Pauline Powell-Burns (June 1872 – June 1, 1912) 8 was an early artist and musician in Oakland. She was probably the first Black woman to have an art exhibit in California. 1
Her great-great grandmother was Sally Hemings; her great-grandfather was blacksmith Joseph Fossett, one of Thomas Jefferson's slaves who was freed by the terms of his will in 1826. Her grandmother Isabella Fossett was also a slave, and as a child was sold away from Monticello in 1827 as part of a settlement of estate debts, later escaping to Boston. 2
Powell's parents William Powell and Josephine Powell moved to Oakland where Pauline was born in 1872. William was a Pullman Porter for the Central Pacific Railroad. The Powells also had son, William T. Powell. Their home was at the corner of Jefferson and 16th 3 at 579 - 16th (593 after renumbering.) The house next door is now Jacobs House in Preservation Park.
On October 11, 1893, Pauline married Edward Ellis Burns. They had no children.
Very few of Powell-Burns' paintings are known to exist. One source on Wikipedia says that two watercolors are at the Dunsmuir Hellman House. Another site said that the Oakland Museum of California had the largest collection of her work. The National Museum of African American Culture and History in Washington, D.C. has an oil painting of violets, painted about 1890. 4
Powell-Burns gave numerous piano performances around the Bay Area, and occasionally in Los Angeles. She also performed as part of the "California Imperial Four," which performed music along with dramatic readings. It consisted of Powell-Burns on piano; Juvia Beatrice Roan, soproano; James A. Logan, tenor; and Richard B. Harrison, reader. 12 Powell-Burns also taught piano; Pearl Hinds Roberts was one of her students.
Death and Legacy
Edward died November 22, 1898 and is buried in Mountain View Cemetery. 11 Pauline died June 1, 1912 of tuberculosis, just short of her 40th birthday. 2 Her burial location isn't mentioned, but is likely Mountain View Cemetery as well, as her mother is also buried there.
In 1925, the recently formed Oakland branch of the California Native Daughters was named in Powell-Burns' memory. 5
Links and References
- Getting Word: African American Families of Monticello
- Pauline Powell Burns on Wikipedia
- Pauline Powell Burns AAMLO
- Violets c.1890 at National Museum of African American Culture and History
- Activities Among Negroes by Delilah Beasley Oakland Tribune November 1, 1925
- Metcalf Recital Oakland Tribune March 3, 1904
- photo Oakland Tribune October 24, 1903
- death notice Oakland Tribune June 2, 1912
- uclalsc_1889_b22_f16_009.tif Miriam Matthews Photograph Collection, UCLA
- No Cake Walk For This Year San Francisco Call July 8, 1897
- death notice Oakland Tribune November 23, 1898
- "Imperial Four" Los Angeles Times February 9, 1905
- "The Imperial Four" Los Angeles Times November 6, 1904
- Pauline Powell: Oakland Painter and Pianist Women Out West: Art on the Edge of America blog
- Still life with fruit bidsquare.com
- The conservator who is bringing lost stories of California's pioneering female artists to light Los Angeles Times October 5, 2018
- Pauline Powell Burns Getting Word
- Pauline Powell Burns (1872-1912) blackpast.org