Joseph E. Richards was born in Des Moines, Iowa where he graduated from high school. With his savings he bought a train ticket for Chicago and embarked on a career in art. At night he attended the Mizen Academy and during the day he worked at a men's clothing store where he met Betty, the girl he would marry in 1943. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy, January 2, 1942, served in the Pacific Theater as a signalman and was discharged in 1945.
After returning to Chicago he enrolled at the American Academy of Art. To earn money he served as a Merchant Seaman with the US Coast Guard during vacations and visited Surinam, Venezuela, France, Belgium, Norway, Denmark and Brazil.
He continued his studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and after a 3-month trip in Europe in 1951, the couple settled in New York City. The OK Harris Gallery carried his realistic paintings of construction equipment and marine machinery. Joe painted functional objects, such as locomotives, cranes and anchors, in which he found beauty because of their color, texture and form. He had solo exhibits in New York City, Scottsdale AZ, and Washington DC, and his work is found in private and corporate collections here and abroad, e.g., the Tucson Museum of Fine Arts, Mobil Oil, Lankenau Hospital in Philadelphia, and E. Jean Belloni in Geneva, Switzerland.
After moving to the countryside in a house of his own design in Hillsdale, NY, he learned to appreciate the esthetics of cupolas. His cupola paintings were shown by the Carrie Haddad Gallery in Hudson. After Betty's death in 1995 he was slow to resume painting but eventually he did.
For years, Joseph Richards focused his attention on painting mechanical subjects. He had many successful shows at O.K. Harris Gallery in New York City displaying his large canvases of locomotive engines, oil rigging and massive steel gears.
However, Richards’ fascination with the totally different subject of hayloft ventilators, or cupolas, goes back even beyond his first paintings of industrial imagery.
The ventilators are often seen as adjuncts to barns in landscape paintings, but Richards felt that they make excellent subjects for paintings in and of themselves. Richards described the charm of his subjects as "usually the one bit of whimsy and frivolity displayed in an otherwise austere and functional structure – the American barn." Although most of the subjects in this vein are found in rural areas, they can also be seen in urban settings on carriage houses that predate the automobile age. Seldom does one find them in pristine condition. Since the cupolas that Richards has painted are over 100 years old there is usually at least some bit of decrepitude or decay that only serves to enhance their character and charm.
Having rendered some of these subjects on canvas, Richards knew they would be an integral part of his future work both for the pleasure of finding and painting them, and also to record their existence.
His corporate collectors include Mobile, AMOCO, and United Airlines.
Richards moved to Columbia County 20 years ago and enjoyed painting in his well-lit, glassy studio. During the winter months, Richards could rarely be found there since he took full advantage of Hunter Mountain’s ski for free program for enthusiasts over 70. He was in his 80’s when he painted the Cupola Series. He died at his home in Hillsdale, NY on September 24, 2007 and we miss him very much.