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Robert Richenburg papers, circa 1910s-2008, bulk, 1950-2006

Robert Richenburg papers, circa 1910s-2008, bulk, 1950-2006

Richenburg, Robert, 1917-2006


Collection Information

Size: 5.3 linear feet

Summary: The Robert Richenburg papers, circa 1910s-2008, measure 5.3 linear feet. Biographical material, correspondence, subject files, writings, audio/visual recordings, printed material, and photographs document the professional career and personal life of the educator and New York School painter and sculptor best known for his Abstract Expressionist paintings.

Biographical/Historical Note

Robert Bartlett Richenburg (1917-2006) was a painter and educator in New York City, Ithaca, and East Hampton, N.Y.


Donated in 2008 by Margaret Kerr, widow of Robert Richenburg, on behalf of herself and his son Ronald Richenburg.

Related Materials

A Finding Aid to the Robert Richenburg Papers,
circa 1910s-2008,
bulk 1950-2006
, in the Archives of American Art
Finding aid prepared by Catherine S. Gaines
Biographical Note
Robert Bartlett Richenburg (1917-2006) was a painter and educator in New York City, Ithaca, New York, and East Hampton, New York.
At age 13, Bob Richenburg's artistic talent earned him a place in a daily class for Boston Public School students at the Museum of Fine Arts. Most classes focused on copying; of far greater benefit to the young art student was the opportunity to wander through the museum and look at art nearly every day of his high school career.
Richenburg's father was an architect who also ran a stained glass lampshade business; neither endeavor was profitable, so the family endured very hard times during the Depression. To help support the family, after school and on weekends, Bob delivered ice and coal with an older brother, a job he continued while attending night school courses in liberal arts at Boston University. He studied at George Washington University in Washington, DC, 1937-1939, often working as many as four part-time jobs to cover tuition and living expenses; during summers and school vacations, he returned to Boston to work with his brother. Due to his difficult financial situation, Richenburg's college career ended before he earned a degree.
After learning that the Corcoran School of Art charged no tuition, Richenburg returned to Washington in 1940 to study painting and sculpture. Although uninformed about the art world, he realized that New York was a better place for an aspiring artist. In 1941, he began studying with George Grosz and Reginald Marsh at the Art Students League. On his own, he studied materials and techniques and copied paintings at the Metropolitan Museum Art.
With war looming and the near certainty of being drafted, Robert Richenburg and Libby Chic Peltyn (always called Chic) married in November 1942; two weeks later, he entered the army. Richenburg spent three years in England and France as a combat engineer, transporting explosives and instructing troops in the demolition of mines and booby traps. In England, he managed a photo lab and taught drawing in the fine arts section of Shrivenham American University, a school run by the U. S. Army.
Once discharged, Richenburg returned to New York and took advantage of the G.I. Bill to continue studying painting (and for the subsistence allowance that provided modest support for his family - son Ronald was born in 1947). Richenburg studied at the Ozenfant School, 1947-1949, where he developed a life-long friendship with fellow student Ibram Lassaw.
He continued his art education with Hans Hofmann in New York and Provincetown, 1949-1951. During this period, Richenburg taught drawing, painting, and art history classes sponsored by the Extension Division of City College of New York and held at venues such as Brooklyn's Central YMCA, and branches of the New York Public Library. Richenburg quickly discovered that he liked teaching and enjoyed the students.
In 1951, Richenburg joined the Pratt Institute faculty and taught studio courses at night; soon, he was teaching full time during the day. Richenburg began to achieve recognition as the youngest of the Abstract Expressionists and by the early 1960s his career was well established. Tibor De Nagy Gallery in New York and Dwan Gallery in California represented Richenburg, and a number of paintings were sold to museums and private collectors. As Richenburg experimented with new ideas and materials, his work began changing. He was a popular instructor at Pratt with several promising students who also began experimenting. In 1964, when the unorthodox work of one student in particular caught the attention of Pratt administrators, Richenburg was asked to change his approach to teaching. This roused student protests, and press coverage focused on the specific situation and academic freedom in general. He chose to resign rather than alter his teaching philosophy.
Richenburg secured a position at Cornell University. The confluence of his absence from New York City and the ascendance of Pop Art were damaging, and his career was derailed when De Nagy and Dwan dropped him from their rosters a few years later. After it was clear that he would not secure tenure at Cornell, Richenburg returned to New York in 1967 and began teaching at Hunter College. Daily life in New York was harder than he remembered and, for him, the City had lost its allure.
When offered the chairmanship of the Ithaca College art department, the Richenburgs were delighted to return to tranquil Ithaca, New York. Chic died in 1977, and Bob remained at Ithaca College until retiring in 1983. In addition full-time teaching and handling administrative activities as department chairman, Richenburg made time to work in his studio practically every day. He created a large body of work in a wide variety of media and styles, moving on to new ideas and experiments after exhausting his possibilities or interest.
Beginning in 1949 with a loan exhibition organized by The Museum of Non-Objective Art, Richenburg participated in a wide range of group shows. His first solo exhibition was held in 1953 at the Hendler Gallery, Philadelphia. Over the years, he enjoyed other solo exhibitions at venues such as: David Findlay Jr. Fine Art, Dwan Gallery, Hansa Gallery, Ithaca College Museum of Art, McCormick Gallery, Rose Art Museum (Brandeis University), Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Sidney Mishkin Gallery (Baruch College), and Tibor De Nagy Gallery. In the 1960s and 1970s, Richenburg's work was seldom shown, but from the mid-1980s onward there has been renewed interest.
Richenburg's work is represented in the permanent collections of many museums including Hirshhorn Museum, Museum of Modern Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Whitney Museum of American Art. In addition, his work was acquired by many highly regarded private collectors including Larry Aldrich, Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., Joseph H. Hirshhorn, J. Patrick Lannon, and James A. Michener.
Robert Richenburg and Margaret (Marggy) Kerr, a painter and sculptor living in Ithaca, were married in 1980. Ms. Kerr is known for "brick rugs" made from cut bricks forming designs for site specific sculpture and garden walks. Richenburg became close to his stepfamily of three children, Marggy's grandchildren and her mother. After he retired from Ithaca College, Bob and Marggy moved to Springs in East Hampton, New York.
Although Richenburg suffered from Parkinson's disease during the last six years of his life, he continued to work in his home studio until physically unable to produce art. He died on October 10, 2006.
The collection is arranged as 7 series:
Series 1: Biographical Material, circa 1910s-2006 (Box 1; 0.1 linear ft.)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1940-2007 (Box 1; 0.4 linear ft.)
Series 3: Subject Files, 1942-2008 (Boxes 1-3, OV 7; 2.25 linear ft.)
Series 4: Writings, circa 1950-2006 (Box 3; 0.1 linear ft.)
Series 5: Sound and Video Recordings, 1996-2006 (Boxes 3-4; 0.75 linear ft.)
Series 6: Printed Material, 1947-2008 (Boxes 4-5; 1.25 linear ft.)
Series 7: Photographs, circa 1923-2006 (Boxes 5-6; 0.45 linear ft.)
Scope and Content Note
The Robert Richenburg papers, circa 1910s-2008, measure 5.3 linear feet. Biographical material, correspondence, subject files, writings, audio/visual recordings, printed material, and photographs document the professional career and personal life of the educator and New York School painter and sculptor best known for his Abstract Expressionist paintings.
Biographical material includes educational records from high school through his studies at the Ozenfant School of Fine Arts using G.I. benefits. Birth, marriage,and death certificates are also found, along with Richenburg family memorabilia.
Correspondence consists mostly of family letters, including some illustrated letters and many handmade cards featuring original artwork. Condolence letters addressed to Marggy Kerr are from friends, relatives, colleagues, neighbors, and acquaintances.
Subject files contain various combinations of correspondence, printed material, photographs, writings and notes relating to Richenburg's professional career and personal life. They document exhibitions, gallery representation, gifts of art work to museums and individuals, memberships, teaching activities, former students, friendships, and other aspects of his life. Files of significant interest are: The Club, Tina Dicky and Madeline Amgott, Former Students (particularly Raphael Montanez Ortiz), Bonnie L. Grad and Lynne Moulton, Hans Hofmann, Ibram Lassaw, Philip Pavia, Pratt Institute, Hilla Rebay and the Museum of Non-Objective Painting, Tibor De Nagy Gallery, and Veterans Administration.
Writings by Richenburg consist of notes, reviews, artist's statements, and the text of a speech. Also included are quotations compiled over the years by Marggy Kerr of Richenburg's comments on art and life. Among the writings by others are student papers, reviews, and poems.
Sound and visual recordings include interviews with Robert Richenburg, often conducted as research for exhibitions. Videocassettes document events such as panel discussions, and artist gatherings; a few were produced in conjunction with museum exhibitions. Also found are videotapes by video artist Raphael Montanez Ortiz, Richenburg's friend and former student; Ortiz also appears on the DVD of Richenburg's memorial service.
Printed material includes items that are specifically about Robert Richenburg as well as items that incidentally mention him. The majority consist of exhibition catalogs and announcements.
Photographs show art work by Richenburg, exhibition openings and other events, and a variety of people and places. Among the events recorded is the "Artists Roundtable on Art of the '50s." Moderated by Dore Ashton, the panel included Herman Cherry, Sidney Geist, Ibram Lassaw, Mercedes Matter, and David Slivka. There are photographs of Richenburg's boyhood home in Roslindale, MA, and his house in Ithaca, NY. He is pictured with others including family members, dealers, and curators. Of particular interest are photographs of Richenburg in Provincetown, MA, 1952-1953, with friends, including: Giorgio Cavallon, Franz Kline, Ibram and Ernestine Lassaw, and Philip and Marcia Pavia. World War II photographs consist of images of art work (not by Richenburg), Richenburg and other individuals taken in France and England; a number include views of Shrivenham American University.
Donated in 2008 by Margaret Kerr, widow of Robert Richenburg, on behalf of herself and his son Ronald Richenburg.
Related Material
An oral history interview of Robert Richenburg was conducted by Dorothy Seckler for the Archives of American Art, circa 1968.
Processing Information
The collection was processed and a finding aid prepared by Catherine S. Gaines in 2009.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.

How to Cite This Collection

Robert Richenburg papers, circa 1910s-2008, bulk, 1950-2006. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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