“I’ve been going to Africa since 1968, and every place I’ve gone there are masks, usually for religious symbolism,” says art historian Margaret Burroughs. Burroughs made two ceramic masks in the South Side Community Art Center’s current exhibit Mask of the Spirit, which displays masks created by 14 local artists influenced by African art. Burrough’s masks resemble authentic tribal craft work, with gaping eyes and expressive mouths. “I did those in the 50s or 60s, but they look contemporary,” she says. “Many of the motifs I’ve seen in Africa go into my work. I borrow from many countries.”

As founder of the DuSable Museum of African American History, Burroughs has been documenting the relation between African and African-American art since 1941, when she helped start the South Side Community Art Center. “I’m among two living people whose names are on the original charter,” Burroughs says. “I was at the opening when Mrs. Roosevelt came to cut the ribbon.”

The South Side Community Art Center was one of ten art centers in the country organized under the WPA. “It’s the only one remaining because the committee bought the building,” says Burroughs. “It was the Comiskey family mansion, and at the time white people were fleeing the south side and selling their houses for little or nothing.”

In 1961 Burroughs founded the DuSable Museum in her house across the street from the center. “It was the first African-American history museum in the country,” she says. “The original name was the Ebony Museum, but Ebony magazine was on 18th and Michigan and our mail got mixed up. We decided to honor DuSable because we felt the city didn’t have a proper monument to him.” The DuSable Museum moved into the Washington Park field house in 1973.

The exhibit Mask of the Spirit runs until November 3 at the South Side Community Art Center, 3831 S. Michigan. Hours are noon to 5 Wednesday through Saturday; admission is free. Burroughs will serve as queen of the 53rd annual Artists & Models Ball, the center’s main fund-raiser, this Saturday at 7 PM at the South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. South Shore Drive; tickets are $75. Call 373-1026 for more information.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Donna Hodge.