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DO YOU walk by MacNeil Statues and NOT KNOW IT ???

Feb
08

“Jo and Hermon” ~~ The Wanderer and The Monument Maker ~~ Story # 2: MacNeil Month 2021 ~~

By

Jo Davidson – about 1911 [Bates College of Arts: detail from Young Artists of the Modern School]

Hermon Atkins MacNeil about 1916

~ JO Davidson  ~ Adventurer  ~

~ Hermon MacNeil ~  Monument Man ~ 

1903 – 1910

For Jo it was …

WANDERING ~~ ROVING ~~ SEARCHING 

Always moving ~~ He learned “moving” first at home. 

Early memories of “moving” became a life theme.

He had decided to become a SCULPTOR, BUT he searched and roved for nearly a decade to discover

his own INNER SCULPTOR, the talent within.

JO DAVIDSON ~~ Adventurer

WANDERING PENNYLESS to St. Louis.  When Jo Davidson finished up at the MacNeil Atlier, he decided to go to St. Louis to find work as a sculptor at the World’s Fair — the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904.  He carried with him a letter written by Hermon Atkins MacNeil recommending this young sculptor assistant to Mr. Zolney, the sculptor in charge. 

The problem was, he had no money to travel or live on.  He took a sales job selling wafers for ice-cream sandwiches.  That got him to St. Louis, but when he presented his letter, Mr Zolney had NO JOBS left. He needed no more sculptors.  Jo wandered the Fair midway destitute.  He slept on boxes at night hiding from the Fair police who cleared the grounds of closed the gates.

Making Pyrography to Live.  To survive Jo resorted to his old skills of making  portraits — burning them into wood and leather goods.  Showing samples of his work, he connected with a vendor and offered to do portraits and monograms on leather cushions.  Now he could eat, stay alive, and gain some income.  Even Geronimo, the Apache Chief, came to sit for him. 

JO Becomes a Cossack. One day two Russian Cossacks in full regalia passed by the booth where Jo worked.  He thought they were showfolk from the Pike, but when he used the only two Russian words that he knew to hail them…

“They wheeled around, and practically fell into my arms, jabbering away.  I did not understand a word, but I could see that they were in trouble. There was one solution: the Russian Westinghouse exhibition was in the same building.  Surely the man in charge could speak Russian.  I took them there and they wept as they told their story.”  Between … p. 19-20

Their goods had been stopped in government customs, at the fault of their interpreter who also absconded with some of their money.  The Westinghouse people cleared it all up.  The Cossacks hung onto Jo insisting he “had saved their lives.”  They gave him a steady job promoting their booth and silver inlaid wares.  In time off, he had the run of the fare, carrying his sketchbook filling it with drawings of everyone and everything he saw.  His adventures continued through the summer until the Fair closed in November of 1904. 

FAIR ENDS: Jo rambles around then arrives at HOME with a Black Eye.  When the fair ended, Jo felt a tragic sense of loss — something had died.  The exploits were over.  Time to move again.  He wandered on to Chicago, with the Cassocks, then Atlantic City.   Jo wanted no part of “shop work.”  He ventured on the Boardwalk and began drawing profiles of tourists.  His motto: “Your Portrait, … No Likeness, No Pay.” 

He met many people, made many drawings barely scraping by.  In hope of better days, he accompanied a reporter to Philadelphia looking for a job drawing with a newspaper (but that fell through when he asked for a contract).  Jobless and penniless, he wandered the streets of Philadelphia.  He told his story to strangers.  They offered to pay him for drawing them; but when he did, they laughed and refused to pay.  A fight ensured.  They gave Jo a black-eye for his troubles.  

Three blocks later, he met up TOM FIELD, a friend from the Boardwalk.  He asked about the black-eye. Then Tom gave Jo his hotel room, bought him dinner, and left town before Jo awoke.  A warm breakfast was brought to the room with a warmer note from Tom.  The note contained a railroad ticket to New York City, a five dollar bill, and advise to use both as soon as possible.  Jo ate and followed Tom’s advise.

JO’S FIRST COMMISSION …

NEW YORK AGAIN!   “The Art Students League gave me a room which was used by the modeling class at night,” Jo said.  “In return I agreed to teach the summer class.”  Several years earlier, he had sketched an idea for a work to be called “David” slinging a stone at an invisible Goliath. The sketch received honorable mention.  Wanting to start the small figure, he went to his old friend Mr Partee, who liked the sketch and agreed to commission it as a two-foot high bronze statue. Jo started the work with enthusiasm but kept doing and undoing each day’s work until he became quite discouraged.  Edward MacCarten, an earlier student of MacNeil, would stop by occasionally.  Seeing Jo’s dilemma he offered some helpful advise.

“One day he said, “Jo, here’s an idea. When you come here tomorrow go to work as if this is your last day on earth and you have to finish your statue before you die.” This struck home. The next day I went to work with new energy.  I didn’t die that night, nor did I finish the “David” that day. But as I look back, MacCarten’s advise was one of the greatest contributions that I ever received from a fellow artist.”

That advise would also become a pathway to Jo’s future as a sculptor.  With it, Jo completed the work.  Partee was so pleased he offered to pay for a second bronze casting. Jo sent his “David” to a jury (MacNeil was probably on that jury).   The statue was accepted for the 1905 exhibition of the Society of American Artists.  The day of the show Jo borrowed an ill-fitting Prince Albert coat from his uncle and with his sister, Ray (Rachel), they entered the Fine Arts Building adjoining the League.

“We walked up the few steps and entered the the great gallery all crowded with people.  I must have been a very funny sight in that Prince Albert coat, but I was walking on air, completely unconscious of my clothes. We went around looking for my “David.”  There he was in bronze — on exhibition with the works of real artists, sculptors, and painters.  I felt timid about looking at it.  I pretended to be interested in everybody else’s work but my own. We ran into MacNeil.”

JO and HERMON meet at his “DAVID”

PUPIL AND TEACHER SHARE A PROUD MOMENT.

So Jo, the studio boy, and Hermon MacNeil, the sculptor, meet again.  This time not in that College Point Studio, not “mixing a little clay”, but in the great exhibition hall and in the presence of his beloved sister.  Fifty-years later Jo still remembers what Hermon asked:

MacNeil: “How do you like the way we placed your ‘David’?” 

Jo’s recollection: I would have liked it no matter where they placed it.  I do not think I have ever felt that way since.”

Of all the sculptors that would have been at the Exhibit at that moment, Jo mentions only Hermon MacNeil’s solicitation about the piece.  Obviously, MacNeil gave some thought to the placement and setting of Jo’s “David” slinging toward that invisible Goliath. Hermon probably felt warm pride at Jo’s David, possibly even recalling Jo’s first attempt to make a Corinthian capital that first day in the College Point Studio.  Whatever the former Teacher and the former “studio boy” were feeling as they met, the moment had become indelible enough for Jo to include it a half century later in his autobiography after his teacher’s death,  Jo certainly sculpts the story with excitement and pride both in that moment and in recalling it in his life’s “Sittings.” Between Sittings, (p. 25). 

PLEASANT MEMORIES OF HERMON:  One can not help but smile imagining the reunion of the QUARTET: sculptor, the sister and teacher with the “David” in the great gallery of Art.  It must have been smiles all around.  And I suspect that these smiles had nothing to do with ill-fitting Prince Albert jackets.  Jo was excited.  MacNeil was pleased.  Jo’s recounting and recording of this moment with his teacher seem to radiate a growing pride in the  bonds of creativity, shared work, and talent, between sculptors.   PLEASANT MEMORIES from 50 years ago.

“BAH!” — JO’S FATHER stings,

After the Exhibition Jo delivered the “David” to Mr. Partee.  When the second bronze copy was finished, Jo recalls:

“I took it home and placed it on the mantelpiece in our front room.  The next day when I came home from the League, I found my father looking intently at my “David.”  He was unconscious of my presence.  Then he turned and saw me, and with a disapproving gesture of the hand, said “Bah,”  turned on his heel and left the room.  Father had had other ambitions for me.”

HERMON and JO’s FATHER.   In Jo’s telling of his life story, the contrasts of Hermon MacNeil, his sculptor teacher, and Jacob Davidson, his father, could not be more glaring. Jo’s Father had plans and ambitions for his Son.  He was the MILLION from birth!  He was Jacob’s winning Lottery Ticket.  The lucky blessing for the devoted faithful prayer.  Jo even entitles Chapter 1 of his autobiography, “THE MILLION!”  So that was a life-long moniker from his family of origin. Lois Harris Kuhn in her book,The World of Jo Davidson, explains it to her young readers in this way:

“No one was ever to know for certain what it was that Jacob Davidson thought that having a son meant.  Whatever it was, it was obvious  — almost right away — that Jo was unlike anyone his father had expected.  In Fact, Jo was like no one else.  He asked far too many questions.  He made pictures of everything he saw. He was so filled with life and laughter that everyone around him responded to it.  Everybody — everything — small or large — interested Jo.!  It was a good thing for a boy that his mother, Haya, understood him completely.”  [ Kuhn, The World of Jo Davidson, Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, Jewish Publication Society, New York, 1958. p. 4.]

Jo does not make comparisons, he just shares memories and interactions.  Any reader of Jo’s recollections or descriptions of his life, however, can not help but see stark emotional contrasts between Jo’s father, Jacob Davidson, and Hermon MacNeil.  Moreover, the difference in two sets of recollections appear quite awkward

CONTINUING at HOME and the ART STUDENTS LEAGUE.

Jo Davidson’s bust of Haya Davidson, his proud mother and most willing model. [Between p. 55a]

While at home in New York, Jo modeled a bust of his “intensely proud” Mother who most willingly posed for him.  He was spending entire days at the “League” with other students.

“Those were gay days: music, dancing and parties. To those parties at the League, I brought my sisters Ray and Rose and it was not long before I brought the League to my house.  We were then living on West 111th Street overlooking the Park.  It was a top-floor railroad flat, but nobody minded climbing all those flights of stairs.  Mother’s strawberry jam, Rose’s singing, and Rachie’s warm and vivacious charm pulled people right up to the top floor.”

Jo’s sister Rose recalls those days with a bit of free verse:

  • “Like a flock of homing pigeons,
  •  Nostalgic memories flapped their wings,
  • And rouse the slumbering past.
  • A victrola,
  • And listing to the Sextet from ‘Lucia’ —
  • Zenbrich — Scotti — Caruso —
  • Talking about victrolas — the first phonograph — New York
  • 111th Street top floor — front room —
  • An olive green velour curtain separating it from the rest of the railroad flat,
  • And endless tea parties,
  • Schubert’s ‘Serenade,’
  • Sam Halpert, tears running down his cheeks …”

Jo fell hard for “Flossie”, Florence Lucius, the tall Junoesque monitor of his class. [They would later come together in the later half of their lives.]  He’d hike to her home in Brooklyn.  With her father’s approval he accompanied her and Grace Johnson, another art student, on a  hiking trek through the Swangum Mountains in New Jersey.   Taking a Hudson River boat to Kingston, NY, walking all day, stopping at farmhouses, along the way, They would entertain their hosts by singing, playing the family organ, Jo’s mouth organ, and “doing a little jig”.  Many of these families had never traveled further that a few miles from home.  Jo, Flossie and Grace were something of a New York traveling trio. “It was all a wonderful new experience.”  They returned a week later with blistered city feet, but feeling healthy and sunburned as they rested on the Hudson River boat back home.  

A STUDIO OF HIS OWN.

Early in 1906 Jo rented a studio in an old brownstone on East Twenty-third Street.  Small, on the top floor, with just enough room for a couch, the skylight made a young sculptor feel right at home.  Many other painters and artists filled the brownstone and the neighborhood.  Jo made friends easily.   He went one evening on an adventure to Upton Sinclair’s Colony in Englewood, New Jersey called Helicon Hall .  The  escapade was the idea of Sadakichi Hartmann, an art critic and poet, who often stopped by the  studio.  With his sculptor’s eye, Jo described him as a curious-looking person — tall, gaunt, with a face like a Japanese mask.  One day Sadakichi described a recent trip to Helicon Hall where he met socialists, anarchists, making many friends.  Jo was working on a figure and had a girl posing for it. The model chimed in to say she too had friends there. 

Off the trio went on a snowy day arriving at dinner time.  The Sinclairs invited them to sit and share dinner.  Afterward  Mrs. Sinclair sat down in a wicker rocker and Jo sketched her portrait.  She told them they didn’t have a room to spare for the night.  Jo gave her the sketch and went off to discover that Sadakichi was berating Edwin Bojorkman, a reporter for the New York Sun.  In a huff, Sadakichi announced, “We are leaving.”  They trekked back several miles into the snowy night.  Sadakichi was nursing a bottle of whiskey most of the night and dancing in the snow.  They found a shed, started a small fire and thaw out. Warmed and rested, The wrinkled trio all caught the first train out. Sadakichi called up several papers telling his side of the story and advised them to call Jo Davidson for further details.   More stories and editorials continued. Jo thought he would never live down the sagas of their trek to Helicon.

PARIS — Adventuring Artist arrives on the LEFT BANK

At age 24, Jo felt compelled to go to Paris.  John Gregory, another MacNeil student, had just returned from that center of the Art World and his stories fired up Jo’s imagination.   Subsequently he moved to Paris in 1907 to study sculpture at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.  After borrowing $150 from his old benefactor, Mr. Pardee, Jo the Adventurer purchased a second-class ticket and arrived in Paris with $40 left — but NO scholarship and NO support. 

Edward McCarten, another MacNeil student, met him at the Gare Saint-Lazare (train station).  Edward had already rented a studio next-door for him, but became appalled to learn Jo had no scholarship or support. “How are you going to live?” Jobs were scarce and Jo didn’t speak French.

“At any rate MacCarten introduced me to his bakery and his creamery, and every morning a loaf of bread and a quart of milk were left at my door.  It was extraordinary , the trust, the confidence that existed in Paris in pre-World War I days.  Broke as I was, I never went without a meal.  It may have been meager, but I didn’t starve.”  [Between … P. 33-34]

Growing up in the Lower East Side of NYC, Jo was no stranger to hunger.  At the St Louis World’s Fair he again learned how to live with hungry.  He had to live, eat, and sleep on exposition grounds and dodge the Fair police at night when everyone was supposed to leave.  Jo was a talented survivor who used those skills to launch whatever might be his next adventure.

Now in Paris he soon entered the Ecole des Beaux-Arts paying $16 of his last $40 for tuition.  But after just three weeks, he the decided that the adventuring-artist-within-him was not going to find his dream there.

“The instructions there were made up of the same things I had heard at the Art Students’ League in New York.  I was looking for life.  They gave me antiquities.  SO I left the Beau Arts and decided to work out my salvation my own way.  I began to hustle for myself.  [Griffin, 14753-4.]

The next months were storm and stress.  The poverty was hard, the rebellion he felt in the clay was even harder. He would visit the Louvre, view the great masterpieces, wait for something to happen inside of him.  Nothing happened. “He had not yet found himself, and he knew it.”  McCarten helped him find work giving English lessons.  He earned three dollars a week.  He visited the cafes meeting other artists, poets, derelicts.  He would sit over a cafe creme for an hour or two.  He met Jerome Blum, a painter from Chicago.  Jo began cooking for both he and Jerry to stretch their pocketbooks. 

One night they came out of a poker game and saw a Great Dane lying on a bench.  The waiter said the dog was lost.  Jerry approached but got a snarl.  Being an expert on hunger in animals, Jo asked the waiter for a bowl of milk and bread.  Giving the dog food, he ate.  When they turned to leave, the Dane followed.  The Great Dane filled a gap of loneliness for Jo who immediately named him Sultan.  He was also a great introducer as people would approach the magnificent animal.  Jo’s full head of hair and black beard along with Sultan’s stately stride made a striking pair as they strolled the arty neighborhoods of Paris.  [Between … p. 38.]

Also, relief came from home.  Jo’s sister, Rachie, knew of all his ups and down through their lively letters.  Through mutual friends she learned of the Hallgarten Scholarship Fund.  Rachel, the teacher, succeeded to secure a  grant of scholarship for Jo amounting to thirty dollars per month for one year.  Jo’s assessment, “Then I was on East Street.”

The WALK to LUCERNE  vöyagueurs à pieds

FRENCH PEASANT by Jo Davidson

After another rejection of a life-sized sculpture of a boy that he had worked on diligently, Jo too felt rejected.  He decided to take a vacation from studio work.  So on a sunny morning with a knapsack on his back and Sultan by his side, they started out to walk to Switzerland and Lucerne.  In the fresh air he did a lot of thinking on the road.  He slept at Inns or farmhouses. Sometimes his drawings would pay for his board.  The issue of the failure of his work was always churning over and over in his mind.

He and Sultan caught up with a French Peasant driving an oxcart.  They chatted along roadway and the driver stopped to share cheese, bread, and wine from his lunch basket.  Jo asked where he could sleep overnight in the next town.  The driver told him he was foolish to sleep out of doors and explained to him “the law of the land” regarding travelers on foot — vöyagueurs à pieds.  He should go to the mayor of the next village and ask for lodging as a vöyagueurs à pieds.  The mayor would give him a permit assigning him to a family for hospitality.  After the drivers advise, the traveler fretted no more about traveling on foot.  [Griffin, 14753-4.]

J. D. FERGUSSON by Jo Davidson

Working like a “madman” 

After travels and “tall thinking” on the road, Jo’s found that his ideas of making art had changed.  Returning to his Paris studio he fell in with a group of “Post-Impressionists.”  In particular he made a close friend of John Duncan Fergusson, a Scottish painter.  They walked and talked about everything.  John stirred Jo’s energies and hopes. A portrait bust of Fergusson was the first thing that Jo completed.  The work broke with all of Jo’s academic training.  He decided to become a master of his own medium.  Expressing his thoughts of sculpting as fast as they came, he “worked like a madman.”  He made portrait busts of everyone he knew, sometimes two in a day.

“At last I did it, and made a portrait bust of a Swiss girl which satisfied me.  I was so pleased that I went around telling everyone what a wonderful thing I’d  done.  I told Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney about it, and she came to my studio to see it and bought it.  That encouraged me a lot.”   [Griffin, 14753-4.]

Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney was better known as Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. She bought the “Head of a Swiss Girl”,  but more importantly became a patron and lifelong friend of Jo.  In following weeks, Jo sent his “Violinist” to the autumn Salon of 1908, and it too was accepted.

Continued Success and on to U.S.

The next spring he had three pieces accepted in the Salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux Arts, the new society.  He continued exhibiting in Paris and London through 1909 with dozens of pieces.  Finally, by December 1909 Jo felt that he had enough accumulated enough pieces to come back to New York City to hold an exhibition.  He did return and his US Exhibition brought him instant success in NYC, his home town.

REGARD 1909 [detail] marble, Signed: Jo Davidson 14 1/2x9x6 inches, Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Binder. Source: Conner and Rosenkranz, Discoveries… p. 12.

Joel Rosenkranz describes this period of Jo’s successes in these words:

“The Baillie Gallery of London presented the exhibition Modern Illustrators and Statuettes by Jo Davidson in the summer of 1909.  On Davidson’s copy of the catalog, which lists Fourteen terra-cottas and one plaster, a single work is marked “sold.”  It is a modest beginning, but only three months later, January 1910, Davidson’s first one-man show opened at the New York Cooperative Society, where he exhibited thirty-three terra-cotta and bronze sculptures and twenty-eight drawings.  The show proved a success, for Davidson sold several works and received a portrait commission.” 

“Just before the New York show opened, Davidson married Yvonne de Kerstrat, a beautiful French actress he had met in Paris in 1909. Their son Jacques was born in July 1910 and that year was was unusually productive for Davidson.”   [Conner and Rosenkranz, Discoveries… p. 14.]

 

JO Davidson …   after all the

searching,

wandering

experimenting

The “MILLION”

has found the

SCULPTOR  within Him …

“Always moving” was the life-style of his home.

BUT THEN he said:

“I found the clay bin, put my hand in it,

and touched the beginning of my life”

He decided to become a SCULPTOR,

BUT he had to search and rove for nearly

a decade to discover his own

INNER SCULPTOR, the talent within.

Jo was looking for “LIFE”

Beaux Arts offered gave him  “Antiquities,”

HE  “moved” adventured, wandered, and roved

UNTIL …

He taught himself to CAPTURE

” L I F E “

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

\   \   \   \   \   \   \   \   \   \   \   \   \   \   \   \   \   \   \ 

 

/ / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / /

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

~  HERMON A. MacNEIL  ~

 

Monument Maker

 

1903-1910

Meanwhile the years from 1903 to 1910 back at College Point, Hermon MacNeil continued his various statues and monuments.  Since building his studio there, he had procured a succession of commissions for various monumental works. 

He worked with young sculptors sought to develop their talents in the Beaux Arts tradition in which he trained and preserved. 

BELOW are Listed the Monuments completed and initiated between 1903 and 1910 by Hermon MacNeil;

CLICK on these hot links for photos and information: 

1903 Chief of the Multnomah Tribe, Met Museum, NYC

1904 “The Coming of the White Man #2” ~ Queens, NYC ~ Poppenhusen

1904 “The Coming of the White Man” ~ Portland

1905 Monument to Soldiers & Sailors of the Civil War~ Whitinsville, Massachusetts

1906 President McKinley Memorial – Columbus Ohio (8 photos)

1906 President McKinley Memorial – Columbus Ohio (w. map)

1908 Cook County Building – Chicago – Video of 2 reliefs by MacNeil

1908 Four Bas reliefs on Cook County Building – Chicago

1908 Robert H. Thurston – Cornell University – Plaque and Bust

1912 “Into the Unknown” ~ Brookgreen Gardens, SC

1912 Orville Platt of Meriden, Connecticut

1912 Soldiers and Sailors Monument, Albany,NY

SOURCES:

Henry F. Griffin, “Jo Davidson: Sculptor”, The World’s Work; Volume XXII, August 1911.  pp. 14746-14755.

Lois Harris Kuhn, “The World of Jo Davidson,” Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, Jewish Publication Society, New York, 1958. pp. 11-18

 

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