Thursday, March 20, 2008

Ponca Ciity Pioneer Woman Statue

I release the contents of this article under the CC-By-SA and GFDL licenses, initially to be used in wikipedia, but also anywhere else.

Although it was years before I realized that there was more to the story, the first I heard about the Ponca City Pioneer Woman statue and the competition that helped produce it, was while reading "Between Sittings", sculptor Jo Davidson's autobiography. In it he relates how he was introduced to oil magnate E.W. Marland in Paris in probably 1925. There Marland sketches out an ambitious sculptural program that he has imagined involving numerous statues based on the theme of the settling of the American West and attempts to persuade Davidson to take it on. When Davidson declines Marland replies that he could pay for it, prompting Davidson to come back with "I don't doubt it for a minute, but I don't see myself working for you for the rest of my life."

Marland ultimately convinced Davidson to go to Ponca City, Marland's then home town, and create three statues for him: one of Marland and one of each of Marland's adopted children, Lydie and George. Marland further has his architect, John Duncan Forsyth (another story for another day) build Davidson a studio on the grounds of his estate, using the beams from his first oil derrick as roof beams. This studio is now the Baker Bryant Museum, but I am getting ahead of the story.

While Davidson was producing his three Marland statues E.W. told him of another project that he has in mind, "E.W.'s most cherished dream." Davidson writes, " It was to be a twenty-five foot figure, which he planned to put up on a hill where it could be seen for miles.......... E.W. brought his friends to see what I was doing. He acted as if he was the sculptor, and in conversation would say that he was doing the figure - that I was his hands."

Shortly thereafter Marland informed Davidson that he had invited a number of other sculptors to submit models for the monument. It is interesting (at least to me) that Jo Davidson, arguably America's greatest portrait sculptor, created a Pioneer Woman whose massive sun bonnet all but obscures the features and face of the woman. I can only assume that this was the result of his being Marland's hands.

At that point Marland sent out invitations to many of America's leading sculptors, offering them $2,000 (the exact amount is under debate - this is the figure I believe) to produce a three foot tall model for the statue. He further proposed that the models tour the United States and that the American public vote as to which of the models would be erected in Ponca City. Several sculptors turned Marland down, including Malvina Hoffman and Anna Hyatt Huntington, leaving him with an even dozen artists, all males. The artists who submitted models were, besides Davidson, Mahonri Young, Bryant Baker, John Gregory, Wheeler Williams, Maurice Sterne, A. Stirling Calder, Mario Korbel, Arthur Lee, F, Lynn Jenkins, Hermon MacNeil and James Earle Fraser. The models were to tour America and everyone who visited the sites where they were exhibited was allowed to vote for their favorite.

It is worth a quick look-over the models, for those so inclined, and check to see which pioneer women attributes were used. Bonnets, babies. boys, books, guns and faithful dogs can all be found in varying degrees.

Mahonri Young's biographer Thomas Toone relates that Young produced not only the required three foot tall statuette, but also a plaster version of the entire Pioneer Memorial as he envisioned it, replete with detailed bas reliefs of western scenes around the base of a massive pedestal and platform, on top of which the pioneer woman "holds her child in the embrace of a Renaissance Madonna."

A pair of spirited bison guard the stairs leading up the base. Unfortunately the voting public in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Dallas, Fort Worth, Oklahoma City and finally, Ponca City, was not privy to Young's vision and his work showed poorly in the balloting. Young, who described not winning the competition as the worst disappointment in his career, did manage to get some of his ideas out in later works.

Toone also adds that the winning sculptor, Baker Bryant used, "a professional actress as his model, which produced a glamourous figure, representing Western myth more than reality." A claim that can be (opinion) leveled against a large number of American monuments. But "American Myth vs American Reality" needs to be explored another day. More interesting -to me- than who the model might have been were the comments made about the winning design by Donald De Lue, at that time Baker Bryant's assistant. De Lue's biographer, D. Roger Howlett makes several interesting points about the Pioneer Woman statue.

"it was especially on the "Pioneer Woman" that De Lue manifest his talent. . . .... Baker claimed that the conception and movement of the final monument was developed in an eight-to-ten inch sketch model made by him a few hours after he learned about the competition. De Lue executed the thirty-three inch competition model for the sculpture in 1927, with Baker supervising and completing the face."

James Earle Fraser, according to A.L. Freundlich, based his almost Impressionistic statue on his favorite aunt, Dora, who was herself a pioneer woman. This model is unique among the ones submitted to the competition, and perhaps in the entire world of Pioneer Women Statues, in that the woman, caught breast feeding her child, exposes a bare breast. No stranger to multi-tasking, she still manages to hold on to her rifle while feeding the baby.

When the tour of the models was over, Baker's Pioneer Woman had won first place, out-balloting John Gregory's effort 42,478 to 37,782. "De Lue set to work in 1928 and 1929, modeling it in Baker's Brooklyn studio, working with Jean La Seure, the enlarger. De Lue later remembered: "One day Bryant decided he would work on it, and did some work. I said, 'Look, Bryant, if I were you I'd get the hell out of here, because you're not helping at all,' He said, 'Thank you very much.' and he went." (Howlett)

The Ponca City Pioneer Woman statue was dedicated on April 22, 1930, in a ceremony that included a live radio message and some marginally off color commentary by the Oklahoma humorist, Will Rogers.

Many years after the competition Wheeler Williams' model was re-discovered, enlarged, cast, and now sits in front of the public library in Liberty, Kansas.

An interesting aside is that although Jo Davidson fared poorly in the model balloting he was later commissioned to create a monumental statue of Will Rogers, versions of which can be found in the Will Rogers Museum in nearby (to Ponca City, anyway) Clairmore, OK and in the Statuary Hall collection in the Capitol Building in Washington D.C., as one of the two Oklahoma statues that reside there.

I have often asked myself, "Why did EW go through all the trouble and expense to pay for and run the competition and then tack on the considerable added expense of the statue its self?" One quick answer is that he was an oil boom man, and could afford it. Years later, after J.P. Morgan and his banking cohorts ended up with all EW's wealth he might have wondered if it was money well spent, but I suspect that he was happy to leave the statue behind as his legacy, figuring that had he not spent those sums, the New York bankers would have gotten that too. But then late one night, when "historical research by divine inspiration" often takes place it occurred to me that Marland, who was later to become the governor of Oklahoma, might have been planning his political career even has he planned his monument. Only half a decade (1920) before the statue's life was set into motion the XIX Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, giving women in America the vote. What better way to begin to win that vote, both locally and nationally could there be than to erect a monument to the Pioneer Women?

An excellent account of the Pioneer Woman statue competition and the fate of the 12 models that toured the country, including some fine photographs and a slightly different take on the whole event, can be found here.

Besides a lot of interesting information and images, I also picked up from Hugh a comfortable copyright tag. Thanks H.

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and attribution must be provided to Einar Einarsson Kvaran. Some content in this article may be presented without the permission of the copyright owner for the non-profit purposes of criticism, comment, education, scholarship, and research under the "Fair Use" provisions of U.S. Government copyright laws.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Western Settlers & Pioneer Women

(Text and photos by Cindy Prescott) I stumbled into studying Pioneer statues as I was finishing a dissertation that compared the gender and family roles the first two generations of white settlers in western Oregon's Willamette Valley (1845-1900). I got interested in Oregon pioneer organizations and pioneer monuments as reflections of idealized images of early settlers. I was particularly interested in how women's actual roles on the early frontier got collapsed into an idealized "Pioneer Mother" type. I soon discovered that the statues in the Willamette Valley looked a lot like other "pioneer mother" statues erected across the country at the same time (ca. 1927-1940) -- most famously the NSDAR "Madonna of the Trail" series (which I'd first encountered in Springfield, OH, on a historic preservation project years before).

The Pioneer Mother monuments in Oregon seemed to fit 2 basic types. In the first, young mothers tried to protect their children from the hazards of overland trail/frontier life, as in Avard Fairbanks' "Old Oregon Trail" (note the wagon forming a Madonna-like halo as the mother protects her son), and Leo Friedlander's "The Covered Wagon". In Friedlander's, the son is imitating his father, trying to "thrust our frontiers to the setting sun"; the mother tries to hold him back from the dangers of trail life. These women in some ways echo the NDSAR's "Madonna of the Trail" and Ponca City, OK, "Pioneer Mother," but they are less bold, and certainly don't carry rifles.

The second type I discovered were seated grandmothers in more domestic poses. These focused on a later time period, after the initial frontier era, and emphasized women's proper place within the domestic sphere.

You can read more of my analysis of these images in chapter 6 of my book, Gender and Generation on the Far Western Frontier (Univ. of Arizona Press, 2007).

I'm now working on a national survey of existing pioneer woman monuments nationwide. I'm particularly intrigued by a shift toward more maternal and domestic imagery in later statues, such as the one on the North Dakota Statehouse lawn, in which the mother is contained within the family circle, and looks over her shoulder to her husband for guidance and protection, rather than looking boldly forward.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Chapter 4 - The Devil Wore Prada - Pioneer Women Wore Boots

When building a house it is essential that there be a solid, firm foundation if the house its self is going to survive long.

The same is pretty much true with Pioneer Women, at least with their statues.

They all seems to fit firmly into and almost grow out of a fine pair of boots. Laces seem to far outnumber the slip-it-on type, perhaps because there is an element of style in them.

We'll look at roofs later.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Chapter 3 - Pioneer Women sculpture attributes #2

Let's face it. Women in the late 19th and early 20th Century sculpture were frequently a bunch of hussies.

Even angels, easily identified by their wings, on occasion sported the bodies of naked women. Donning a breast plate seemed to actually accentuate the woman's "charms" rather than covering them up.

That these works were largely created by male artists certainly (one of the many words and/or phrases that is used to mean that you are about to read my opinion) surely accounts for much of this. In an era when a "well turned ankle" was considered a bit saucy and a "shapely calf" could drive men wild, when even table legs could not be discussed in polite or mixed company because of the obvious connotation, the art world was one of the few places where the scantily clad, (or less) figure, almost always of women, was considered to be acceptable.

However all that changed when the figure involved was that of the art patron's mother or grand mother. Suddenly modesty in look, dress and demure became the order of the day and provides us with our first attribute. Dress.

It started at the top with usually a bonnet, occasionally a scarf or shawl, but almost always something. Under these outfits the nipple, a standard feature in many previous female figures, completely disappears, despite the fact that the outfits are on occasion quite form fitting.

Dresses are long, flowing and usually extend all the way to the next attribute, a good pair of solid, sensible boots.

There is more research to be done on all of these, but by including a LARGE BOOK, both the important issues of Christianity and literacy were addressed.

A significant attribute, frequently employed was the rifle, suggesting that the Pioneer Women took an active role in the defense of the homestead. More will be said about this down the line in a blog called "Rifles -the male tool, or just a tool?".

This is in no way a complete list of the attributes that identify Pioneer Woman. However it is a start.

Children (mostly sons, at least as the oldest child, when gender can be determined)
long dresses
modesty in look, dress and demure

(to be cont.)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Chapter 2 - Pioneer Women and their attributes

One of the ways that allegorical sculpture is typically identified is through the use of what are called "attributes." One of the masters of the use of attributes was J. Massey Rhind, a Scottish born American sculptor who created numerous monuments and left a trail of architectural sculpture across much of the United States. A quick look at his work at the Shelby County Court House in Memphis, Tennessee should suffice to illustrate how attributes work.

American sculpture comes into its own around 1850 and from that time onwards, until such time as the Pioneer Woman arrives on the scene, allegorical sculpture, as well as much of the other sculpture produced during the Neo-Classical era, utilized Greek and Roman dress as part of the standard formula. Chitons, robes and generic drapery were the norm.

Justice, arguably (or perhaps not) the most used allegorical figure is also the most easy to identify because her attributes have continued to be used. In Rhind's figure Justice is accompanied by a Sword (the power of the Law) while she holds what appears to be a bowl in each hand. These in fact (one of the words I use when expressing my opinion) make her into a scale, prepared to weigh the pros and cons, merits and demerits of what is presented to her for her judgement. The scales and sword are repeated in shallow relief on the side of her throne. She is blindfolded, because, "Justice is blind" and is crowned by a laurel wreath, making her a victor.

Prosperity holds an urn in one hand and a cornucopia in the other while Peace holds a lyre and a staff that has sprouted leaves in the other. The attributes used here and elsewhere were widely understood by architects and sculptors and a large portion of the general public, though the latter were the first to lose the thread.

When it was decided to celebrate the role of the Pioneer Woman in sculpture it was necessary to develop a whole new visual vocabulary for these works. We'll look at that next. But later.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Chapter 1 Pioneer Women in sculpture

Women have been a subject and/or theme in sculpture almost since the art began. Egyptian sculpture is filled with female images, as deities, queens and slaves and this usage continues through Greek and Roman sculpture, it muddles through the Middle Ages, is revived by the Renaissance and crosses the Atlantic to the New World with Columbus. Well, not quite with him, but very soon after.

By the time the 20th Century rolled around America was solidly set and settled and ready to take a look back at it's own history, and to produce this view in stone. And bronze and a few other mediums. The purpose of this blog is to examine what the monuments were that this hindsight produced, why they took the shape they did and what they tell us about the creators of the memorials, about our ancestors and about ourselves. Life is supposed to be interesting.