The Inspirational Life of Marion Perkins

April 04 2021

The Inspirational Life of Marion Perkins

The Inspirational Life of Marion Perkins

Marion Perkins was a most interesting artist. Not only did he play an essential part in the Chicago Renaissance, which rocked the nation in the 1930s, but he played a significant role politically, getting involved in communist movements trying to change the world for all African-Americans. 


Although his life was cut short, Marion made a significant impact in the artistic world. Let’s learn more about this fascinating sculptor. 


Marion Perkins - Quick Facts


Full Name:

Marion Perkins

Date of Birth:

1908

Spouses:

Eva Gillon

Children:

3 sons

Known for:

Sculptor

Movement:

Chicago Renaissance

Died:

1961 (53 years old)

The Early Life of Perkins


Born in the year 1908, Marion Perkins grew up in the state of Arkansas, United States. When he was 8 years old, Marion suffered a terrible loss when both of his parents passed away. 


He left his home in Arkansas to reside with his aunt in Chicago. Although Marion did attend high school, he did not graduate. Living in South Side Chicago was not easy for any young student, and often these young people had to assist their families with the cost of living by finding work. Perkins did just that. 


He would find various humble work here and there, and eventually, he worked at a stall selling newspapers. While selling papers to passersby, he would pass the time by carving pieces of stone or wood that he had found. You could always find him busy sculpting away at whatever he could get his hands on. 


The Start Of Marion Perkins’ Career


Eventually, Perkins started to draw attention to himself and his sculptures while he was standing by the newspaper stand. Margaret Burroughs and Peter Pollock were the two people in particular who were really interested in Perkins’ work. Both these artists were trying to raise monetary funds for a community art center in South Side Chicago. 


The community welcomed Perkins with open arms. This was exactly what the community needed. He started exhibiting his work at various galleries and teaching in the art centers of Chicago. Perkins received a large commission from a local family in the 1940s; he was to sculpt six statues for a hotel resort in Michigan. As requested, Perkins adorned the children in the Dutch costumes but gave them African-American features. This was brave on his part! But the family absolutely loved the work!


Marion Perkins continued to work menial jobs to support his family, but he also pursued his dream career as a sculptor by sculpting either out of wood or stone. 


This continued to grab the attention of many art galleries in Chicago, and he participated in several exhibitions. The Art Institute of Chicago purchased his bust of a sculpture called Man of Sorrows, which was a bust of a black Jesus Christ in 1951. 


This caught the eye of many in the country. Ebony magazine sent photographers to collect pictures of Perkins and his work for their profile on the artist. For the next ten years, Perkins continued his work as a sculptor. In 1961, his life was cut short, and he lost the battle with cancer. 


What was His Family Life Like?


During the 1930s, when the Great Depression was at its peak, Perkins met the love of his life and married Eva Gillon. He and Eva had 3 sons together. They were a powerhouse couple, networking and meeting inspiring artists and authors all over Chicago. Sadly, Eva passed away soon after the death of her husband. 


The Philosophy and Ideology Of Marion Perkins


Marion Perkins lived in a time where equality and social rights for African Americans were at their bleakest. He voiced his opinions about this issue, and many young African Americans were inspired to follow him. The slums of South Side Chicago needed a significant change, as many of its inhabitants were impoverished and segregated due to their racial background. 


Marion believed that a system would provide some relief to the people, and that was the idea that communism would be the answer to everyone’s problems. In fact, he later joined an artistic communist group in Chicago. 


During this rough time, the philosophy of Karl Marx and communist ideologies were rife in the United States because of all the injustice. The people have had enough. In the year 1945, the bombing of Hiroshima had just happened. 


This greatly affected Marion Perkins, and this cruel and unnecessary act angered him. So in 1948, he sculptured various sculptures called “Skywatchers” as a way to bring attention to this disaster.


Perkins firmly believed in the idealogy of Marx and became a staunch Marxist. He detested how the art world was changing, where the focus was on pleasing wealthy art buyers. As time went on, most people knew him to engage with known Marxists. The speculation of the time was that Perkins followed this political movement because of how he grew up in a poverty-stricken world. 


In Conclusion


One can’t help but feel saddened when learning about the life of Marion Perkins. He was a very talented artist and sculptor, and he made it his life’s work to draw attention to the inequality and injustice of all African Americans. 


He wanted a better world for all African Americans as well as for everyone else. If there is one lesson that we can learn from Marion Perkins’ life is this: what we do today will impact the lives of people tomorrow. So let’s make it count!



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