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Theodore J. Richardson Artwork and Other Material

Identifier: M/A 0307
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Description of Contents

Correspondence, newspaper clippings, photographs, and artwork of Minnesota artist Theodore J. Richardson. Artwork includes watercolor and oil paintings of Alaska, California, and Europe. The collection includes several photographs of the artist at work.


  • 1855 - 1914

Access Restrictions

The physical collection is available for use in Special Collections during the department's open hours. Artwork from this collection is available in the Theodore J. Richardson Collection in the Hennepin County Library Digital Collections.


Theodore J. Richardson, April 5, 1855 – November 19, 1914

Born in Readfield, Maine, Theodore Jerome Richardson grew up in Red Wing, Minnesota. Following high school, he studied at Boston Normal Art School before returning to Minnesota where he instructed in art, penmanship and geometry at Minnesota State Normal College, in Winona. In 1880, Richardson was hired by the Minneapolis Public Schools as superintendent of industrial drawing. Until his arrival, there was no teaching of drawing in the city’s public schools: it is believed to be one of the first art instruction departments in the nation’s public schools. A founding father and charter member of the Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts in 1883, he had his first retrospective posthumously, in 1928. In 1944, the Minneapolis Public Library mounted a show.

The Artist of Alaska Painting primarily with watercolors and pastels, Richardson took his easel west every summer, where he traveled on steamship to Alaska, basing his camp in Sitka, Alaska. Traveling up the Inland Passage, Richardson explored and painted Glacier Bay, Muir Glacier, Wrangell, Juneau, and Klawock and Kilisnoo. With a Native American guide, he traveled by canoe quite broadly, with visits to the southern Aleutian Islands, and to many glaciers. His pioneer experiences in Minnesota served him well in Alaska, and he got on well with both the Native Americans and the white immigrants. Making 24 trips in all, he used a “floating studio” in which he rigged up his easel, umbrella and paints on a boat. Beginning in 1884, Richardson worked under contract for the Smithsonian to document Alaska’s Native American villagers, their communities and their art.

In 1886, he married a fellow artist whom he met in California’s Monterey artist colony. That same year, Richardson resigned from Minneapolis Public Schools, spending the next six years living in Europe with his wife. There, they cycled around the continent painting in Italy, France, the Netherlands, Ireland, and Switzerland. He studied with European teachers, including Von der Weden, Paul Dessar, and with fellow artists at the French artist colony Etaples, near Paris-Plage. It was during this period that he began painting with oils. His paintings were exhibited in the Royal Academy of London, and the Paris Salon.

Stateside, Richardson was awarded the Grand Prize for his contribution to the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in 1909, and before he died, painted several works for the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915.

Returning from Europe in 1903, and until his death in 1914, Richardson and his wife followed the sun, and he painted with oils and watercolors equally. They spent winters in California and Mexico, and in summer, Richardson, either alone or with his wife, returned to Alaska. He augmented his income by making sketches of the national parks for the Great Northern Railroad, owned by James J. Hill, and painting scenes from Alaska for the Smithsonian Institute. He died in Minneapolis, the result of injuries sustained when a steamship on which he was traveling in 1911 capsized outside of Seattle.

Collectors and Major Holdings: Mr. Harry E. Wood has donated several Richardson paintings to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, one to the Minneapolis Public Library (a painting titled “Au Coin de Feu,”) and another to the Minneapolis Women’s Club.

Holdings include: Minneapolis Institute of Art (16 works), Smithsonian Museum (22 works), and the State of Alaska (5 works).



2 boxes (2 boxes)

Language of Materials


Theodore J. Richardson Artwork and Other Material
Marsha Collins
December 2014
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Hennepin County Library Special Collections Repository

Minneapolis Central Library
300 Nicollet Mall
Minneapolis MN 55401 U.S.A.