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 biographcial material, correspondence, writings, project and exhibition files, printed material, photographs, and artwork and notes related to planning artwork.
Scope and Contents:
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, MD home and studio (designed by Harry Ormston of McLean, VA and occasionally featured in architecture articles).
Artwork is primarily composed of sketches, often with detailed planning notes for the completion of paintings.
The collection is arranged as seven series.
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1930-1987 (Box 1; 0.2 linear feet)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1938-1985, undated (Box 1; 0.2 linear feet)
Series 3: Writings, 1981, undated (Box 1; 3 folders)
Series 4: Project and Exhibition Files, 1929-1986 (Boxes 1-2; 1.2 linear feet)
Series 5: Printed Material, 1930s-1989, undated (Boxes 2-3; 0.4 linear feet, OV 5)
Series 6: Photographic Material, 1932-1981, undated (Boxes 3-4; 0.5 linear feet)
Series 7: Artwork, 1965-1981, undated, (Box 4; 5 folders, OV 5)
Biographical / Historical:
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. He was born in Ogden, Utah, but spent the majority of his youth in Oakland, California. He studied art at Sacramento Junior College, the California School of Arts and Crafts, and the Student Arts Center. Dempsey had four exhibitions in California before moving to Washington, D.C. to begin work as an engineering draftsman with the Federal Power Commission in 1941. He later transferred to a position as an illustrator with the General Services Administration (GSA), where he would spend the rest of his nearly 30-year government career.
In addition to his work with the GSA, Dempsey participated in the Art in Embassies program for decades, and his work was chosen by Congressman Adam Clayton Powell to hang in the Education Labor Committee rooms.
Dempsey was awarded a Julius Rosenwald Fellowship in 1946 to paint 100 portriats of "Outstanding American Negros." He taught art courses at the Corcoran School of Art and at Glen Echo and received invitations to exhibit around the world in places like Haiti, Colombia, and Jamaica. He exhibited frequently in the U.S., most often with Franz Bader Gallery in Washington, D.C.
The Archives of American Art also holds microfilm of material lent for microfilming (reel 4368) including a photograph album chronicling Dempsey's 1951 trip to Haiti and other photographic material. Loaned materials were returned to the lender and are not described in the collection container inventory.
The Richard Dempsey papers were initially 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, excluding some photographic material, in 1990.
Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center.