TheoDora Larsh
TheoDora Larsh
Two beautiful girls were born in Crawfordsville to a man in the hardware business (Tinsley’s) and his wife. One, TheoDora would grow to become a world known miniature artist while the other, Marie, younger by a year, was just as talented (perhaps a bit more geared toward music but said to be equal to Dora in art, as well).
When the daughters graduated from our local high school, the parents moved to Indianapolis, where their father, John Larsh, was a travel agent. At least Dora and possibly Marie studied for awhile at Herron, as well as Oberlin College in Ohio and lived in Chicago together for at least two years, while taking classes at the Chicago Art Academy. All was going superbly (both possessing brilliant minds, fun and energetic personalities, and much beauty). They were endeared as students and amazing women while studying their chosen fields. Then tragedy struck. Marie, age 22, told her sister that she didn’t feel well.
It was decided that although she was up and about it was best for her to go to her parents’ in Indianapolis. It was planned she rest, take a short vacation then return to Chicago to continue her schooling. However, she never became well, the best doctors tagging her with walking typhoid fever. She remained up and reasonably strong until pneumonia sat in and she grew weaker, even though everyone expected her to get well up until a few hours before she died. She passed away August 29, 1901 and requested to be buried in her home town of Crawfordsville in Oak Hill cemetery where many of her relatives awaited her, albeit way too soon. Her parents and sister would someday be there, too.
Dora stayed with her parents in Indianapolis so they could all heal together. She worked as a commissioned artist and probably took more classes as she was a life-long learner.
About the year 1907 she and her parents moved to Chicago where her father had a large contracting company and she worked awhile, then went on to New York to the Art Students League. Then she decided she was going to Europe to learn more about what she loved the most – miniature portrait work. She was told by almost everyone she couldn’t do it but off she went with a ticket, $200 and various plans, one to work with some famous artists. London and Paris were two of the places she went, even working many months in Paris’ museums, copying French miniatures for the government that had been damaged. It was an excellent opportunity for her. When she arrived back in New York a few days before Christmas in 1913, where her parents were now living, she had a total of $20 but an advanced knowledge of painting miniatures for which she became so well known.
Loved her motto: “Better my best!” I’m remembering that in my writing from now on! Among those she did the tiny portraits for were many actresses, her husband (she did a 50-50 marriage, marrying in Philadelphia in 1920, quite impressive for the time as she did not want to be dependent upon anyone), Francis Dane Chase. Most of the time she went by her maiden name throughout her career, signing her work in various ways, Theodora Larsh (by the way she was named for Wavelandite Theodore Clemens -T.C.- Steele, famous portrait painter so perhaps it was a given as she won her first state prize at age 7) however in articles, on many programs where she spoke, she sometimes went by Dora Larsh Chase and several other versions, as well. F.D. Chase loved Crawfordsville as did Dora and they visited her relatives, and are both buried in Oak Hill, even though to my knowledge, they never lived here together. They lived in hotels most of the time, as he was a manager of some very large New York ones, especially Hotel Colonial on Herald Square and Hotel Salsbury which was close to her beautiful salon in Carnegie Hall.
In a Brooklyn Daily Eagle article 14 Aug 1927, writer Sascha Sussman did an amazing job describing Theodora Larsh. She had “deep brown eyes that always seem to be on the point of asking curious questions; a quizzical little laugh that puts you at ease as it makes you know it is from enjoyment,” of being with you. “A straight slim figure suggests energy and activity!” When the author asked Dora why she went into doing miniatures since it was kind of a dying art, she answered, “I was never the kind of person to rush into a thing because it was popular or convenient; if I wanted to do it, and knew I’d love it, that’s sufficient reason for taking it up!”
Although she preferred miniatures (less settings 3-4 vs. 20-30) she was also very happy doing full-size portraits. “Miniatures are painted on real imported ivory that is so thin it is clearly transparent,” and she explained that at that point in time, there were fake miniature painters who were taking a snapshot and painting the miniature from that. She explained, “It isn’t art and it isn’t real!”
She was the real thing, that was for sure, and admired by everyone. One of her miniature subjects was Cornelia Cole Fairbanks, the feminine yet progressive wife of Vice President Fairbanks. Wilbur Nesbit was an American humorist and likely met her in Chicago and chose her to do his miniature. As Hoosiers, we all know the name George Ade and he too had her do his portrait. Exhibitions (Africa; Europe; South America; all over the US), lessons, clubs, and quite active in the Business and Professional Women scene, she was non-stop work, although she loved her fun, as well.
Having never had children, she was quite supportive of her husband’s daughter, Ilka Chase, who was a popular actress in the 20s on, as well as a radio show hostess and writer. Ilka’s mother Edna Woolman was the editor of Vogue magazine in three countries. Edna described Francis as, “lovable, good-looking and irresponsible.” Although their marriage didn’t work, he and Dora were married almost 30 years before his death in November 1949. She lived until October of 1955, passing away in their home in Babylon, on Long Island, New York, the area where she had lived for over five decades of her life, but choosing to be returned right here to Montgomery County.

Karen Zach is the editor of Montgomery Memories, our monthly magazine all about Montgomery County. Her column, Around the County, appears each Thursday in The Paper of Montgomery County.