Frank P. Richards, wood carver

The Illinois State Museum’s display of some of Frank Richards’ carvings — George Washington, left; Abraham Lincoln, top center; Gov. Louis L. Emmerson (probably), bottom center; U.S. Grant, right. The undated photo used as a backdrop shows Richards in front of his Elliott Avenue home with those and other carvings, including his ornate mantelpiece. The mantel also is on display in the museum’s “Home in the Heartland” exhibit. Better images of the individual figurines are available at the museum website. (SCHS photo)

In the early 20th century, Frank P. Richards would display his patriotic wood carvings on the front lawn of his home at 1160 Elliott Ave. every Fourth of July. Soldiers from nearby Camp Lincoln would salute as they marched past. At one point, Richards, who had been carving since the 1880s, reportedly turned down an offer of $2,500 for the entire collection.

A century later, one of Richards’ folk-art carvings, perhaps the only one that ever went to market, sold for $240,000 at Christie’s auction house.

Richards (1852-1929) made a name for himself as a carver while living in Edinburg in the 1880s and ‘90s. He specialized in small – three-foot-tall – depictions of famous Americans, including Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, U.S. Grant, William McKinley and John A. Logan.

However, he did take on other subjects. The Illinois State Museum currently (2024) displays an elaborately decorated mantelpiece and fire screen carved by Richards. In 1889, the Illinois State Journal reported, “Frank Richards, the Edinburg noted wood carver, has just finished carving a violin out of a solid hedge tree.

“It has an elegant tone,” the newspaper said.

Frank Richards’ version of ‘Abraham Lincoln: The Man’ (Sotheby’s)

Richards’ most successful carving was larger than most of his works: an eight-foot-tall Abraham Lincoln modeled on Augustus St. Gaudens’ famous bronze, “Abraham Lincoln: the Man,” which stands in Chicago’s Lincoln Park. Richards’ version was carved from pine and painted.

Reporting on Sotheby’s auction of the Stephen and Petra Levin art collection in 2016, the Maine Antiques Digest said:

Frank Pierson Richards’s carving of Abraham Lincoln sold for $187,500, well below the $240,000 it sold for at Christie’s in 2006 when the estimate was $60,000/90,000. At Sotheby’s in 1988 at the Howard and Catherine Feldman sale, it brought $55,000, which seemed like a lot back then when the estimate was $15,000/25,000.

Richards never got much (if any) money from his carvings, but then he didn’t intend to. He planned to make his fortune as an inventor and industrialist.

Richards told the Journal in 1890 he had invented a revolutionary device to bind grain with its own straw instead of twine.

“Mr. Richards says that he already is offered $100,000 for the invention, conditioned only upon his finishing a perfect working model, which he expects to have ready in a short time,” the newspaper said.

The binder apparently didn’t work out. Neither did a motor-driven pump Richards devised. But he didn’t give up. Around the turn of the century, Richards moved to Springfield. While he made his living as a laborer and carpenter, he continued to invent.

In 1906, Richards and several associates created the Springfield Enterprise Manufacturing Company. The firm (later renamed the F.P. Richards Co.) set up a factory at First and Madison streets to produce three of Richards’ inventions: a stove pipe with sections that could be screwed together, an “automatic flue fastener,” and a wood-floor polisher.

“Stock in the new company is being sold,” the Journal said, “and it is the intention of the directors to put in new equipment and to prepare fully for a large output. It is expected that 100 or more people will be employed.”

A share of stock cost only $18.75, but investors were hard to persuade. From a 1906 advertisement:


If the present stockholders had the money, we would not sell a dollar’s worth of stock. As it is we are willing to let a few people in on the ground floor to get the business going at once.

(Capitalization in original)

F.P. Richards Co. floor polisher, 1906 (Courtesy State Journal-Register)

Springfield Enterprise/F.P. Richards Co. lasted until 1908, when the firm demonstrated a working model of the floor polisher at a “Made in Springfield Fair” at the state arsenal. The company, however, disappears from city directories in 1909, and Richards’ own occupation in that directory is given as “carpenter.” It was a comedown: in 1908, he had been listed as “treasurer and manager” of F.P. Richards Manufacturing Co.

Richards wasn’t quite out of the invention business. In 1909, he announced plans to seek a patent for his design of an airship. “The ship is of the fish type,” the Journal reported, deadpan. (Richards seems to be holding a model of the airship in the photo at the top of this entry.)

While none of Richards’ inventions panned out, his carvings continued to be noticed. The Illinois State Register singled out his  work in an article about the art show at the 1910 Illinois State Fair.

There are several fine pieces of carving, all the handiwork of F.A. (sic) Richards. He has on exhibition several heroic figures carved from wood with his pen knife. In particular there is an exquisitely carved mantle with designs of roses and trailing arbutus that is superior to any similar work shown.

The art show judges agreed. Richards won first place in wood carving that year.

Richards continued to create carvings almost to the end. In March 1928, a year before his death, Richards completed a statuette of Louis Emmerson, at the time the Republican candidate for governor. (Emmerson won election that November.)

Some of Richards’ most notable carvings, including the mantel/fire screen and several of the historical figures, eventually were donated to the Illinois State Museum. They were on display at the museum in Springfield in spring 2024. (See below for more.)

Richards is buried at Oak Ridge Cemetery.

What does the “P.” stand for?

Art directories, auction houses and the Illinois State Museum all say Frank P. Richards’ full name was Frank Pierson Richards. However, their source for “Pierson” is unknown. The name doesn’t show up in contemporary newspaper reports about him or in any official documents, such as U.S. Census records available online. “Pierson” also does not appear to have been a family name., meanwhile, lists Richards’ full name as Franklin Piercer Richards. That version of his name apparently comes from the “Illinois, U.S., Deaths and Stillbirths Index, 1916-1947,” available on

SangamonLink’s suspicion is that Frank P. Richards may actually have been named after the 14th president of the U.S., making him Franklin Pierce Richards. That’s based on two data points. Richards was born Nov. 14, 1852, 12 days after Franklin Pierce won election to the presidency; and Frank Richards next-youngest brother also seems to have been named after a president: James Monroe Richards (1854-1900).

‘Peoples of the Past’ removed from view

SangamonLink was alerted to Frank Richards’ artwork by an exhibit currently (April 2024) on the second floor of the Illinois State Museum in Springfield. The Richards panel is part of a somewhat jury-rigged series of exhibits covering what formerly was the museum’s “Peoples of the Past” display, four dioramas depicting Native American life in periods from 8000 B.C. up to the mid-1800s.

“It is one of the few exhibits in the United States in which prehistory is brought to life,” museum literature said previously about “Peoples of the Past.” “Rather than rely on displays of artifacts to tell the story of these people, the exhibits go many steps further to portray the various prehistoric Indians themselves and their respective lifestyles.”

However, the Illinois State Museum has been under fire for several decades because of its interpretations of indigenous people in the state, and especially because of its handling of Native American remains at Dickson Mounds and elsewhere. Removing “Peoples of the Past” from view is part of the resulting reassessment.

Here is what a placard posted next to the replacement exhibits says about the change.

“Museums can be very painful sites for Native peoples, as they are intimately tied to the colonization process” – Amy Lonetree in Decolonizing Museums: Representing Native America in National and Tribal Museums

“The Illinois State Museum is changing.

“We are connecting with communities across Illinois to share stories untold or excluded from our museum spaces and collections. This includes the stories of Indigenous people who were forcibly removed from what is now the State of Illinois.

“To begin this renewal process, we are removing the long-running exhibit Peoples of the Past from public view. Open since 1984, this exhibit shared an archaeological story of Indigenous people that limited them to a timeline far removed from the present day and eliminated the rich and difficult history in between. The exhibit was not designed to create a bridge to the present. We need to build this bridge today.

“The lack of contemporary stories and context is harmful to Indigenous people, especially those who have lived in or still live in the State of Illinois, because it controls and limits Indigenous history to and for the colonizer viewpoint. The “Indigenous worldview and perspective is ignored. The exhibit also implied that Indigenous people are no longer alive and thriving and excluded the reality of 574 federally recognized Indigenous nations in the U.S. today.

“ISM is committed to more inclusive storytelling through exhibits and programs. Later this year, we will open Indigenous Illinois, a new exhibit that builds on the rich history and archaeology of Indigenous people while continuing the Native story into the present. This new exhibit will share information on treaties, the removal of Indigenous people from the land, and the stories of Indigenous individuals who currently live in Illinois, as well as the nearly 30 sovereign nations who consider Illinois part of their homeland, so that future exhibits are collaborative with tribal historians and culture-keepers.”

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