Her works are included in the permanent collections of the Society of Civil Engineers in New York, the Denver Art Association, the Elisabet Ney Museum in Austin, the San Antonio Art League, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and in public libraries.
Emma Richardson Cherry, artist and preservationist, was born in Aurora, Illinois, on February 28, 1859. At the age of 18, to finance her art educa- tion, she taught art at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln 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.
The Cherrys moved from Denver to Houston about 1893 and later bought the home of William Marsh Rice. At least one version of the story says that Mrs. Cherry bid $25 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. Either way, preservation of the Rice house is due to Emma Cherry. The residence was eventually sold to The Heritage Society in 1954. Since 1959 it has been open to the public in Downtown’s Sam Houston Park.
One of the earliest professional women artists in Houston, Emma Cherry worked in oils, watercolors, pastels, pencil and charcoal. She painted a number of traditional portraits while living in Houston and experimented with a variety of styles. Cherry 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, including a depiction of the capitol of the Republic of Texas and the first home of Sam Houston, both in Houston.
In 1900 she organized the Houston Public School Art League, which later became the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; 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 Museum in Austin, the San Antonio Art League, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and in public libraries. 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.
Reprinted from the Texas State Historical Association’s Handbook of Houston, a project in cooperation with the Houston History Alliance. For more information, visit www.HoustonHistoryAlliance.org.