Pioneer Woman Models
A few months ago my wife and I drove over to Woolaroc Museum to spend the day. The museum was almost empty the day we visited. The guides were very helpful as they gave us a private tour.
The last time I had been at Woolaroc was over 45 years ago when I was a 10 year old boy in 4th grade at Lutheran School in Ponca City. My father, Dale Pickens, drove school buses for the Ponca City School System and chartered his school buses for church groups and private organizations and I remember that dad drove our class over to spend the day at Woolaroc.
As a ten year old boy, I thought Woolaroc was exciting and wonderful. The most fascinating items were the dinosaur egg from the Gobi Desert, the shrunken heads from the Amazon jungle, and a miniature of the Pioneer Woman Statue that I had seen in Ponca City many times and eleven more miniatures that were never produced as full side statues. Take a look at the miniatures in this slide show of photos I took if you've never seen them.
With the perspective of 57 years of age and having seen museums all over the world, Woolaroc seems a lot different now than I remembered and the emotions I felt while I was walking through the museum weren't so much excitement as sadness and regret over lost innocence.
When I was ten years old I asked my father why the Pioneer Woman Statue was in Ponca City and the miniatures were 75 miles away in Woolaroc. He wouldn't tell me me and I forgot about it for forty years. Visiting Woolaroc made me remember my questions and do some research.
Here is that story.
The Man Who Lost Two Fortunes
In 1928, E. W. Marland, founder of Marland Oil Company (later to become Conoco) and at that time one of the wealthiest men in the world, commissioned twelve miniature 3-foot sculptures that were submitted by US and international sculptors as models for the Pioneer Woman statue. The commision that Marland paid each sculptor has been variously cited as $10,000 and as $2,000 for each submission. The miniatures traveled to twelve cities where they were viewed by 750,000 people who cast votes for their favorite.
The twelve submissions included "Protective" by John Gregory; "Determined" by Maurice Sterne; "Challenging" by H.A. MacNeil; "Affectionate" by James E. Fraser; "Self-Reliant" by A. Stirling Calder; "Fearless" by Wheeler Williams; "Heroic" by Mario Korbel; "Adventurous" by F. Lynn Jenkins; "Sturdy" by Mahonri Young and "Faithful" by Arthur Lee; "Trusting" by Jo Davidson; and "Confident" by Bryant Baker. The New York Times reported on March 27, 1927 that the exhibition had arrived in New York City and that it had attracted "more interest than any exhibition of sculpture New York has known in a long while." The twelve models were exhibited for three weeks in the Reinhardt Galleries and Bryant Baker's model was the winner of the first place in the New York balloting. The Times Reported that "Baker not only won first honors, but was the last man to enter the contest having no more than a month to prepare his model and obtain a casting." Marland pronounced himself pleased with the models. "I believe all of the sculptors have done well," said Marland. "We could select any one of the twelve figures and get an excellent interpretation of the frontier woman. the decision will be a hard one to make. I expect to be guided largely by public taste, but the final decision will be my own. This national vote is going to show exactly what the American people think about one of the greatest of their women," Marland added.
The exhibition touched a popular chord in American culture of the time. The New York Times reported on March 27, 1927 that among those who visited the exhibition at the Reinhardt Galleries was 91 year old Betty Wollman who as a young bride had journeyed from St. Louis to Leavenworth Kansas in 1855 and had once entertained Abraham Lincoln as a dinner guest in the Wollman household in Leavenworth long before Lincoln was a candidate for President. Wollman spoke about women's role during pioneer days in the old west and congratulated Marland for his proposal to erect a statue to the Pioneer Woman. "Mr. Marland is to be congratulated for doing this in commemoration of these early women of the West," said Wollman. "The hardships were many, and the courage and self-denial of the women who worked side by side with their husbands and sons and brothers in those primitive days are largely responsible for the development of the Middle Western States, now so rich in everything that goes to make life worth living."
The winning statue nationwide was "Confident," produced by British-born American sculptor Bryant Baker. It is believed that Marland's personal favorite was "Trusting" by Jo Davidson who had also sculpted statues of Marland, his wife Lydie, and his brother George. Time Magazine ran a story about the competion and compared the competing designs.
The pioneer woman selected was not the ugly one executed by Mahonri Young; it was not the demure one executed by Jo Davidson; it was not the brawny one of James Earle Fraser, nor the placid one of Arthur Lee, nor the fragile one of F. Lynn Jenkins. Nor was it Maurice Sterne's, Hermon A. MacNeil's, Alexander Stirling Calder's, although these artists too were among those who made models for the competition.It was not John Gregory's sturdy female, snatching a musket from her moribund husband, although this one ran second in the balloting and won first place in three cities. Instead, it was Bryant Baker's striding figure of a woman whose skirts are blown backward in a prairie breeze, who carries a Bible in one hand, leads her scampish belligerent little boy with the other. This had received most votes in eleven cities; by far the largest total out of the 123,000 votes cast.
Baker's sculpture was unveiled in Ponca City in a public ceremony on April 22, 1930 when forty thousand guests came to hear Will Rogers pay tribute to Oklahoma's pioneers. President Hoover addressed the nation over a nation-wide radio network for the commemoration of the statue. "It was those women who carried the refinement, the moral character and spiritual force into the West," said Hoover. "Not only they bore great burdens of daily toil and the rearing of families, but there were intent that their children should have a chance, that the doors of opportunity," added Hoover. The finished statue of the Pioneer Woman Statue was 27 feet high and weighed 12,000 pounds.
After financial reverses that included the loss of his company Marland Oil Company, E. W. Marland wrote a letter to his friend Frank Phillips on March 11, 1940. "My financial condition compells [sic] me to sell objects of art, tapestries, bronzes, rugs, and paintings acquired by me in more prosperous years," wrote Marland. "I will sell at a price approximately 25 per cent of their cost to me... And will consider it a kindness if you will come yourself or send someone to look them over with the object of buying anything you fancy."
Phillips sent art expert Gordon Matzene to inspect the bronzes and began bargaining with Marland for their purchase. In the end Phillips offered Marland $500 for each of the twelve miniatures. Matzene declared that the purchase was a wonderful bargain and the miniatures were removed from Ponca City along with other statues and artwork to became part of Phillips' collection at Woolaroc where they are on display.
- Time Magazine. "Pioneers" January 2, 1928.
- The Ponca City News. "Pioneer Woman Models Return to Ponca City" by Louise Abercrombie. May 23, 2000
- Toone, Thomas E., Mahonri Young: His Life and Art, Signature Books, Salt Lake City, 1997
- New York Times. "Pioneer Woman Seen in Bronze." March 20, 1927.
- New York Times. "Statue of the Pioneer Woman Stirs Memories of Long Ago." March 27, 1927.
- PoncaCity.com "The Pioneer Woman"
- New York Times. "The Pioneer Woman Praised by Hoover." April 23, 1930.
- Frank's Fancy: Frank Phillips' Woolaroc by Gale Morgan Kane, published 2001 by Oklahoma Heritage Association, page 147