A Ponca City Mystery - Who is this man?

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A Ponca City Mystery - Who is this Man? A life size bust of an unidentified man that was created by Sculptor Jo Davidson in 1929 while Davidson was living in Ponca City as the artist-in-residence at the Marland Mansion. "I have looked at photographs from that period," says Hugh Pickens. " 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."
A Ponca City Mystery - Who is this Man? Sculptor Jo Davidson's signature on the bronze bust of the "mystery man" and the inscription "Ponca City 1929."

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.

Jo Davidson Comes to Ponca City

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.

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, Executive Director of Pickens Museum of Turquoise Jewelry and Art. "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.

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A Biography of Jo Davidson

Jo Davidson (March 30, 1883 – January 2, 1952) was an American sculptor . Although he specialized in realistic, intense portrait busts, Davidson did not require his subjects to formally pose for him; rather, he observed and spoke with them. He worked primarily with clay, while the final products were typically cast in terra-cotta or bronze , or carved from marble .

Life and career

Davidson was born in New York City , where he was educated before going to work in the atelier of Hermon Atkins MacNeil . He subsequently moved to Paris to study sculpture at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in 1907. After returning to the United States, he was befriended by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, who purchased some of his work.

In 1911 Davidson secured his first solo gallery shows. He was one of a dozen sculptors invited by the oilman E. W. Marland to compete in his competition for a Pioneer Woman statue in Ponca City in 1927.[1] He did not win the commission.

In 1934 Davidson won the National Academy of Design's Maynard Prize. In 1944, he was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Associate Academician. In 1947 the American Academy of Arts and Letters hosted a retrospective featuring nearly 200 of his works. In the summer of 1949, Davidson was one of 250 sculptors who exhibited in the 3rd Sculpture International held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art .

Among Davidson's commissions are a design for a United States War Industries badg , a collection of pieces for the Cabinet of France to commemorate the first victory of the Troupes de Marine , and bronze busts of the leaders of the First World War Allies.[2] His portraits of world leaders and celebrated personalities gained him international acclaim. He created statues of E. W. Marland and his two adoptive grown children.


  • James Barrie
  • Nicholas Murray Butler
  • Charlie Chaplin
  • Soong Mei-ling|Madame Chiang Kai-shek
  • Joseph Conrad
  • Émile Coué (who was also a sculptor in his spare time)
  • Clarence Darrow
  • Charles G. Dawes - part of the United States Senate Vice Presidential Bust Collection
  • Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Albert Einstein
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower
  • Marshal Ferdinand Foch
  • Anatole France
  • Mahatma Gandhi
  • André Gide
  • Emma Goldman
  • W. Averell Harriman
  • Frank Harris
  • Dolores Ibárruri (La Pasionaria)
  • Robinson Jeffers
  • James Joyce
  • Helen Keller
  • Rudyard Kipling
  • Robert M. La Follette Sr. (Davidson), Wisconsin contribution to National Statuary Hall , United States Capitol
  • D. H. Lawrence
  • Edward Drummond Libbey, founder of the Libbey Glass Company and the Toledo Museum of Art in Toledo, Ohio
  • Henry Luce
  • John Marin
  • E. W. Marland
  • Lydie Marland and her brother George Roberts Marland
  • Lowell Mellett
  • Andrew Mellon
  • General John J. Pershing
  • John D. Rockefeller
  • Will Rogers - the original statue donated to the Will Rogers Memorial Hospital in Saranac Lake, New York
  • Will Rogers - bronze, Oklahoma contribution to National Statuary Hall , United States Capitol , erected in 1939
  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt installed at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park
  • Ida Rubinstein
  • Carl Sandburg
  • E. W. Scripps
  • George Bernard Shaw
  • Lincoln Steffens
  • Gertrude Stein
  • Rabindranath Tagore
  • Marshal Tito [3]
  • H. G. Wells
  • Henry A. Wallace - Bust (sculpture)|bust , part of the United States Senate Vice Presidential Bust Collection
  • Walt Whitman (posthumous) - full-body bronze statue at the Walt Whitman Bridge in Philadelphia , and in Bear Mountain State Park , New York (state)|New York .
  • Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney
  • Walt Whitman statue
  • Evan Williams (Opera tenor)
  • Woodrow Wilson
  • Israel Zangwill


Some of Davidson's work is in the National Gallery of Art .

He also designed a statue of Henry D. Thoreau, the author of the book Walden . The statue is located at Walden Pond State Reservation in Concord, Massachusetts .

In 2006, The Smithsonian Institution 's National Portrait Gallery (United States)|National Portrait Gallery opened a permanent exhibition, "Jo Davidson: Biographer in Bronze", showcasing fourteen Davidson works in terracotta and bronze, including portraits of Gertrude Stein and Lincoln Steffens.

Political Activity

Davidson was chairman of the Independent Citizens Committee of Artists, Scientists, and Professionals (ICCASP), a leftist-liberal group that supported the policies of President Franklin Roosevelt and his re-election. In 1946 this group merged with the National Citizens Political Action Committee (NCPAC) to become the Progressive Citizens of America (PCA); Davidson became co-chairman (the other chairman being Dr. Frank Kingdon). PCA struggled during tensions of the Cold War and fought for racial equality, economic justice and civil liberties. Important segments of the PCA became the base for Henry Wallace's candidacy for U.S. President in 1948 on the Progressive Party ticket.


  1. ’Exhibition of Models for a Monument to the Pioneer Woman, Art Institute of Chicago, June 25 to August 1, 1927
  2. Davidson. Jo, ‘’Between Sittings: An Informal Autobiography of Jo Davidson’’, The Dial Press, NY : 1951, p. 134
  3. Prijem američkog vajara Džo Dejvidsona i poziranje. foto.mij.rs


  • Armstrong, Craven et al., 220 Years of American Sculpture, Whitney Museum of Art & David R. Goodine, Publisher, NY 1976
  • Compilation of Works of Art and Other Objects in the United States Capitol, Prepared by the Architect of the Capitol under the Direction of the Joint Committee on the Library, United States Government Printing Office, Washington D.C. 1965
  • Connor, Janis and Joel Rosenkranz, photographs by David Finn, Rediscoveries in American Sculpture: Studio Works, 1893 - 1939, University of Texas Press, Austin TX 1989
  • Craven, Wayne, Sculpture in America: From the Colonial Period to the Present, Thomas Y, Crowell Company, NY 1968
  • Davidson, Jo, Between Sittings: an informal autobiography, The Dial Press , NY 1951
  • Homepage of the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC: Permanent Exhibitions.