Axel David Eriksson was born in Sweden about 1869. His father was Karl Erik Wilhelm Eriksson and his mother was Augusta Engman Eriksson. Karl came to America about 1872 to find a better life and settled in Duluth. He sent for his family in 1873 and they arrived that same year. The family, now spelling their name Ericson, consisted of wife Augusta, sons Charles (12), Alfred (10), David (3), and Enoch (1), daughter Josephine (7), and Augusta’s mother. Another daughter, Victoria Rebecca, was born in Duluth on March 19, 1876.
The Ericsons lived on St. Croix Avenue on Minnesota Point in Duluth, now First Avenue East in Canal Park. They were poor and work was hard to find. Karl (who later used the name William) had to travel to North Dakota to find employment. David developed an infection in his leg when he was nine years old and eventually had to have the leg amputated. It was during his recovery from that operation that he was housebound and spent time drawing. He received gifts of paper and drawing implements from friends of the family. Eventually he learned to paint with oils. In 1885 he entered a painting called “Salting the Sheep” in a competition at the Minnesota State Fair and won a gold medal. Based on this success, he left Duluth in 1887 to study at the Art Student’s League in New York. He lived in New York for three years and supported himself with a job designing jewelry for Tiffany & Co. and also doing illustrations for various magazines. Using money from those jobs and from the sale of some paintings, David traveled to Europe in 1890. He spent most of his time in Paris and there studied under, among others, James McNeill Whistler.
David returned to Duluth in 1902, and the next year he married Susan Barnard, the 29-year-old daughter of Francis H. and Eva M. Barnard. Susan was working as a kindergarten teacher. Her father was a Civil War veteran, originally from Massachusetts, and was still referred to as Colonel Barnard. In Duluth, he worked as an assistant postmaster. By this time, David had achieved some success as a painter. His brother, Charles, was a successful clothing merchant in Duluth with a family of four, and his sister, Victoria, was teaching kindergarten at Duluth’s Jefferson School. David’s other sister, Josephine, married Jens Nordby and they lived with their family in Two Harbors. The other two brothers, Alfred and Enoch, had apparently died at fairly young ages.
After the wedding, David and Susan moved to New York City and their only child, David Barnard Ericson, was born there on July 19, 1904. The family moved to Paris about 1909 and stayed there, except for one trip back to the U.S., until World War I broke out. At that time, they moved to Provincetown, Massachusetts. Living in the artists’ colony there, David spent some productive years painting and teaching. During that time, he was commissioned to paint six large murals for Hibbing High School on Minnesota’s Iron Range, which he completed from 1922 to 1923. In 1924, the family returned to Europe where David traveled and painted. They returned to the U.S. on numerous occasions for visits and exhibitions.
David’s mother, Augusta, died in Duluth on August 9, 1905, at the home of her son, Charles, at 1005 East Fifth Street. His brother, Charles, died on February 18, 1923, in his home at 819 Tenth Avenue East in Duluth.
In 1940, David and his family returned to Provincetown, where they lived until Susan’s death on November 15, 1941. In 1943, David returned to Duluth to paint and teach classes at the Duluth Art Institute. He resided in a home at 20 North Twelfth Avenue East. In 1944, he was commissioned to paint a series of altar paintings for the St. George Serbian Orthodox Church at 1216 104th Avenue West in Duluth, which he completed in 1946. On December 5, 1946, he was struck by a car at Twelfth Avenue East and Superior Street. He died from his injuries on December 15, 1946. His sister, Josephine, died in Minneapolis on March 21, 1953. His sister Victoria, who after teaching had taken a job as investigator for the Division of Women and Children of the Minnesota State Industrial Commission from 1913 until her retirement at the time of World War II, died on December 22, 1963, living with a niece in Pullman, Washington.