A Ponca City Mystery - Who is this man?

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A Ponca City Mystery - Who is this Man?

by Hugh Pickens

April 5, 2018


EW Marland, Jo Davidson, and the Artist's Studio

Everyone in Ponca City knows about the artist's studio at the Marland Mansion that EW Marland constructed on the grounds of his "Palace on the Prairie" in the 1920's and many know the story of how the studio came to be constructed for the use of Jo Davidson, one of the leading American sculptors of his time.

According to Jo Davidson's autobiography, "Between Sittings," EW came to France and met with Davidson on one of EW's European trips and visited Davidson at his Paris studio. EW asked Davidson to come to Oklahoma for ten years and embark on vast project to create monumental sculptures depicting the settlement of the American West. This was at the apex of Marland's career as an oilman when he controlled 10% of the world's oil reserves and was one of the wealthiest men in the United States.

Jo Davidson Comes to Ponca City

According to the story, Davidson had no interest in abandoning his cosmopolitan life in Europe for ten years on the Oklahoma prairie until EW sat down and wrote a check and showed it to Davidson. Davidson supposedly told EW that he was not interested but that if Marland would add another zero to the check and construct him an artists studio, then he might come to Oklahoma for a year or two. That's the story anyway.

In any case, whatever the truth of the matter, Jo Davidson did indeed come to Ponca City in the 1920s and lived and worked in the artist's studio on the grounds of the Marland Mansion for several years. There is even a rumor which was explored in the recent play "Lydie Marland in the Afterlife" (put on by Ponca Playhouse in 2017(, that Davidson and Lydie Marland may have had a relationship.

Davidson's Work in Ponca City

Among the most famous works that Davidson completed during his stay in Ponca City were the statue of EW seated that is now on display on the town square of Ponca City and the two life size sculptures of Lydie Marland and her brother George that are at the mansion. Davidson also submitted one of the twelve Pioneer Woman models to EW's competition, and although it did not win the competition (losing to Bryant Baker's "Confident") the Pioneer Woman Model submitted by Davidson, titled "Trusting", was said to be EW's personal favorite in the competition.

Another Work by Davidson is Unearthed

Now another work that Davidson completed while in Ponca City has surfaced after 89 years and the mystery of its provenance and the subject of Davidson's portraiture has only deepened.

"In 2017, I found out that a previously unknown sculpture by Jo Davidson titled "A Bust Portrait of a Gentleman" was coming up for sale in an international art auction," says Hugh Pickens, curator of Doctor Pickens Museum of Turquoise Jewelry and Art that will be opening its doors in Oklahoma in 2020. "I contacted Joseph Gierek at Gierek Art Gallery in Tulsa and asked him to attempt to acquire the bronze on the museum's behalf."

Gierek was successful in acquiring the sculpture but when the bronze was shipped to Ponca City and Pickens opened the box and looked at the life-size bust, he got the surprise of his life. "I looked at the sculpture carefully and saw Jo Davidson's signature inscribed on the bronze. Then I looked more carefully and saw the words 'Ponca City 1929' next to Davidson's signature."

Who is the Man in the Bust?

Jo Davidson evidently completed the bronze while he was in residence in Ponca City in 1929 in the studio EW Marland had created for him. But the mystery only deepened. "I cannot identify who the man is," says Pickens. "I have looked at photographs from that period. The subject of the sculpture is not a governor, he is not a mayor of Ponca City, he is not a prominent oil man."

Perhaps he is a wealthy citizen of Ponca City from that period. "It would have been expensive to commission a personal bronze from Jo Davidson in 1929," says Joseph Gierek. "Whoever had this bronze commissioned must have had a lot of money."

Lori Henderson has suggested that the man may be Daniel Donahoe, a prominent Ponca City resident who built a fortune through ranching, grain milling and real estate development and died in 1946. However Donahoe would have been 64 in 1929 and the bronze seems to be of a man in his 50's. Also the man in the bust has a broken nose. Perhaps he was a golden gloves boxer which was a common sport in that era. Does anyone know if Donahoe had a broken nose?

"By the way, this bust is a beautiful example of Jo Davidson's work," adds Gierek. "The Pickens' bronze is every bit as accomplished as any of the other commissions that Davidson executed during his lifetime including the famous bronze of Walt Whitman at Bear Mountain or the extremely well known bronze of Will Rogers in the National Statuary Hall in the United States Capital that you see in the background in many television news reports with interviews with Senators and Congressmen."

In the hopes that we can identify the subject of Jo Davidson's sculpture and start to trace the sculpture's provenance, we are publishing this story as well of photos of the bronze.

Doctor Pickens Museum of Turquoise Jewelry and Art

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