Emma Richardson Cherry, known as the "Dean of Houston Art," is credited with introducing many Houstonians to fine art. Emma Richardson was born in Aurora, Illinois in 1860. She was recognized as an artist by the age of 18. She met her husband, Dillon Brooke Cherry, while teaching art in Nebraska.
Mrs. Cherry studied in New York, Paris, and Italy before moving to Houston in 1892. Cherry began teaching art in her home, and continued to do so for half a century. Cherry organized the Houston Public School Art League* in 1900 with four other art advocates: Mrs. Robert S. Lovett, Miss Lydia Adkisson, Miss Roberta Lavender and Miss Cara Redwood. The group would obtain examples of fine art masterpieces and bring them to the schools. One attempt was not favorably received- a replica plaster of Paris nude Venus de Milo was offered to Central High School; the School Board thought it would corrupt students morals and refused to accept it. The League gave the statue to the public library instead (today it can be seen on the second floor of the Julia Ideson Building). According to one newspaper account, parents would warn their children: "You may go down to the library, my dears, but don't go near that Venus." (Houston Post 4-12-1953)
The independent spirit was recognized in a 1923 Houston Chroniclearticle: "Mrs. Cherry's work has always been characterized by an independent spirit and forward-looking attitude." In 1913, the group she had organized shortened their name to the Houston Art League*, setting its sights on raising money to open a fine arts museum in the city. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston opened in 1924. Emma Richardson Cherry was the first woman to have a solo exhibit at the museum.
Cherry worked in oil, watercolors, pastels, pencil and charcoal, and considered herself a modernist, but she painted a number of traditional portraits while living in Houston. She is known for her paintings of flowers, and in 1937 did a study of oleanders to be presented to President Franklin Roosevelt during his visit to Galveston. Her four most popular works are of the Texas Republic Capitol, the Sam Houston home, and of the Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis homes.
Mrs. Cherry continued to paint in her Houston home until a few weeks before her death at the age of 93 in 1954.
Emma Richardson Cherry was a painter in oil, watercolor, and pastel of portraits, figures, landscapes, and wildflowers as well as works with western themes. She also painted murals and was an art teacher. Her subject matter was wide ranging with views of Texas, often with bluebonnets, California, and Colorado including Pikes Peak and Mount Evans.
Cherry was born on February 28, 1859 in Aurora, Illinois, and her father, Perkins Richardson, was an architect. Her mother was Frances Ann Mostow Richardson. Emma spent her childhood in Aurora, and then attended the Art Institute of Chicago* before enrolling in the Art Student League* in New York City from 1882-1883. There her teachers included William Merritt Chase, George de Forest Brush, Henry Bainbridge McCarter, Rhoda Holmes Nicholls, and Kenyon Cox. Following this period, she studied in Paris at the Academies Julian*, Delecluse* and Merson. Her teachers were Andre Lhote, Luc-Olivier Merson, and Jules Lefebvre. In Italy she took lessons from Zanetti-Zilla, and she also toured in Spain and Belgium.
Returning to the United States, Richardson took a teaching job at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln and also taught a summer session of the Metropolitan Museum of Art* in New York. In 1887, she married Dillon Brooke Cherry, a Lincoln, Nebraska man who was in an oil broker. The couple moved to Denver, Colorado in 1888, and in 1893, she helped organize the Denver Art Club, where she exhibited in 1894 and 1895. About 1893, the couple moved to Houston, Texas, which became her permanent home. Her residence, now operated by the Harris County Heritage Society, was formerly the home of William Marsh Rice, whose money was key in the establishment of Rice University.
For a few years after her move to Texas, she kept her ties to Colorado, and an undated clipping from the Denver Public Library described her work exhibited at the 1894-95 Denver Art Club. "Mrs. Cherry of Texas contributes an artistic galaxy of three water colors and three oils, a fine painting of a basket of lilies being among the number. She also has an excellent painting in oil of a corner of a studio, showing the various bric-a-brac promiscuously strewn around." (Samuels 93)
In Texas, she worked as a painter and arts promoter, helping to found in 1900 the Houston Public School Art League, the predecessor to The Museum of Fine Arts. She was director of the Elisabet Ney Museum in Austin, and worked to organize the San Antonio Art League.
Emma Richardson Cherry exhibited extensively during her career. Her shows included the Western Art Association, Omaha; the Art Institute of Chicago; World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago; Denver Artist's Club; Fort Worth Art Museum; Southern States Art League; Houston Art League; Texas Wild Flower Competitive Exhibition; Texas State Fair and Paris Salon.
The artist died the 29th of October 1954 in Houston. It was said at the time of her death in 1954 that she, at age 94, was the oldest living member of the New York Art Students League.