Jacob Burck

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Jacob Burck
Jacob Burck circa 1935 by wife Esther Kriger
Born Yankel Bochkowsky
(1907-01-07)January 7, 1907
near Białystok, Poland
Died May 11, 1982(1982-05-11) (aged 75)
near Chicago
Nationality American
Education Art Students League
Known for painting, sculpture, cartooning
Notable work If I Should Die Before I Wake
Style Proletarian Art
Spouse(s) Esther Kriger
Awards 1941 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning

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


Early Years[edit]

Jacob Burck was born Yankel Bochkowsky on January 10, 1907, near Białystok, Poland, the son of ethnic Jewish parents, Abraham Burke and Rebecca Lev Burke.[1][2]

Burck lived in Cleveland until 1924.[3] 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 (ASL) under Albert Sterner and Boardman Robinson.[3] It was there that he met and married fellow art student Esther Kriger.

New York Years[edit]

"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.[3] 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]."[3] Nevertheless, Burck continued his artistic practice, including portraiture.[4]

In 1927 or 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. He went on staff at The Daily Worker full-time as cartoonist in 1929.[2][3]

Burck was close friends with Alexander Calder, Whittaker Chambers (husband of ASL classmate Esther Shemitz),[5] Langston Hughes, Meyer Schapiro, and many other figures in the New York art and progressive scene. During this period, he exhibited with other prominent artists, including: George Grosz, 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.[6]

During the mid-1930s, Burck was a contributing editor of Labor Defender, monthly magazine of the Communist Party's legal defense organization, International Labor Defense.[7] He also contributed work to the official organ of the party's social and fraternal organization, the International Workers Order.[7]

In 1935, Burck traveled to Moscow with Kriger and their first son to complete and install a set of murals commissioned by Intourist, Inc. A New York Times review of studies for the murals stated, "Mr. Burck has arranged his figures with uncommon skill, achieving a pattern of splendidly organized vitality."[8] 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 to glorify Stalin. The couple returned without completing the mural.[9] This episode seems to have marked the end of Burck's connection with the Communist movement.

Chicago Years[edit]

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.[10]

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.[4] 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.[9] The Government claimed that Burck had joined the Communist Party in 1934 and remained a member at least through 1936.[9] Burck denied ever joining the Party, claiming membership had been pressed on him by his employer, the Daily Worker.[9]

Burck's defense was able to demonstrate "a long record of anti-communism... [was] exemplified in his political cartoons."[11] Charges were eventually dropped after a sustained legal defense funded personally by the publisher of the Chicago Sun-Times, Marshall Field III.[11] The deportation order was formally vacated by an act of the United States Congress in April 1957.[12]

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.[13] Over the course of his career he was responsible for drawing over 10,000 editorial cartoons.[1]

Death and Legacy[edit]

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.[13] 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.[14]

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 Whitney Museum of American Art,[15] the Cleveland Museum of Art[16] and the University of Michigan Museum of Art.[17]

His evocative portrait of Hugh Hefner, the smoke from his pipe forming a group of writhing bodies, hung in the Playboy mansion in Chicago.[18][19]

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.[20]


According to art historian Andrew Hemingway, "Burck was singled out for special treatment in 1935 when the Daily Worker published a 250-page volume of his cartoons under the title Hunger and Revolt. The book also contained 11 essays by prominent people including John Strachey and Henri Barbusse.[2][3]

(In addition, Hemingway notes, "Within the John Reed Club Burck had a reputation as a formidable polemicist who was widely read in the 'history and theory of art.' His occasional pieces in the Daily Worker certainly show him as a capable writer, and in 1935 he published an article "For Proletarian Art" as part of a debate in the American Mercury."[2])


  • 1941 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning for If I Should Die Before I Wake [21][22]
  • 1942 Sigma Delta Chi Award, inaugural prize for editorial cartooning from the Society of Professional Journalists


  1. ^ a b c d Brennan, Elizabeth A.; Elizabeth C. Clarage. Who's Who of Pulitzer Prize Winners. Who's Who. p. 141. 
  2. ^ a b c d Hemingway, Andrew (October 2015). "Rise and Fall of 'Proletarian Art,' Part II". Detroit: Solidarity. Retrieved 4 November 2016. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Burck, Jacob (1935). Hunger and Revolt: Cartoons. New York: The Daily Worker. p. 247. 
  4. ^ a b "Sherwood Winner for a Third Time". New York Times. May 6, 1941. 
  5. ^ Chambers, Whittaker (1952). Witness. Random House. pp. 259–260, 267, 278. ISBN 0-89526-571-0. 
  6. ^ Jewell, Edward Alden (November 9, 1932). "Art in Review". New York Times. 
  7. ^ a b "Investigation of Un-American Propaganda Activities in the United States: Appendix — Part IX: Communist Front Organizations". Washington, DC: HUAC (United States Government Printing Office). 1944. pp. 842, 852, 960. 
  8. ^ New York Times, February 10, 1935
  9. ^ a b c d "Deportation Order". Time magazine. July 20, 1953. 
  10. ^ "Poison pen pals". Northern Illinois University. Retrieved May 18, 2013. 
  11. ^ a b "Friends and Elations," Time magazine, April 19, 1954.
  12. ^ Huston, Luther A. (April 17, 1957). "Cartoonist Wins Deportation Bar: Congress Suspends Order Against Jacob Burck and 130 Others". New York Times. p. 17. 
  13. ^ a b "Obituary: Jacob Burck". New York Times. May 13, 1982. 
  14. ^ "List of 1970 Sculpture Exhibitions". Art Institute of Chicago. Retrieved May 18, 2013. 
  15. ^ http://collection.whitney.org/artist/198/JacobBurck
  16. ^ "Jacob Burck". Cleveland Museum of Art. Retrieved May 18, 2013. 
  17. ^ "Jacob Burck: The Lord Provides". University of Michigan. Retrieved May 18, 2013. 
  18. ^ "Hef - Christie's, Sale 1325, Lot 52". Christie's. Retrieved May 18, 2013. 
  19. ^ Mojica, Jason (2003). "Playboy at 50". The Modernist. 
  20. ^ "Life of the People, by Jacob Burck". Library of Congress. Retrieved May 18, 2013. 
  21. ^ http://www.pulitzer.org/awards/1941
  22. ^ http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2009/03/09/a-month-of-pulitzer-prize-winning-cartoons-day-9/

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