemplified in his political cartoons."[10] Charges were eventually dropped after a sustained legal defense funded personally by the publisher of the Chicago Sun-Times, Marshall Field III.[10] The deportation order was formally vacated by an act of the United States Congress in April 1957.[11]

Burck's syndications dropped drastically because of the government case, but he continued to produce daily editorial cartoons for the Chicago Sun-Times, successor to the Chicago Times, over a 44-year career.

Burck's final published editorial cartoon appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times on February 23, 1982.[12] Over the course of his career he was responsible for drawing over 10,000 editorial cartoons.[1]

Death and Legacy

Jacob Burck died on May 11, 1982, at the age of 75, of injuries sustained in a fire in his home caused by a smoldering cigarette.[12] He was preceded in death by his wife, Esther, who died in 1975, and survived by his children, Joseph and Conrad.[1]



Burck was a prominent painter and sculptor through the 1960s and 1970s.[13]

Burck's original works were collected by Richard Nixon and are in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution, The Art Institute of Chicago, the Cleveland Museum of Art[14] and the University of Michigan Museum of Art.[15]

His evocative portrait of Hugh Hefner, the smoke from his pipe forming a group of writhing bodies, hung in the Playboy mansion in Chicago.[16][17]

His work is part of the "Capital and Labor" portion of the Library of Congress online exhibit Life of the People: Realist Prints and Drawings from the Ben and Beatrice Goldstein Collection, 1912–1948.[18]


  • Red Cartoons from the Daily Worker 1928. (contributor) New York: Daily Worker, 1928.
  • 1929 Red Cartoons reprinted from The Daily Worker. With Fred Ellis. New York: Daily Worker, 1929.
  • Burck, Jacob (1935). Hunger and Revolt: Cartoons. New York: The Daily Worker. 
  • Our 34th President: Ike's Campaign, Election and Inauguration in Historic Cartoons. Chicago: Chicago Sun-Times, 1953.


  • 1941 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning for If I Should Die Before I Wake [19][20]
  • 1942 Sigma Delta Chi Award, inaugural prize for editorial cartooning from the Society of Professional Journalists


  1. ^ a b c d e Brennan, Elizabeth A.; Elizabeth C. Clarage. Who's Who of Pulitzer Prize Winners. Who's Who. p. 141. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Burck, Jacob (1935). Hunger and Revolt: Cartoons. New York: The Daily Worker. p. 247. 
  3. ^ a b "Sherwood Winner for a Third Time". New York Times. 6 May 1941. 
  4. ^ Chambers, Whittaker (1952). Witness. Random House. pp. 259–260, 267, 278.  
  5. ^ Jewell, Edward Alden (9 November 1932). "Art in Review". New York Times. 
  6. ^ a b "Investigation of Un-American Propaganda Activities in the United States: Appendix — Part IX: Communist Front Organizations". Washington, DC:  
  7. ^ New York Times, February 10, 1935
  8. ^ a b c d "Deportation Order". Time magazine. 20 July 1953. 
  9. ^ "Poison pen pals". Northern Illinois University. Retrieved 18 May 2013. 
  10. ^ a b "Friends and Elations," Time magazine, April 19, 1954.
  11. ^ Huston, Luther A. (17 April 1957). "Cartoonist Wins Deportation Bar: Congress Suspends Order Against Jacob Burck and 130 Others". New York Times. p. 17. 
  12. ^ a b "Obituary: Jacob Burck". New York Times. 13 May 13 1982. 
  13. ^ "List of 1970 Sculpture Exhibitions". Art Institute of Chicago. Retrieved 18 May 2013. 
  14. ^ "Jacob Burck". Cleveland Museum of Art. Retrieved 18 May 2013. 
  15. ^ "Jacob Burck: The Lord Provides". University of Michigan. Retrieved 18 May 2013. 
  16. ^ "Hef - Christie's, Sale 1325, Lot 52". Christie's. Retrieved 18 May 2013. 
  17. ^ Mojica, Jason (2003). "Playboy at 50". The Modernist. 
  18. ^ "Life of the People, by Jacob Burck". Library of Congress. Retrieved 18 May 2013. 
  19. ^
  20. ^

External links

  • "If I Should Die Before I Wake." 1941 Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoon, accompanied by biographical information pulled from an earlier incarnation of this WorldHeritage biography. Retrieved October 18, 2009.
  • Index to Jacob Burck's Work on the Internet, Art Cyclopedia. Retrieved October 18, 2009.
  • Jacob Burck Internet Archive at Marxists Internet Archive. Retrieved October 19, 2009.
  • Hugh Hefner portrait in The Modernist
  • Comrades in Art: Jacob Burck
  • Comrades in Art: Esther Kriger
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