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Emma Louise (Richardson) Cherry

 (1859 - 1954)
Emma Louise (Richardson) Cherry was active/lived in Kansas, Texas, Colorado / Europe.  Emma Cherry is known for landscape, portrait and still life painting, teaching, murals.

Emma Louise (Richardson) Cherry

Biography from the Archives of askART

Cherry, Emma Louise Isabel Richardson
(1859 Aurora, Illinois-1954 Houston, Texas)

Also known as Emma Louise Isabel Richardson

Although Texas claims her as “Dean of Houston Art,” (Dawdy II) and the state's "first modern artist" (Glasstire), Nebraska earns special association with her because it is the place of her earliest professional years. From 1880 to 1888, she was art instructor in Lincoln at the University of Nebraska School of Fine Arts. But unlike Texas where she received major public attention and financial security, Nebraska at first offered only studio space for painting and resume-building teaching experience but no salary. Taking her position there at age 21, she was groundbreaking as the first woman art instructor at the University of Nebraska. She replaced Frank Statler, a Polish artist who had conducted the classes since 1877. A catalog description of his class, inherited by Emma, was “free hand drawing and painting in all its branches---portrait, landscape, and frescoing---either in water color or oils.” (Boye 121) 

During her years at the University, art classes were listed for credits in the University catalogue, but were not officially part of the school curriculum. Edmund Fairfield was the University Chancellor; and early instruction was at University Hall, the only building on the campus.  Remaining for eight years, Emma was the first of a succession of women heading the Art Department: Sarah Moore (1888-1893), Cora Parker (1893-1899) and Sarah Shewell Hayden (1899-1916).

When Emma Richardson arrived in Nebraska, progress was underway. The second capitol building was being constructed around the original structure; telephone lines were being connected between Omaha, Lincoln, and Plattsmouth; and fine art activity was stirring, especially in Omaha. There Josephine Catlin in 1877 had organized the first art classes in Nebraska, and she and her associates established The Social Art Club in 1881 to sponsor art classes for women. And James Knox O’Neill, Omaha’s first professional resident artist arrived in the state in 1880 the same year as Emma.

From her hometown of Aurora, Illinois Emma had moved to Nebraska with her maternal grandfather, George Mostow; two younger brothers, two younger sisters and her parents, Frances Anna Mostow Richardson and Perkins Richardson. Her father was an architect and carpenter, and had overseen the building of the city hall in Aurora. Incative of her family being supportive of Emma’s special talents was her father recalling with pride “her drawing on the scraps of paper that fell from his drafting board.” (Trenton, 187)  Although her parents were not wealthy when she was young, they appear to have encouraged her to go for ‘the best.’

After high school, she spent two years at The Art Institute of Chicago (1878-1880), and when she got the ‘no-paying but credential-building job at the University of Nebraska, they moved the family including Grandfather George Mostow, age 80, to be in the vicinity. However, the location of their home is puzzling because it was in Crete, Nebraska 25 miles from the University campus. The family stayed together in Nebraska for the first two years of Emma’s residency, and then her parents and siblings moved to Kansas City, where Perkins Richardson apparently did well financially.  He architected “fine residences,” and until his death in 1907, he “became closely associated with the substantial improvement of Kansas City.” (Family Tree Maker) Reviewing those years she was in Nebraska, it becomes apparent she was self-improving, independent, took advantage of away time, and because of her outreach, had much to offer students.

In 1882 and 1883, Emma was in New York at the Art Students League with teachers William Merritt Chase, Kenyon Cox and George De Forest Brush. The next years she was in Paris at the Academies Julian, Delecluse and Merson, and among her teachers were Andre Lhote and Jules Lefebvre. In addition to teaching at the University of Nebraska, she conducted a summer session at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  

In 1887, when she was age twenty-eight, Emma married Dillon Brook Cherry, a Lincoln oil broker and President of Cherry Oil Company. The following year, the couple moved to Denver where she helped organize the Artists’ Club, and about 1893, the couple moved to Houston. However, she did remain active in Nebraska as she is listed as an exhibitor of artwork at the Fourth Annual Exhibition of the Haydon Art Club, December 1891-1892 at the Armory Building of the State University in Lincoln. This exhibition included paintings from The Art Institute, Chicago, and of Mr. George Lininger of Omaha. She also exhibited at the "Haydon Art Club Sixth Annual Exhibition, February 1 to March 1, 1899 in the Gallery of the Library Building of the State University." (Walsh)

In 1896, she and her husband moved to Houston, where her parents and a brother, Dr. James Perkins Richardson, were living. Emma and Dillon Cherry established themselves in a home they bought from William Marsh Rice, for whom Rice University is named. They moved the structure downtown, restored it, and now it is the Harris County Historical Society. They also had a daughter, Dorothy, with whom Emma lived after the death of her husband in 1937. In Texas, she grew into a highly popular and respected teacher, muralist and easel painter of portrait, figures, wildflowers and Texas bluebonnet landscapes. She was known as an artist who loved “sunshine and color.” (Powers 91)

Her media included oil, watercolor, pastels and charcoal. As one of the earliest professional women artists in Texas, she lived primarily in Houston, but also was in Austin where she served as Director of the Elisabet Ney Museum. In 1900, she co-organized the Houston Public School Art League, which later became the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. From her home, she gave art lessons for nearly half a century. Throughout her life Emma Cherry did extensive travel, including in 1888 and 1889 to Giverny, France where she was one of the first American women artists to gain direct knowledge of Impressionism.  Other travels included North Africa and Europe where she studied in Rome, Venice and Paris.

On October 29, 1954, Emma Richardson Cherry died at age 94, having painted in her studio until the last few weeks of her life by using a magnifying glass, and also having just been recognized as the oldest living member of the Art Students League of New York.

She had a long list of exhibition credits including the 1893 Chicago Exposition; National Academy of Design; Art Institute of Chicago; Salon des Beaux Arts, Paris 1926; and National Exhibition of American Art at Rockefeller Center, 1937. And occasionally she returned to Nebraska where she was an exhibitor and gold medal winner with the Western Art Association in Omaha. 

Her work is Nebraska public collections of the Sheldon Museum of Art, Lincoln; and Museum of Nebraska Art in Kearney. In Texas, her work is represented by the Elisabet Ney Museum, Austin; San Antonio Museum of Art; Witte Museum, San Antonio; and The Heritage Society and the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. Other museum collections are in Denver at the Colorado Historical Society and the Denver Art Museum; and Chicago at the John H. Vanderpoel Art Association.

Among Emma Cherry's association memberships were American Federation of Arts, Art Students League of New York, Denver and Houston Art Associations, Society of Independent Artists, Society of Western Artists, Southern States Art Association, and Texas Fine Arts Association.

Sources:, 1/2015, 8/2015

Boye, Alan and Rudolph Umland, Nebraska: A Guide to the Cornhusker State, 121

Dawdy, Doris Ostrander, Artists of the American West: Volume II

Family Tree Maker website, (“Perkins Richardson”)

Gerdts, William H. Art Across America, Volume III, p. 74

Glasstire website (Texas and Emma Cherry), accessed 4/2013

Texas Visual Art website (Text about Emma Cherry by Kelly Montana), accessed 4/ 2013

Handbook of Texas Online and Texas State Historical Association website, (Henson, Margaret Swett, “Cherry, Emma Richardson”), accessed 4/2013 

Knoll, Robert E, Prairie University

Kovinick, Phil and Marian Yoshiki-Kovinick, An Encyclopedia of Women Artists of the American West

Petteys, Chris, Dictionary of Women Artists

Powers, John and Deborah Powers, Texas Painters, Sculptors & Graphic Artists

Trenton, Patricia, Editor, Independent Spirits, 1890-1945, p. 187

Vintage Texas Paintings, website (“Emma Richardson Cherry)

Who Was Who in American Art, 1940

Researched, written, and copyrighted by Lonnie Pierson Dunbier, 2015
Museum of Nebraska Art Project:
Their Place, Their Time: Women Artists in Nebraska, 1825-1945

Biography from the Archives of askART
Portrait painter. Address was Rm 59, Sheidley Building, Kansas City in 1886.

Susan Craig, "Biographical Dictionary of Kansas Artists (active before 1945)"
Kansas State Gazetteer and Business Directory. Detroit: R.L. Polk & Co. (v.1= 1878-9 v.5= 1886 v.9= 1900) (v.2= 1880 v.6= 1888-89 v.10= 1904) (v.3= 1882-83 v.7= 1891 v.11= 1908) (v.4= 1884-85 v.8= 1894 v.12= 1912) 1886

This and over 1,750 other biographies can be found in Biographical Dictionary of Kansas Artists (active before 1945) compiled by Susan V. Craig, Art & Architecture Librarian at University of Kansas.

Biography from William Reaves Fine Art

Emma Richardson Cherry, artist and preservationist, was born in Aurora, Illinois, on February 28, 1859, the eldest of four children of James Perkins and Frances Ann (Mostow) Richardson. Her father was an architect and carpenter and built the Aurora City Hall. Since he was unable to finance her art education, she taught art at the university at Lincoln, Nebraska, for three years before going to New York for advanced study at the Art Students League. She married Dillon Brooke Cherry in Nebraska before she went to Paris for further lessons. Among the European artists with whom she studied at different times were Jules Joseph Lefebvre and Andre L'Hote in Paris and Vettore Zanetti-Zilla and Vicente Poveda y Juan in Italy.

The Cherrys moved from Denver to Houston about 1893 and later bought the home of William Marsh Rice, which had to be moved from its downtown location. At least one version of the story says that Mrs. Cherry bid twenty-five dollars for the ornate front door and perhaps some interior rails and, as the sole bidder, acquired the entire house; other versions say that her husband engineered the purchase through a sealed bid. In any event, preservation of the Rice house is due to Emma Cherry. The residence was eventually sold to the Harris County Heritage Society in 1954. Since 1959 it has been open to the public in the society's downtown Sam Houston Park.

Emma Cherry, one of the earliest professional women artists in Houston, worked in oils, watercolors, pastels, pencil, and charcoal; though at least one critic referred to her use of "modern" laws of color, she painted a number of traditional portraits while living in Houston and experimented with a number of styles. She was 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 other subjects include landscapes and figures. The most readily accessible of her works are four murals done for the Houston Public Library under the auspices of the Public Works Administration. In addition to a depiction of the capitol of the Republic of Texas and the first home of Sam Houston, both in Houston, she did views of the homes of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis.qqv Each of the four is mounted amid painted native flora and symbols appropriate to the subject.

She exhibited her work at the Metropolitan Art School and the National Academy of Design in New York City, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Witte Museum in San Antonio, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. She was also represented at the Paris Salon, the French-Irish exhibition in London, and the Columbian Exposition in 1893. In 1926 she traveled in North Africa and Europe, studying in Rome, Venice, and Paris; she made periodic trips abroad throughout her life. She taught locally in her studio. In 1900 she organized the Houston Public School Art League, which later became the Houston Museum of Fine Arts; the league provided replicas of old masters and ancient statues for public schools.

Mrs. Cherry won the gold medal from the Western Art Association in Omaha, Nebraska, a landscape prize from the Southern States Art League, and a still-life prize at the Texas Artists Exhibit in Nashville, Tennessee. In Texas her portraits won awards in Austin, Dallas, and Houston. Her works are included in the permanent collections of the Society of Civil Engineers in New York, the Denver Art Association, the Elisabet Ney Museumqv in Austin, the San Antonio Art League, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, and in public libraries. Mrs. Cherry was a member of many of the leading art associations of the United States. After the death of her husband in 1937, she lived with her only child, Dorothy, the wife of Col. Walter H. Reid. With the help of a magnifying glass, Emma Cherry continued to paint until a few weeks before her death, on October 29, 1954.

Selected Biographical and Career Highlights

• 1859, Born in Aurora, Illinois

• 1879-c.1886, Studies at Art Students League, New York

• 1888-89, Attends Academie Julian

• 1896, Relocates to Houston

• 1900, Co-organizes Houston Public School Art League (forerunner of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston)

• 1954, Dies in Houston

Selected Exhibitions

• 1893, World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago

• 1923, 1925, 1931, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

• 1926, Salon des Beaux-Arts, Paris

• 1926, 1938, Witte Memorial Museum, San Antonio

• 1927-28, Edgar B. Davis Competition, San Antonio

• 1936, Texas Centennial Exhibition, Dallas

• 1937, National Exhibition of American Art,

Rockefeller Center, New York

• 1938, Witte Memorial Museum, San Antonio

• 1993, Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Canyon

• 1997, Museum of the Big Bend, Alpine

Selected Public Collections

• Elisabet Ney Museum, Austin

• Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

• Vanderpoel Collection, Chicago

• Witte Museum, San Antonio

• Denver Art Museum

Biography from The Heritage Society
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 Chronicle article: "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.

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary


** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at

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About  Emma Louise (Richardson) Cherry

Born:  1859 - Aurora, Illinois
Died:   1954 - Houston, Texas
Known for:  landscape, portrait and still life painting, teaching, murals

Essays referring to
Emma Louise (Richardson) Cherry

Impressionists Pre 1940