WELCOME to the “Hermon A. MacNeil” — Virtual Gallery & Museum !

~ This Gallery celebrates Hermon Atkins MacNeil, American sculptor of the Beaux Arts School. MacNeil led a generation of sculptors in capturing many fading Native American images and American history in the realism of this classic style.

~ World’s Fairs, statues, public monuments, coins, and buildings across to country. Hot-links (on the lower right) lead to photos & info of works by MacNeil.

~ Hundreds of stories and photos posted here form this virtual MacNeil Gallery of works all across the U.S.A.  New York to New Mexico — Oregon to South Carolina.

~ 2016 marked the 150th Anniversary of Hermon MacNeil’s birth on February 27,

Take a Virtual Journey

Since 2010 this website has transported viewers through the years and miles between 100’s of Hermon MacNeil’s statues & monuments throughout the USA.

For over one hundred years these sculptures have graced our parks, boulevards, and parkways; buildings, memorials, and gardens; campuses, capitols, and civic centers; museums, coinage, and private collections.

PERHAPS,  you walk or drive by one of his public sculptures daily. HERE, you can gain awareness of this great sculptor and his many works.  Maybe there are some near you! CHECK HERE!

Search Results for "gregory"

Jo Davidson’s autobiography,“Between Settings,” gives us pictures of two sculptors in the MacNeil aletier: Henri Crenier and John Gregory.

Henri Crenier

By the time Jo Davidson begins working for MacNeil, he describes Henri as a taunter and teaser:

Henri Crenier took a special delight in teasing me. I liked him and took it good-naturedly. But one day I lost my temper and we came to blows. I knocked him down and relieved my feelings by giving him a healthy pummeling. I was so busy that I did not hear MacNeil come into the studio. Suddenly I heard him say: “ Jo, when you get through, will you mix me a little plaster.”

MacNeil comment appears to be rather calm considering the ruff-housing of his assistants.  Very likely, he had observed their conflict previously. And on this occasion thought, Jo had made his feelings known sufficiently and offered him a diversion to move his assistants on to the next tasks in the studio.

Crenier’s Early Life

AUTOPORTRAIT EN UNIFORME DU LYCÉE LAKANAL À LA CHAPELLE-D'ANGILLON - Henri Crenier

AUTOPORTRAIT EN UNIFORME DU LYCÉE LAKANAL À LA CHAPELLE-D’ANGILLON – Henri Crenier

Before arriving in America and the College Point Studio, Henri’s early life began in Paris, France in 1873, Crenier studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts with Falguiere, who was also a teacher of Hermon MacNeil. Henri worked in the Asnières-sur-Seine (a commune on north Paris) and exhibited at the Paris Salon. Immigrating to the US in 1902, he entered the art community of New York City, eventually exhibiting with the National Sculpture Society.

In New York, Henri Crenier linked up quickly with Hermon MacNeil who was seven years his senior. Whether he knew of MacNeil from Falguiere at the Ecole des Beaux Arts or learned of him in New York at the Art Students League is uncertain.  Jo Davidson’s narrative places him in MacNeil’s studio around 1902-1903 as a master sculptor.

Crenier’s Later Accomplishments

James Fenimore Cooper Memorial in Scarsdale, NY, By Henri Crenier (1873-1948)  http://www.hermonatkinsmacneil.com/?attachment_id=9006

His solo work includes the James Fenimore Cooper Memorial in Scarsdale, New York, as well as his single largest commission, the two pediment sculptures in granite for the 1915 San Francisco City Hall. He also contributed to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (1915) and designed the freestanding figure of Achievement (see photo below) This photo of Nemours Mansion & Gardens is courtesy of TripAdvisor and the statue stands at the Nemours Mansion and Gardens in Wilmington, Delaware.

 

"Nemours

This photo of Nemours Mansion & Gardens is courtesy of TripAdvisor and the statue stands at the Nemours Mansion and Gardens in Wilmington, Delaware.

Henri Crenier adds Beauty to San Francisco City Hall

Henri Crenier went on to design and be chief sculptor of the San Francisco City Hall built after the 1906 earthquake.  The regal structure soon became known as the “The People’s Palace.”   Crenier’s design arose as an inspiring symbol of renewed hope in the heart of the city by the bay. This glorious gilded palace stood not for kings and queens, but for the people. For over a century since then all those who came were caught up in the Beaux Arts renaissance beauty of this public mansion. The video below tells the story of Henri Crenier’s design and direction of the construction of San Francisco City Hall  (“Henri Crenier adds Beauty to San Francisco City Hall”; http://www.artandarchitecture-sf.com/henri-crenier-adds-beauty-to-san-francisco-city-hall.html  Jan. 24, 2017)

No matter how far much San Francisco may claim his talents, Henri Crenier got his start in America in the College Point Studio of Hermon MacNeil some 3000 miles away.

John Gregory 

The Folger Shakespeare Library has nine large sculptures carved in white Georgia marble along the front of the building. These are the work of John Gregory (1879 – 1958).  Each bas relief sculpture depicts a scene from one of William Shakespeare’s plays. http://stationstart.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/cs_folger_panel_000-a.jpg

 

Folger Shakespeare Library lighting the last four of John Gregory sculpture Panels and Capitol Dome at night.

Nine Marble Nine Bas Relief Sculptures Along the Front of the Folger Shakespeare Library

Going left to right across the front of the building and also from left to right in the 3 by 3 grid above starting with the top row:

1. A Midsummer Night’s Dream
2. Romeo and Juliet
3. The Merchant of Venice
4. Macbeth
5. Julius Caesar
6. King Lear
7. Richard III
8. Hamlet
9. Henry IV, Part I

The Folger Shakespeare Library is located at 201 East Capitol Street SE, Washington, DC.

Gregory’s Statue of Anthony Wayne: In 1937 John Gregory sculpted this statue of Anthony Wayne for Philadelphia. 

In 1937 John Gregory sculpted this statue of Anthony Wayne for Philadelphia. CREDIT: By Michael Murphy, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16312124

SOURCES:

  1. Jo Davidson, Between Settings: an informal biography of Jo Davidson, New York: Dial Press, 1951. pp. 13-16.
  2. Lois Harris Kuhn, The World of Jo Davidson, Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1958. pp
  3.  http://wikivisually.com/wiki/Henri_Crenier
  4. Works of Sculptor John Gregory at Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.
  5. http://stationstart.com/2010/02/folger-marble-sculpture/
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Gregory_(sculptor)

Jo Davidson, Sculptor, 1937

Hermon Atkins MacNeil,  ~1934

Hermon MacNeil 

 

and Jo Davidson

 

1912   –   1929

 MacNeil Month ~ ~ Story #3   ~ ~ ~ ~

Feb. 2021 ~ “Two Careers”

BY 1912 JO DAVIDISON and HERMON MacNEIL

were parting ways artistically.

Hermon MacNeil continued making Historical Subjects, World’s Fairs, and Monuments as he had for 20 years (1893-1912). 

[ Photos and hot-links to MORE MacNeil works appear at the end of this post …⇓ ]

Jo Davidson after a decade of searching  and wandering, to fulfill some inner talent,

he discovered his “Sculptor Within.” 

 Review:        Jo  made repeated attempts (1903-7) at studying the “Beaux Arts” style at the Art Students League of New York, learning it “hands-on” in the MacNeil Studio with John Gregory, and Henri Crenier (and all their teasing), under the quiet tutelage of Hermon MacNeil.    Then actually traveling to Paris without scholarship or support to enroll in the actual  Ecole des Beaux-Arts.  

BUT … LEAVING THERE after 3 weeks because he sensed that Beaux Arts was training him to sculpt “Antiquities”    WHEN he wanted to “SCULPT LIFE.”

Jo Davidson

In 1909 before coming back to New York City, Jo married Yvonne de Kerstrat, a French actress and sister of an artist friend, Louis de Kerstrat.  Their son Jacques was born the next year.

The next several years were very productive for the sculptor.  His figural works included a bronze statuette of Ida Rubinstein and an eight-foot bronze La Terre. 

ONE-MAN SHOWS X 3.    In 1911 Jo began presenting one-man shows.  The first opened in the New York in April, then a second more successful one at Reinhardt Galleries in Chicago in November.  This included twenty portraits and twenty figures.  A third show in New York opened in January 1913 with twenty-two figural works and fifteen portraits.  With this growing success in both reputation and finances, Jo could now keep two studios — one in New York and another in Paris. 

69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Ave. on-street parking New York City

The Armory Show 1913

Also in 1913, Davidson exhibited in the Armory Show, also known as The International Exhibition of Modern Art.  This three-city exhibition started in New York City’s 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Ave.  From there it traveled to the Art Institute of Chicago and next to Boston’s Copley Society.  

Walt Kuhn, American painter, and a friend of Jo Davidson, was an organizer of the famous Armory Show which was America’s first large-scale introduction to European Modernism in Art.  Working with Arthur B. Davies and Walter Pach, Kuhn spent a year, much of it in Europe assembling a collection The exhibition traveled to New York City, Chicago, and Boston and was seen by approximately 300,000 Americans. Of the 1,600 works included in the show, about one-third were European, and attention became focused on them. The selection was almost a history of European Modernism.[https://www.britannica.com/event/Armory-Show-art-show-New-York-City#ref126367]

“Kuhn and Davies had both studied in Europe and developed a strong appreciation for the groundbreaking developments that were taking place there, particularly in Paris. Both also had ambitious dreams of altering the very fabric of American art and culture. The pair would be particularly instrumental in bringing a display of European art to U.S. shores—the likes of which most Americans had never seen before. With the same sprawling exhibition, they would also provide an opportunity for American artists that they had found so lacking in their own careers.”  [ https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-1913-armory-dispelled-belief-good-art-beautiful ]

The show’s sponsor, the Association of American Painters and Sculptors developed in 1911 with the aim of finding suitable exhibition space for young artists.  They found  ideals and policies of the National Academy of Design too restrictive to innovation.  The show introduced the American public accustomed to realistic art to the experimental styles sweeping Paris, namely, Fauvism, Cubism, and Futurism But most Americans arrived  expecting “real art,” namely, the “realistic” representations of the renaissance masters.  To these viewers the show was a puzzlement.  Observers responded with confusion, shock, or even anger at this “satire” of “real art.” 

Jo Davidson and the Armory Show.

The Armory show was labeled many things by American art critics.   Frank J. Mather argued that “Post-Impressionism is merely the “harbinger of universal anarchy.”  [1]   It overwhelmed American isolationism with an artistic invasion of a strange avant garde army of artists.  So to most Americans it was a puzzlement both in appearance and reporting afterward.  They came expecting “real art,” as “realistic” as the renaissance masters.  That was Art!  But “This?”  “What is this?”  Observers responded with confusion, shock, anger, and harsh words at this “satire” of “real art.” 

The 1913 Armory Show The International Exhibition of Modern Art opened on February 17, 1913 at the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue. The Armory Show—as it came to be known—had an immediate and profound influence, introducing the avant-garde to America and forever altering the narrative of Modernism in America. Photograph by Percy Rainford, courtesy of Bettmann/Corbis. SOURCE: https://www.thearmoryshow.com/armory-25/one-fair-one-city ON 2-6-2021

Jo Davidson was no stranger to European Modernism. Such experiences of “the unconventional” were part of his strolls of Paris with Sultan by his side.  He loved his years on the Left Bank. This Bohemian world of the avant garde enlivened him.  It pleased and excited his imagination  Such images must have powered his search for that illusive “sculptor within.”  His search had gone on for over a decade. 

Davidson’s Impact: Jo Davidson appreciated this work, but was hardly a Modernist in his own creativity.   Yet he seemed to affect the Armory show in at least two ways:

  1. Walt Kuhn appreciated Jo Davidson works. He placed them cleverly throughout the display.  As such, they became benchmarks of understandable art next to some of the more unusual Modernist pieces.  “The artists who created them might know what they intended, but most of them weren’t there and many who were [there] were too shy or found talking too difficult.” 2 Each of Jo’s portrait busts and figures became an oasis of “real” sculpture in the confusing landscape of Modern Art.  Confused and puzzled viewers could wander the foreign art territory of the Armory Show and find occasional respite at a “Davidson” work of art. 
  2. In addition, Jo Davidson himself became an occasional ‘Docent’ at the Armory Show.  Lois Kuhn in her children’s biography of Davidson captures an anecdotal explanation that conveys the essence of Jo to her audience:  “Jo often visited the armory show himself and could easily explain to others not only his own work, but that of those artists unable to speak for themselves.  What a man with words Jo was!  Lois Kuhn offers this humorous ‘possible’ vignette to her young readers:
  • “Its outrageous.” a man protested, looking hard at one of the paintings.  “Whoever heard of ‘pink’ grass?
  • Jo chuckled.  “But you knew it was grass, didn’t you, sir?  It never once occurred to you that it wasn’t anything else, now did it?”
  • The man frowned.  “Well I don’t care.  I don’t like the darn thing anyway!”
  • “Nobody said you had to like it, sir, but if you dislike it, why not dislike it with a reason?”  Jo thought for a moment, then asked, “Have you ever noticed what colors the shadows on the snow are?”
  • The viewer was silent.  He was trying hard to remember.  Jo knew the man had probably never before bothered to think about such an ordinary thing, although he must have seen it hundreds of times.  “No I don’t think I have,” the man admitted, “Do you know?”
  • “They’re purple!  The artist looks and sees them so.  But so can you!  Or anyone else.  Just notice next time it snows.  Then try to think how it would be if the artist painted snow, making the shadows green.  You’d still know they were shadows, wouldn’t you?”
  • “Okay, you win!” the man sighed.  I see your point and you are right!”  He smiled, began to turn away, but suddenly turned back and winked at Jo.  “You know,”  he said strongly, “if more artists could explain things as you do, maybe plain people like me wouldn’t have so darn much trouble trying to find out what they’re up to!”
  • Jo grinned back.  He was happy knowing just one more person would be able to look at a piece of art and try really to understand it.”  2

infrared landscapes by richard mosse at the 2013 Armory Show. CREDIT: ‘platon, north kivu, eastern congo’, 2012all images courtesy jack shainman gallery.

Note: PINK GRASS at the 2013 Armory Show ~~~ Irish photographer Richard Mosse is celebrated for his striking imagery of eastern congo, and presents ‘infrared landscapes’ at the Armory Show in New York 100 years later from the 7-10 March, 2013.  “The photographs are full and rich – the arresting deep reds and crimson hues, candy floss trees and savanna grasses aflame with color. all these surreal elements created through a combination of an obsolete wooden field camera and a rare technique produced by kodak aerochrome, a product developed for military use in the detection of aerial bombing targets. in the late 1960s, the medium was appropriated in artwork for rock musicians like the grateful dead or jimi hendrix, setting the tone for the sublime psychedelic aesthetic of the time.”

Jo Davidson revels in “PORTRAIT BUST-ing” 

By the end of 1913 Davidson had done more than thirty portrait busts. He had a reputation for being “fast” and “good” at that craft.  The Davidson’s returned to France, with a second son, Jean, and found a house in Céret, which is near the border with Spain about 20 miles from the Mediterranean Sea.  His wife’s brother Louis de Kerstrat had purchased a small house there. More importantly, growing  reputation of Céret was as  “the refuge of Picasso, Matisse, Soutine and Chagall”   It would eventually be known as “the Mecca of the Cubists.” Moving there he met Picasso and Aristide Maillol.  Soon Jo was off to London which presented a wealth of opportunities for making portraits of notables. 

LORD NORTHCLIFFE 1913 by Jo Davidson. “Between …” p.54b.

“Portrait became an obsession. Meeting and knowing people meant becoming acquainted with their thinking.” Jo Davidson

From a studio in Thackery House he roved cafes, bars, watering holes seeing and being seen by journalists, authors, and celebrities.  His 1914 exhibition at Leicester Galleries included busts of newspaper mogul Lord Northcliffe, Frank and Nell Harris, and George Bernard Shaw.

 THE TASTE OF WAR 

When WWI broke out, Davidson wanted a place in the effort and through Lord Northcliffe was appointed an artist-correspondent to accompany veteran correspondent George Lynch.  The first went to Ostend, Belgium on the English Channel finding a “dead city.”  They went on east to Ghent climbing 194 steps in a church tower observing the battle of Grenberegen nearly 15 miles distant.  He didn’t enjoy it! 

Jo Davidison’s LIBERTY BONDS poster- THE GUT PUNCH.

He later tried to make sketches but without enthusiasm.  At an ambulance he met doctors and nurses who spoke no French and he was called over to translate.  He received word that their hotel in Ostend had been bombed and destroyed the day they left. 

The Germans were advancing and the British were retreating.  He saw a priest comforting a soldier with open severe facial wounds.  On the road back to Ostend he passed carts filled with old women, children and babies. People carrying pots and pans, a goat, a mattress, a chair, something they could not part with.  “War” was no longer just a word in the history books.

Heartsick, Jo returned to London wanting to do something in clay to express what he saw in France.  Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote three lines:

FRANCE AROUSED 1914 by Jo Davidson. [Between… p 86a.]

“When France in wrath her giant – limbs upreared, 

And with that oath, which smote air, earth, and sea,

Stamped her strong foot and said she would be free.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The result for Jo was “France Aroused.”

“It was a figure of Bellona,

the goddess of War,

with her feet squarely planted on the on the ground,

her arms upraised, fists clenched,

and her head thrown back —

a cry of rage and protest.”  [

Between …, p.11.]

 RETURNING TO Céret  — His Home was converted to a HOSPITAL  

On May 26, 1915, Yvonne offered their home in Céret as an auxiliary hospital, Bénévole No. 62 with 40 beds, two nurses and Yvonne in charge.  She was up at five A.M. and when all retired would pour over the books in the wee hours.  Their five-year-old son, Jacques, dressed in the uniform of a Chasseur Alpin presided at the head of the evening dinner table in a black baret the Apline hunters.

In 1916 Davidson returned to New York exhibiting fifty-five sculptures and war drawings at Reinhardt Galleries and in June modeled President Wilson.  He began to realize the historical value of his collection of works.  When the United States entered the War in 1917 Davidson decided to make a “plastic history” by modeling portraits of Allied civil and militrary chiefs.  So we left for France with funding from Gertrude Whitney and letters of reference from previous subjects.  The result — The Peace Conference Series — fourteen portraits of including General John J. Pershing (1918), Marshal Ferdinand Foch (1918), who signed his portrait beginning a tradition that Jo continued, Lord Arthur Balfour (1919), George Clemenceau (1920). 

1923 – Gertrude Stein  and Jo had met in 1909. He assessed that a head of her was not enough.  He decided  to do a seated figure — “a sort of a modern Buddha.” [Between …, 174-7.]

“Gertrude was a very rich personality.  Her wit and her laughter were contagfious.  She loved good food and served it.  While I was doing her portrait,  She would come around my studio with a manuscript  and read it aloud. The extraordinary part of it was that, as she read, I never felt any sense of mystification.  ‘A rose is a rose is a rose,’ she took on a different meaning with each inflection.  When she read aloud got the humor of it. We both laughed, and her laughter was something to hear.  There was an eternal quality about her — she somehow symbolized wisdom.”

 John D. Rockefeller 1924 

The only person Jo Davidson ever wrote to requesting to do a portrait bust was John D. Rockefeller.  One month later he received a Letter from his son, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. containing several questions. 

Jo Davidson and John D. Rockefeller modeling his portrait

Several days later John D, Jr. visited the studio with more questions and discussed all details of the venture.  A truck arrived carrying all of Davidson’s studio equipment to the Rockefeller Estate in Tarrytown, north of the city. 

On their meeting Rockefeller told Jo, “Davis … Davison … Davidson.”  The first was his secretary’s name, the second his own middle name, and finally Jo’s last name.  Rockefeller voiced the ironic trilogy and his usual “A-ll good.”  After meeting his new subject, Davidson, Jo entered into the daily routine and was invited to stay as a house guest rather that commute by train daily.  Jo’s descriptions of his time with the family patriarch and his storytelling are as illuminating as his sculpting.

When Jo finished, Rockefeller invited all the house staff to come in and see his fresh likeness.  “Come __ in,” he said.  “Take__ your__ time. Have a good look at it__ yes? A-ll good. Thank You.”

The son, John D. Jr., liked the finished bust so much that he  commissioned Jo to execute it in marble, and also to make a colossal head in stone to be put in the Standard Oil Building. 

1927 Pioneer Woman ~ Ponca City, OK ~ E.W. Marland

A reunion for Hermon and Jo and John Gregory.

CONFIDENT – The winning PIONEER WOMAN by Bryant Baker 

TRUSTING (1927) by Jo Davidson

CHALLENGING. 1927. Hermon MacNeil

SELF RELIANT by A. Stirling Calder

 

In 1927 wealthy oilman E. W. Marland of Ponca City, Oklahoma invited a dozen American sculptors to compete for a commission to create a statue to honor the Pioneer Woman.  Each artist was to submit a two-foot bronze model for the monument, which was to express, in Marland’s words, “the spirit of the pioneer woman—a tribute to all women of the sunbonnet everywhere.”  

PROTECTIVE by John Gregory

Marland’s selection of that dozen sculptors became something of a reunion for Jo Davidson[1] and Hermon MacNeil  and John Gregory (an earlier assistant with Davidson in MacNeil’s studio). Others invited were invited included  James Earle Fraser, Bryant Baker, and A. Stirling Calder.  Each of the dozen were paid $10,000 to produce a bronze two-foot statue model with the winner to be determined by public vote.

The models were sent on a six-month tour of several U.S. cities, from New York and Boston to Minneapolis and Fort Worth and Chicago. Tens of thousands of ballots were cast, and Baker’s model “Confident” won by a margin of nearly two to one. Neither MacNeil or his two previous students won the commission.

Bryant Baker’s entry won the final comission by a wide margin of ballots.  Each artist submitted a two-foot bronze model for the monument, which was to express, in Marland’s words, “the spirit of the pioneer woman—a tribute to all women of the sunbonnet everywhere.”

JO DAVIDSON STRIKES OIL

Jo Davidson charmed E. W. Marland so that he built a permanent studio for the sculptor in Ponca City.  Jo declined moving there permanently, but did spent weeks there completing statues of E. W., his daughter, Lyde standing holding a large garden bonnet; and son, George, in boots and riding breeches.  He also carved a seated  figure of E.W. Marland in marble which remains outside the museum a century later.

After completing the sculptures, E. W. Marland took Jo on a trip to California and back to New York in his private railroad car the “Ponca City.”  Jo wrote letters to Yvonne during the two-week excursion.  Jo met E. W.’s friends, and E.W. met Jo’s friends.  “The Trip, one of the richest experiences of my life, eventually was over, and I set out for Europe where political developments were moving at a rapid pace.”  [Between …, pp. 210-220.] 

 


 

Hermon Atkins MacNeil

“Monument Man” 

  Photos of  his works from 1912 to 1929  

Hot Links to MacNeil Sculptures follow …

Visit these links for further information on these ststues and monuments:

1912 – 1929

SOURCES:

  1. F. J. Mather argued that “Post-Impressionism is merely the harbinger of universal anarchy.” [1913, March 6, “Newest Tendencies in Art,” Independent 74, pp.504-512.] Cited in, On The Margins Of Art Worlds, By Larry Gross  p. ?
  2. Kuhn, Lois Harris. The World of Jo Davidson. Farrar, Straus and Cudhay: New York, 1958.  p. 86 -87.
  3. Marland Museum:  https://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2013/the-american-west-in-bronze/blog/posts/pioneer-woman
  4. Here’s a 2010 Update on this Story:  2010 Ponca City duplicates 12 models:https://oklahoman.com/article/3455825/ponca-city-welcomes-back-one-dozen-pioneer-women

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

 

 

 

Jo Davidson, Sculptor, 1937

Hermon A. MacNeil sketch by Charles D. Daughtrey.

Jo Davidson

started as a

“studio boy” for

Hermon MacNeil

in 1903.

NOW,

February 2021  

MacNeil Month 

will showcase

FOUR Stories of

“Hermon and Jo”

from their nearly fifty years of friendship.

PLUS A SURPRISE BIRTHDAY

UNVEILING  on  February 27th !!!

~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~

STORY # 1  

Jo Davidson ~ begins here …

From his late teen-years to his mid twenties,

Jo appears as a talented, outgoing, vagabond.  

A vagabond can be defined as …

  • an itinerant,  a wanderer, a nomad,
  • a wayfarer, a traveler, a gypsy
  • a person who wanders
  • from place to place
  • without a home or job.
Home Life
In Between Sittings, his autobiography, Jo sculpts his early home life in shapes of restlessness, rovering, and hunger. 
“I was born on New York’s lower East Side and the memories of early youth are vague and shadowy. I remember long, dark halls, crowded tenements, strange sour smells, drab unpainted walls and moving — we were always moving. … we were exceedingly poor and often didn’t have enough to eat.”Between Sittings, p. 3.
 Samantha Baskind tells Jo’s story this way: Davidson was born in the ghetto of New York’s Lower East Side to immigrant parents who had fled the Russian pogroms Encyclopaedia Judaica.
[ def.: pogroms: ethnic cleansing, persecutions, massacres, exterminations, slaughter …]
Jo “was the youngest of five children in a household of greatly limited means.”  “He had a step-brother, George, and three sisters; Nancy, Rachel, and Rose.”2
Jo’s parents had real fears and emotional scars from the traumas of those anti-Jewish persecutions in Russia.  After his parents emigrated to the U.S., Jo was born in New York City on March 30, 1883.  Jo inherited a restless wanderer’s spirit as a an offspring of terrorized generations “who had fled the Russian pogroms”  MORE.
Jo’s father, Jacob, was Jewish and a man “who lived completely within himself.” His father was “orthodox, self-absorbed, and more intent on religion than on his family.”2   He believed in miracles and fanatically hoped to hold the winning ticket in some lottery.  His father’s friends teased Jacob asking if he would rather have a SON or win a MILLION dollar lottery. So after Jo was born, he was nicknamed by friends and family, “The Million.” 
“Father had beautiful eyes, a long white beard, and the face of a prophet.  I can still see him moving about the house almost like a spirit.  He was always praying and a sign of affection from him was a rarely given luxury.” *  Between Sittings, p. 3.  and  Joel Rosenkranz, Rediscoveries…, p. 11.
Jo went with his Father, Jacob, to synagogue on Saturdays, but kept out of his way for fear of offending him. When he asked “where did Cain get his wife?” his Father father smacked him down by stating that “with God everything is possible.”
Jacob Davidson, definitely had plans and ambitions for his son.  The MILLION became the sarcastic “BRIS”  label of blessing for Jacob’s only son.  That moniker became a life-long label in Jo’s Life.  Seven decades later, Jo entitled Chapter 1 of his autobiography, “THE MILLION!”  Even after his death, Lois Harris Kuhn in her biography,The World of Jo Davidson, offered her young Jewish readers the following explanation:
“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 to 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’s personality was much like his mother, Haya, (nee: Getzoff) “was full of an unquenchable fire that brought life to everything around her… .”
“She was tiny, energetic, practical, the one on whom the whole family leaned.  The Davidson’s were exceedingly poor and often didn’t get enough to eat.  She would distract the family from their hunger with her wonderful story telling of her past life in Russia, her grandfather who adored her and raised her, and their father’s family filled with scholars and rabbis.” Between Sittings, p. 3,
She was a wonderful cook, could stretch a half-pound of meat into a dozen mouths.  Food was very scarce, but restlessness flourished.
“It is curious how little I remember of my school days. I was always in a dream, vague and lazy.  I understand now — being underfed, I wanted to sleep all the time.
Yet for all their poverty,  Jo recalls the touch of “a warm glow which came from my mother (Haya) and sisters (Nancy, Rachel, and Rose) who surrounded me with love and affection.”
Between Sittings, p. 3, 6. And Joel Rosenkranz, Rediscovderies
A Train Wreck of JOBS
The needs of the family forced Jo to leave school in his teens. What followed were a series of itinerant, dead-end tasks.  He first got a job as an apprentice to a house-painter and paperhanger.  He worked 12 hour a day, preparing pots and paints in the mornings and washing up and cleaning brushes after returning from jobs. “I don’t remember how I lost that job, but I did,”
 
What followed was a succession of endeavors: messenger boy at Western Union, office boy at a weekly, and errand boy at a bookstore.  Each job ran off the tracks, as he worked too fast for fellow piece-workers, or then slowed down, and got fired by the boss. 
 
When he got board he would sit and sketch, friends, cats, anything in sight. When he sketched other messenger boys, they told him “Jo, you are wasting your time, you ought to get a job at a newspaper.”  In between jobs, he hung around art galleries, or visited the afternoon drawing class at the Educational Alliance. Eventually the idea of becoming an artist appealed to him.
 
Talent Leads the Way
His sister, Rachie, was teaching public school.  She showed some of Jo’s sketches  to an interested friend who obtained a year’s tuition for Jo at the Art Students League. He enrolled in evening classes becoming the youngest member of the live class drawing from nude living models.   There he also met a friend, Waterbury, who taught pyrography — burning in sketches on leather with a pyrographic needle.  He mastered the technique and could sell piece work for good pay. 
 
He continued evening drawing classes at the Art Students League.  On weekends he would go to a country sketch club and on Sundays he would paint on Richmond Hill on Staten Island.  He said his paintings were timid and pale.  One in a discussion group he was asked if he could shut his eyes and mentally see a desired color, red, blue, yellow.  Jo recalls, ” I tried and tried but all my concentration produced nothing and it was then that I decided I was not a painter.” Between Sittings, p. 8-10.

For some time, Jo’s family thought he should become a doctor. So he was sent to New Haven moved in with his sister, Nancy, and her husband, David, a graduate of Yale Medical School.  In between cramming for Regents’ exam, Jo befriended Randall the college photographer. He loaned Jo a photograph of Dr. Arthur Hadley, of Yale University.  Jo  began using his skills to make a burnt wood portrait of the new president.  When Jo finished, Randall displayed it in his storefront window. The next morning Jo returned to the store to find a crowd of people looking in the window at his portrait.  It was marked “sold.”  Jo got a check for $25.

The buyer, Mr. Pardee, requested that Jo visit him in his office.  Seeing the sketchbook in Jo’s pocket, Pardee asked to examine it, then requested permission to show two drawing to the head of the art school.  On seeing the sketches, Professor Neimeyer invited him to come and work in the Art School — tuition free — saying, “We are glad to have young men of talent.” So Jo began drawing a live model with other Art School students. Eventually he sketched the model from so many angles that he tired and lost interest.  Taking a break, he roved through the  building. He found a basement room full of plaster casts and modeling stands, and he walked in. 

Jo finds CLAY and “touches the rest of his life … ”

“I found the clay bin, put my hand in it, and touched the rest of my life. The cool wet stuff gave me a thrill that I had never before experienced.” 

He began building clay on a stand, copying a mask of Saint Francis nearby.  He lost track of time, then was startled when he realized  the modeling instructor, Mr. Boardman, was standing behind him.  The instructor asked how long Jo had studied modeling.  Jo said this was the first time he had touched clay.

He did not seem to believe me, which gave me the feeling it was not too bad.  We talked for a long time and the result was that I decided to chuck medicine and take up sculpture.”  Jo asked who taught sculpture and was given the name of Hermon A. MacNeil.  Between Sittings, p. 8-10.

Hermon MacNeil ~ enters Jo’s life …

JO finds Hermon MacNeil and his College Point Studio.

“By 1903, with his flirtation with a medical career ended, Jo was back in New York working as an assistant in sculptor Hermon Atkins MacNeil’s studio.” RosenKranz, p. 11.

PHASE ONE ~ Jo and Hermon: A previous story on this website tells the next phase the story

CLICK HERE to read the whole saga as Jo described it, 50 years later after Hermon’s death.  Jo relates meeting Hermon, asking for a job, getting turned down, bargaining for pay from a Scotsman … [click link for More]

PHASE TWO ~ Jo and Hermon WORKING in the MacNeil Atlier with Henri Crenier and John Gregory as the studio boy .  => CLICK HERE for full story …

OR JUST READ JO’S ‘PUNCH-LINE’ TO THE STORY BELOW –

Jo FUNNY STORY concludes:  “Henri Crenier took a special delight in teasing me. I liked him and took it good-naturedly. But one day I lost my temper and we came to blows. I knocked him down and relieved my feelings by giving him a healthy pummeling. I was so busy that I did not hear MacNeil come into the studio. Suddenly I heard him say: “Jo, when you get through, will you mix me a little plaster.” 

Hermon MacNeil outside his Studio about 1945. [Courtesy of Kenilworth Historical Society & Joel Rosenkranz. Photo by: Violet Wyld

Jo Davidson (about 1922)

NOTE THIS WELL: 

HERMON’S INTERVENTION:  MacNeil did not scold. He did not raise his voice. He did not even tell Jo to stop, for he probably saw the teasing and taunting that the young 18-year-old had taken from the other Assistants, Henri and John.  In essence he said,

“When you feel you are  sufficiently through pummeling Henri Crenier, (my master assistant), would you mix me a little plaster.”  Jo must have found Hermon to be quiet a contrast to his Father whose “signs of affection were rarely given luxuries”  Fifty years later Jo tells the above story in his biography, then concludes with: “The summer passed quickly. Those were rich and full days. I was sure of my vocation. I was going to be a sculptor.”l

Rich and full, the “sculptor to be” went on searching the world for another decade to develop his own style and skills as a sculptor.  Then in the next 40 years, Jo Davidson shaped portrait busts of over a hundred world famous peopleBUT the kindness of Hermon MacNeil seemed to be a pleasant memory.

MORE “HERMON & JO” STORIES TO COME …  on Feb 8th

#2  The Wanderer & The Monument Maker

~~~~

NOTES:

  1.  Jo Davidson, Between Sittings: an informal autobiography of Jo Davidson. Dial Press: New York, 1951. PP. 3.
  2. Connor, Janis and Joel Rosenkranz, photographs by David Finn, Rediscoveries in American Sculpture: Studio Works, 1893 – 1939, University of Texas Press, Austin TX 1989.

SOURCES: 

  • Jo Davidson, Between Sittings: an informal autobiography of Jo Davidson. Dial Press: New York, 1951. PP. 3-16.
  • TIME, “Political Notes: Glamor Pusses.” VOL. XLVIII, No. 11, September 9, 1946. pp
  • Connor, Janis and Joel Rosenkranz, photographs by David Finn, Rediscoveries in American Sculpture: Studio Works, 1893 – 1939, University of Texas Press, Austin TX 1989.
  • Jo Davidson, (1883-1952). Jewish Virtual Library: a project of AICE. Source:  https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jo-davidson. recovered on Jan 11, 2021.

Christmas Eve 1895.

Chicago, Illinois

There was a Wedding in …

Hermon MacNeil’s Studio

~ 1733 Marquette Building ~

Married in a private ceremony on Christmas Day Hermon and Carol MacNeil had a reception in the Marquette Building

Carol Louise Brooks as a young girl. An Etching by William Harry Warren Bicknell. (about 1891)

 

 

Every Christmas we remember this

Special Christmas Day Wedding of two sculptors. 

They met in Chicago, Carol’s hometown as they sculpted the “White City” of The Worlds Columbian Exposition (aka. Chicago Worlds Fair). That event opened in May 1893.  

Hermon made figures on the Electricity Building. Carol (Carrie) was a student of Lorado Taft and became a “White Rabbit”, that group of select females  permitted to sculpt as the deadline for opening day loomed closer.

Two years later Hermon, age 29, proposed to Carol (Carrie) just 24.  She accepted. They got a Marriage License on Christmas Eve and used it the next day.  Several weeks later they sailed to Rome where Hermon had accepted the Reinhart Fellowship and they both continued to learn sculpture for 3 years.  And then spent a a fourth year in Paris.

~ Christmas Day 1895 ~

“The Coming of the White Man in Washington Park, Portland, Oregon. This photo shows the legs of the Indian on the left which Jo Davidson painfully modeled in plaster casts. The title is sculpted into the base. The whole group sits on a boulder that MacNeil crafted for the setting from a granite quarry up the Columbia River granite. The granite came to the Park by barge. Then, a team of horses brought it up the hillside, all under MacNeil’s direction and supervision

Jo Davidson continues the narrative of his adventures working in the  Studio of Hermon MacNeil:

Besides being a gardener, a sculptor’s assistant and an errand boy, I also became a model. Henri Crenier had noticed my legs one day while we were swimming and insisted they were just right for the young Indian in ‘The Coming of the White Man.’ MacNeil thought he could save time by making a plaster cast of my legs.

So Gregory and Crenier volunteered to do the job, claiming to be experts in casting from life. I was innocent and did not realize what I was up against. I was rather hairy, and they rather haphazardly rubbed the oil over my legs. That done, they covered my legs with plaster, and as the plaster set, the string that was to separate the two halves of the mold broke. Their fun increased as my temper rose, but I was in plaster up to my loins and was helpless. After setting the plaster became very hot and disagreeable. Mr. Gregory and Mr. Crenier chopped gleefully away, separating the two parts. Having completed that part of the job to their satisfaction, they proceeded to take the mold off my legs. The pain was excruciating, for the hair got mixed up with the plaster and as they pulled the mold off of me my hair went with it. I screamed and swore at them, but my anger only made them laugh louder. They finally got the mold off, leaving my legs like two boiled lobsters. The cast turned out to be a very hairy one. I saw those legs many years later in MacNeil’s studio, and I swear they were hairier than ever!

Henri Crenier took a special delight in teasing me. I liked him and took it good-naturedly. But one day I lost my temper and we came to blows. I knocked him down and relieved my feelings by giving him a healthy pummeling. I was so busy that I did not hear MacNeil come into the studio. Suddenly I heard him say: “ Jo, when you get through, will you mix me a little plaster.”

The summer passed quickly. Those were rich and full days. I was sure of my vocation. I was going to be a sculptor.”

Jo Davidson

Thus in his own words, Jo Davidson recounts becoming the unwitting model for the legs of this younger Indian. 

Jo Davidson sculpting a young Frank Sinatra. (1946) – http://www.highlands-gallery.com/jo-davidson

The plaster casts were made on his very hairy legs.  It proved a painful adventure for the naive teen.  Humored by the absurd scene, the “experienced” sculptors laughed at his embarrassment and discomfort as they removed the plaster casts with his leg hair embedded.

Despite the teasing, Jo Davidson went on to study sculpture, develop his talents, and find his unique place as a sculptor doing what he loved.

WHAT YOU FIND HERE.

Nearby or far away, there is no ONE place to go and appreciate this wide range of art pieces. Located in cities from east to west coast, found indoors and out, public and hidden, these creations point us toward the history and values in which our lives as Americans have taken root.

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1. Take digital photos of the entire work from several angles, including the surroundings.
2. Take close up photos of details that capture your imagination.
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