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

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.