Theresa Pollak

(August 13, 1899–September 18, 2002)
Richmond
Artist and Educator

Theresa Pollak (August 13, 1899–September 18, 2002) always knew she wanted to be an artist and began her studies in 1912 at the Richmond Art Club. After earning a BS in 1921 at Westhampton College of the University of Richmond, she attended the Art Students League of New York. She received a fellowship to work at the Tiffany studios in Oyster Bay, Long Island, and a Carnegie Fellowship at Harvard University's Fogg Museum. In 1958 she studied with Hans Hofmann, whose abstract expressionism influenced the realism of Pollak's early artwork. Her art has been exhibited in the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Boston Museum of Fine Art, and the Corcoran Gallery, in Washington, D.C.

In 1928 the Richmond Division of the College of William and Mary (later Virginia Commonwealth University) established an art department with Pollak as its first instructor of drawing and painting. Under her leadership the art school grew steadily and attracted national attention. She had a profound influence on her many students, encouraging their creative freedom while also insisting on a strong understanding of the fundamentals of art, which led to VCU's Art Foundation Program that all freshmen art students must complete before entering a specialized department. Believing that the study of the human form was essential to artistic study, Pollak introduced nude models to her art classes over administrative protests.

After she retired from teaching in 1969, VCU named its new School of Arts building for Pollak and later awarded her an honorary degree, as did the University of Richmond. Theresa Pollak, who helped countless art students develop their talents as she steadfastly sharpened her own, continued to paint, draw, and exhibit her work into her nineties.