Skip to main content

Richard Dempsey papers, 1929-1989, bulk 1960s-1980s

Dempsey, Richard W., 1909-1987

Painter, Educator

Collection Information

Size: 2.9 linear feet

Summary: The papers of painter Richard W. Dempsey measure 2.9 linear feet and date from 1929 to 1989, with the bulk of the papers dating from the 1960s to the 1980s. The papers contain biographical material, correspondence, writings, project and exhibition files, printed material, photographs, and artwork and notes related to planning artwork.
Biographical material consists of employment records; resumes, chronologies, and biographies; and compiled personal papers that may have once been part of scrapbooks. These materials are not bound, but have remained together and in the order in which they were received. This series also includes a folder of material related to Dempsey's wife, Vonja Kirkland Brooks.
Correspondence includes letters both sent, and received by the artist, primarily concerning the exhibition of Dempsey's paintings at the Franz Bader Gallery, the Atlanta University Gallery, Howard University, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the U.S. Embassies in Colombia and Jamaica, and with the Art in Embassies Program. Notable correspondents include Jack Perlmutter, Ethel Waters, and Jacob Lawrence. Personal and professional correspondence are intermingled throughout.
Writings include notes and drafts of lectures and other course materials, as well as excerpts and quotes from reviews of exhibitions of Dempsey's work. These excerpts, usually titled "comments," are frequently copied out by hand. Also included in this series are two folders of poetry.
Project and exhibition files include photographs; correspondence; lists; sketches and other plans; and printed material including clippings and exhibition announcements. Materials related to his Rosenwald Fellowship, his participation in the Art in Embassies program, his many exhibitions at Franz Bader Gallery, and his international exhibitions in Colombia and Jamaica are featured. Some files in this series may only include photographs or sketches.
Photographs are primarily of Dempsey's work and of exhibitions. There are some of the artist and of his Takoma Park, Maryland home and studio (designed by Harry Ormston of McLean, Virginia and occasionally featured in architecture articles).
Artwork is primarily composed of sketches, often with detailed planning notes for the completion of paintings.

Biographical/Historical Note

Richard W. Dempsey (1909-1987) was a painter known primarily for his abstract works and his portraits of prominent African American individuals including Ethel Waters, Duke Ellington, Thurgood Marshall, and Adam Clayton Powell. Recipient of the Julius Rosenwald Fellowship in 1946 to paint 100 portraits of "Outstanding American Negroes". Invited by the government of Haiti in 1951 to visit and paint "People and Scenes". He was a lecturer and instructor at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. His work was handled by the Franz Bader Gallery in Washington, D.C.


The papers were originally lent for microfilming in 1990 by Vonja Kirkland Dempsey, Richard Dempsey's widow. After the collection was microfilmed, Vonja Kirkland Dempsey donated the bulk of the collection in 1990.

Related Materials

Language Note

Several letters, clippings, exhibition catalogs, and announcements are in Spanish and French.


Funding for the processing of this collection was provided by the Henry Luce Foundation.

Location of Originals

  • 2 photograph albums returned to the lender, Mrs. Vonja Kirkland Dempsey, after microfilming.