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Mrs. Increase Robinson

Mrs. Increase Robinson | 1885-1881 – Josephine Dorothea Reichmann was born on April 2, 1885 in Chicago, IL and named after her aunt. Her parents were Frank Joseph Reichmann (born in Illinois), a transportation official, and Josephine Lemos (born in Kentucky), an artist from a long line of European artists. There has been confusion over Mrs. Robinson’s date of birth due to the fact that her birth certificate was burned in a Chicago fire. After their original birth certificates were destroyed and they had to re-register, both Mrs. Robinson and her sister registered false birthdates, each taking 5 years off her life. So although she used April 2, 1890 as her birthdate, her accurate birthdate was April 2, 1885.

They lived a life of upper middle class comfort at 7136 Crandon Avenue in Hyde Park, IL. Reichmann was a graduate of Hyde Park High School where she served as the Vice President of her high school class (Class of 1909). Her first husband was Philip Increase Robinson who died during their marriage. They had two children, Philip and Esther, and moved frequently during 1920-1930 (Michigan, Illinois, Iowa). After her husband’s death, Mrs. Robinson took the name Increase Robinson as her legal name (her father-in-law’s name was Increase Robinson) because she didn’t want to be typecast as a female artist.

Robinson was a member of the Chicago Art Club and the Chicago Society of Arts. She worked as a painter, teacher, lecturer, gallery owner, and in various roles in the WPA art project.


7136 S Crandon Avenue, Chicago, IL

She served as the State Director of the Federal Art Project in Illinois between 1935 and 1938. Controversial and autocratic during her years on the FAP, she was the frequent focus of the Chicago Artists’ Union for her handling of the artists as well as her financial practices. In March 1938 she was finally removed as State Director of the Illinois FAP and replaced by the popular George Thorpe. (excerpt from interview with Dewey Albinson as it relates to his experience with Mrs. Robinson)

She married E. Kendall Davis while serving in the Illinois Federal Art Project. Davis was born in Iowa City, IA in 1909. He received a business administration degree in 1929 and a law degree in 1932 from the University of Iowa. He was the Illinois state director of the Federal Theater Project in the late 1930s during which time he met Mrs. Robinson. Davis served in the Navy during WWII. They lived in Corpus Christi during WWII while her husband was stationed at the Corpus Christi Naval Air Station. (article, “Increase Robinson Paints a Story of Corpus Christi,” The Corpus Christi Caller-Times, November 14, 1943).


Photos contributed by Frances Greene


“Fishing on North Beach Jetty”
by Increase Robinson

In 1946, they moved to Sacramento, CA where Mrs. Robinson (now Mrs. Davis) opened an art gallery. E. Kendall Davis worked as the Sacramento Municipal Utility District General Manager. Mrs. Robinson (now Mrs. Davis) died on October 16, 1981 in Sacramento, CA. She was cremated at the North Sacramento Memorial Crematory.

In 1984, family and friends created the “Increase Robinson Award” for art at California State University, Sacramento, CA in her memory. Mr. Davis died in April 1987 in Sacramento, CA following a heart attack.

 


 

The Increase Robinson Timeline:

  • 1933 – Closed her Diana Court Art Gallery
  • 1934 – Regional Director of PWAP Region Ten
  • 1934 – 1935 – Advisor to the Illinois Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP)
  • 1935 – Director of the Art Department, Work and Rehabilitation Division, Illinois Emergency Relief Commission (IERC)
  • August 1935 – Project Technician, Planning and Formation of the Illinois Art Project
  • 1935 – Region Director of the Illinois Federal Art Project
  • 10/7/1935 – Illinois State Director of the Federal Art Project
  • 10/8/1936 – first of several investigations by WPA into Robinson’s labor practices – due to charges brought against her by the Chicago Artists Union over firing John Winters, Mitchell Siporin, etc.
  • 12/12/1936-12/19/1936 – Artist Sitdown Strike at WPA State Headquarters, Chicago
  • December 2, 1937 – Carlson scandal
  • March 1, 1938 – Resigned as Illinois State Director, received a promotion and worked on the Federal Art Project for a year as Holger Cahill’s assistant on the national level

The Carlson Scandal:
December 2, 1937 – Raymond B. Carlson was caught in a Rockford “Boys Club” (a homosexual private club). He was arrested on a morals charge and received sentence of 1-10 years in the Illinois State Penitentiary. While waiting transport in Winnebago Jail, he killed himself on December 13, 1937 at age 44.

George Thorpe, who eventually replaced Mrs. Robinson, took Carlson’s job.

 


 

Robinson at one point fired many of the better known artists including, but not limited to:

Ivan LeLorraine Albright
Charles Biesel
Warren Gilbertson
Reva Jackman
Freeman Schoolcraft
John Winters
Trygve Rovelstad
Mitchell Siporin
Peterpaul Ott

 


 

No Nudes:

In a Chicago Daily News article entitled “WPA Bars Nudes on Its Illinois Program of Art” (12/23/1935), Robinson was quoted as saying:

“Nudes are not acceptable for public buildings. In the congressional library at Washington they may be,” she acknowledged, “but our paintings are to be used in Illinois. There’s a difference, isn’t there, Nudes are all right for museums and for one’s own gratification, rather than for public buildings. We cannot encourage the paintings for public buildings of what is interesting to the artist alone.” The irony was that the FAP provided paid models to Grade I artists. The models would pose nude if the artist requested. The artists were allowed to paint nude subject paintings, but were not allowed to exhibit these paintings publicly.

 


 

Mrs. Increase Robinson - death certificate

E. Kendall Davis - obituary

Josephine L. Reichmann (mother of Mrs. Increase Robinson) - obituary

“Women Building Chicago” biography

 


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