Prized Jo Davidson Bust of Troy's Davison Uncovered
Nearly everyone who has passed through the halls of Troy (PA) High School has passed by this bust. Who was he and what did he do for THS and the Troy Community? On the 50th Anniversary of the school in 1973, Librarian Mrs. Phyllis Swinsick decided to dust off the bust, do a bit of research and get to the bottom of this story. Turns out it's a big piece of Troy Alumni History.
As part of the #THSCentennial, the Troy Alumni Association is putting together a celebration entitled, Our School, Our Stories - 100 Years of THS. A community event is being planned for October 6th-8th, 2023. Explore our Facebook Page and other Blog articles for more online history. https://www.troypaschoolfoundation.org/thscentennial
Mills, Mary. "Prized Jo Davidson Bust of Troy's Davison Uncovered". THE SCENE, Sunday, July 15, 1973. Pages 8-11.
TROY - Inspect your possessions. Haven't you heard? You may have a valuable object in your cellar or attic, an undetected treasure worth a pile of gold.
Never happen? That's what the Troy Area School District thought. In this case, the "attic" was a school storeroom, and unbelievably, the high school librarian came up with a real find.
The bronze bust of a man has looked out from an unenclosed niche in the downstairs hallway of Troy High School since 1923, when the special recess was constructed in the new school.
Through three generations of scholars, the bronze head of Henry P. Davison sat atop a marble block at eye level. After being the subject of various student pranks and indignities for years, as such objects often are, the sculpture was eventually removed, placed in storage, and almost forgotten.
But it wasn't forgotten by Mrs. Phyllis C. Swinsick, school librarian, who suggested the bust be unearthed for the commemoration of the school's 50th anniversary this year.
Reaction to her suggestion was mild, because Henry Davison means little to most present-day Trojans, except for a few old timers, descendants and history buffs.
To everyone's surprise, after the bronze was returned from the storeroom, it was discovered that the piece was a valuable work of art, done by a noted 20th Century American sculptor, and worth several thousand dollars.
“I suggested we unearth the bronze head of Mr. Davison, which the school owned, and use a picture of it.'
Mrs. Swinsick tells the story:
"In commemoration of the present Troy High School's 50th anniversary, the school newspaper, "The Trojan Crier," wanted an idea for a cover page. Having been in Troy long enough to be aware of the Henry Davison story and his affiliation with the town and the school, I suggested we unearth the bronze head of Mr. Davison, which the school owned, and use a picture of it.”
"The custodians finally found the head and brought it to the library.
"As I was rather casually looking it over, I turned it around and on the back saw the following inscription: 'JO DAVIDSON, PARIS, 1920'-and a number, 3, inside a small circle.
“I was actually stunned with surprise and glimmers of recognition raced around in my head. Jo Davidson - sculptor famous!
"Now, I am not too well acquainted with the world of art but somehow my subconscious had surfaced with recognition of the sculptor, due perhaps to an extraordinary art teacher I had in college who taught art appreciation, Mrs. Louise Barnhart Bedrosian of Pine City and Elmira.
"I wrote to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Lewis Sharp, assistant curator of American painting and sculpture, graciously answered my letter.
"He included an excerpt from the sculptor's autobiography telling of Mr. Davison commissioning him to make three busts in the studio in France. Mr. Sharp also referred to the sculptor as 'Jo Davidson, the most accomplished and certainly the most successful American sculptor portraitist of this century.'
"He said that he suspected the head was genuine and that we should contact art galleries for an evaluation.
*I then took the head to Dr. Stephen T. Bencetic of the Mansfield State College art department. He felt sure that the bronze was authentic and quite valuable, and he offered to take the piece to New York City with him for positive identification and appraisal.
"Dr. Bencetic later reported to Schools Supt. Thomas W. Holland that he visited seven galleries with the Davison bronze, that it was valued at several thousand dollars. Several of the artist's works have been sold recently at prices ranging from $3,000 to $8,000.
"He reported that the value would increase with the years. And by contacting Mrs. Deedee Wigmore of the prestigious Knoedler Gallery in New York, he learned that Knoedler was Jo Davidson's gallery. He has, been employed by them at one time at a weekly salary, and they still have a number of his works.
'Dr. Bencetic was invaluable in obtaining this evaluation and authentication.
It was only through his knowledge and enthusiastic interest and cooperation that we were so quickly able to realize what a great art piece we owned. How many high schools in the United States can boast of a Davidson sculpture in their possession?
"Then I wrote to the Bankers Trust Co. of New York, with whom Mr. Davison, a former Troy Banker, was once associated, and found out that one head is in their place of business.
"The Red Cross headquarters in Washington, D.C., informed me that they also possess one of the heads.
"I obtained the address of Daniel Pomeroy Davison, grandson of Henry P.; and presently senior vice president of the Morgan Trust Co. in London, England. I have written to him asking if any of the Davison descendants would be guests at the dedication of the totally renovated building when it is completed in a year or a year and a half. He replied enthusiastically and affirmatively.
"All of this has only served to bring to light again the Davison story, which will long live in the annals of Troy.
"I am delighted that the recent detection of the importance of the sculpture may serve to rescue this story from the limbo of forgotten history. And I hope that the people of Troy realize how lucky they are to have been not only the recipients of this man's largesse and generosity, but also to have in their possession a bronze portrait by an artist as famous as Jo Davidson.
"In the new school we expect to display the sculpture with pride in our heritage and appreciation of a local boy who never forgot his home town.
"This story sounds like the fusty fantasy of a daft lady librarian who became so steeped in a story atmosphere that she dreamed she found a pot of gold. And, glory be, that dream came true."
School officials are excited about the discovery, and give a due credit to Mrs. Swinsick for determining the value of the piece through authentication and researching its history.
The Davison bust is a typical example of the work of the sculptor, Jo Davidson. He worked primarily as a portraitist, and has been called a "biographer in bronze." Among Davidson's best known works are busts of General Pershing, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Georges Clemenceau and Mahatma Ghandi.
And sculptor Davidson even told about working on the Davison bust in his autobiography:
"About this time I did a bust of Henry P. Davison, the banker and head of the Red Cross. During Mr. Davison's first sitting he complained that I had made his nose crooked, but when he came in the next morning, he said cheerfully, 'You are right, my nose is like that. This morning as I was shaving, I looked in the mirror. I shut one eye, looked down at my nose with the other, and it was not there. Then I shut that eye, opened the other, and there it was.' That tickled him.
"We had a grand time making the bust. During the last sitting, he told me the story of Michelangelo and Lorenzo de Medici. Michelangelo did a job for Lorenzo, and when it was completed, he delivered it and sent in a bill for his services. Lorenzo was very pleased with the sculpture, but not with the bill, and wrote Michaelangelo. to that effect, returning the bill for correction. Michelangelo tore up the bill, and sent Lorenzo another doubling it. Lorenzo saw the point, wrote Michelangelo an apology, and sent him back the second bill, saying that he was ready to pay the first bill as it stood. Michelangelo sent him a third bill, tripling the first.
"My hands were covered with clay. However, I put out my hand,
" 'Thank you,' I said.
" 'Now why did I tell you that story?' sighed Mr. Davison.
‘He (Davison) was so pleased with the bust that he ordered three copies in bronze.'
“When the bust was finished, I sent Mr. Davison a bill doubling the price I had quoted him in Washington. The next day he phoned me to say that he had deposited the amount of the bill to my account at Morgan's that very morning. He was so pleased with the bust that he ordered three copies in bronze."
This excerpt was sent to Mrs. Swinsick by Lewis Sharp, assistant curator of American Painting and Scultpure at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, along with the comment, "Your bust must be one of these."
The authentication and evaluation have stimulated school officials to make grand plans for the bronze, particularly a special protective display cabinet.
And, to guarantee that one of the few remaining Davison gifts to the town is preserved and the history of Troy's most prominent and philanthropic native son is not forgotten, school officials are considering naming the library, or Learning Materials Center, in the renovated high school after Henry P. Davison.
The possibility of immediate members of the Davison family attending the school dedication is expected to cause nearly as much excitement as when Henry P. returned for visits in the early 1900's.
Long - time residents remember the Davison visits were always a big event, and "everybody would kill himself to get things right."
Although no one can remember when Davison or his family gave the bust to the school, one other school gift is recalled by many.
This involved a project totaling about $135,000. It included deeding midtown property to the school, with a house for the principal and apartment buildings across the street to provide funds for the upkeep of the properties.
Only Davison Green, behind the present Troy Borough Hall, remains from this gift, and it is now owned by the borough. The principal's house was converted into borough offices, and the apartment buildings across the street, one of which was the Davison birthplace, were torn down and the Acme Market was constructed on the site.
These changes were a subject of controversy in the mid-1960's, and many older residents still disapprove of the action.
When the state passed a school reorganization law in 1964 it forced the Troy School Board, reorganized into an area board in 1966, to liquidate its holdings. The school officials could see no other solution than to give the property to Troy Borough.
By then, the apartment buildings were in disrepair, and borough officials were hesitant to spend tax money on. renovations. Although Davison had planned for rental income to take care of this, many say that the $24 to $30 a month originally charged for the apartments was never raised and therefore the income failed to keep up with the cost of maintenance.
The house was converted into borough offices in 1966, and a year later the apartment property was sold for $40,650, divided between the schools and the borough. However, a signed brass Tiffany plaque, placed on the corner of the principal's house which was removed around that time, has been recovered by Mrs. Swinsick and will be placed on the new display cabinet with the bust.
Another Davison gift to the town, which also no longer remains, was a World War I cannon, which was donated to a scrap metal drive during World War II.
The cannon has not been forgotten locally, because it was the occasion of presenting it to the town which brought about the purchase of land in the center of town. This is documented in a biography by Davison's fellow banking associate and friend, Thomas William Lamont. The incident is also remembered by several local residents.
Many who aren't old enough to remember still treasure a commemorative booklet, given to those who attended a dinner honoring Davison by the Troy professional men at the Presbyterian Church on Jan. 12, 1918, and passed on to following generations.
The booklet contained pictures of many local landmarks as they were then, including the entrance to Glenwood Cemetery, which was endowed by Davison.
The menu served at the dinner included such delicacies as Mountain Lake potato whip and Mt. Pisgah turnip. All area notables reportedly attended the affair, including Congressman J. Sloat Fassett of Elmira.
Lamont's biography of Davison reports this event: "It was not long after the war that Davison made one particular visit, for the purpose of presenting to the town one of three captured German guns which the French government had given to him.
After the brief ceremony was over, Harry was strolling about the little town and came to the conclusion that there were certain civic improvements which were sorely needed. There was an old livery stable in the center of the place which was an eye-sore. His quick eye noted that, if this and several other old buildings were torn down or removed to some other site, ample space for a little park in the center of the town would be provided and the whole place could be cleared up and beautified.
"That very day he arranged to have the necessary purchases made, and appointed a committee to formulate suggestions in regard to the development. Within a year or two, the center of town was transformed . . . And when the new high school was completed, Harry refurbished and completely furnished one of the old dwellings as a house for the principal of the school, this additional donation enabling the school board to secure the services of a head master whom otherwise it might not have been able to attract. Meanwhile, too, some of the properties purchased by Harry Davison had been made available for renting. From these, the revenue has proved sufficient for the upkeep of the park and square, thereby entirely relieving the town of expense of maintenance."
'Sadly enough with his rapidly failing health, he was never able to visit Troy again and see the completion of his project’
The passage goes on to tell of Davison's continual interest throughout his busy life in the affairs of his small home town. It concludes, "And it was natural that he should finally work out some development which would speak to his boyhood friends in terms of beauty and delight. Sadly enough with his rapidly failing health, he was never able to visit Troy again and see the completion of his project. However, the reports as to its progress gave him intense satisfaction and happiness."
W. R. Croman, retired supervising principal of the Troy schools, was the first to live in Davison's gift house, and he also lived there the longest, from 1921 to 1955.
"I only had to move myself and very few personal belongings in," recalls Croman, because the house was supplied with everything, even silverware, dishes, sheets, towels, and pots and pans.
Croman also remembers that the committee which accomplished the project arrangements for Davison included (all now deceased) Daniel F. Pomeroy Sr., Hal Carpenter, Herm Pierce, B. B. Mitchell, and Everitt VanDyne, all friends and relatives of Davison.
Croman still marvels at the execution of the project. "All this, as I understand it, because Mr. Davison wanted a place to put a cannon given to him by the French," he said.
There are relatives of Henry Davison still living in Troy, but none with the Davison name. Some descendants on his mother's (Pomeroy) side include, (some by marriage) Mrs. John Deemy, Daniel F. Pomeroy Jr., Mrs. L. W. Brown, Mrs. John Byrem, Benjamin B. Mitchell, Mrs. Herbert Holcombe Sr. and Mrs. Holcombe Jr.
Davison used to come to Troy in his luxuriously appointed railroad car, but would stay in town at the large, Victorian Holcombe house on W. Main St.
Mrs. George (Annie Pomeroy) Holcombe, mother of Herbert Holcombe Sr., was Davison's first cousin. But Mrs. H. Holcombe says they were "more like brother and sister."
There was always a family reunion, so all the relatives could get together, she related, but "Cousin Harry" particularly enjoyed just strolling throughout the town to see his friends.
"You wouldn't think he had a dime," Mrs. Holcombe said, and he was not a snob, telling all who addressed him as Mr. Davison, "Call me Harry." And he would speak to everybody.
The Holcombes kept in touch with the Davisons throughout the years, and visited Henry P. in New York. On one visit to the Davison estate at Peacock Point, L. I., Mrs. Holcombe said Davison treated his relatives with more preference than he did a visiting lord and lady from England.
She describes the estate there as "really grand," with a staff of about 50 servants.
"Cousin Harry," Mrs. Holcombe said, was a very good looking man, and had blue eyes that always twinkled, he was such a tease. The first house on Peacock: Point owned by Davison burned shortly after he bought the estate, but he arranged to have a houseboat to live in until the second house was built.
When his cousin Annie came to visit. during this time, he knew she disliked water, but did not tell her about the houseboat. They arrived during the nighttime, and when Annie entered the house a little while went by before she noticed it was moving.
"Cousin Harry thought that was a grand joke," Mrs. Herbert Holcombe Sr. said, "to get his cousin Annie on a houseboat without her even knowing it."
With Davison's fame and fortune so great, it is surprising that there is no record, and no one can recall, when the valuable Davison bust was given to the school.
But one thing is certain, if plans proceed as planned, with the naming of the library after Davison and a re-dedication of the bust, along with the anticipated visit by members of the Davison family, the event will not be forgotten again for a long long time.
Davison was a Banker, Red Cross Leader
Henry Pomeroy Davison, familiarly known as Harry Davison, was born in Troy on June 13, 1867. His father sold farm implements. His mother, Henrietta Pomeroy, was a talented and musical lady who died when Henry was a small boy.
When he was 15, Henry took charge of a country school for the summer near Canton. He later went on to school and returned to Troy to work in the Pomeroy Bros. Bank. He later became associated with the J. P. Morgan Co. and was a founder of the Bankers Trust Co in New York City.
He was instrumental in the consolidation of many banking institutions and blazed the trail for the formation of great banking units necessary to serve the enormously greater units of business in later-day finance.
A pioneer in coordinating and building American banking, Davison was a friend and associate of many of the great and famous men and women of his day.
One of the last phases of Davison's active life was as the head of the American Red Cross. He was asked by President Wilson to assume the chairmanship of this organization in 1917 to coordinate all resources at home and abroad, not only for the relief of the sick and the wounded, but for the winning of the war.
In view of this goal, he and his aides launched a campaign that succeeded in raising $100 million which was, in one man's words, "perhaps the finest piece of executive management accomplished during the entire war."
Henry P. Davison died on May 6, 1922, at the age of 55.
In the biography by his friend and banking associate, Thomas William Lamont, he pays tribute to Davison in the foreword, "This is the story of a man who, in the first 20 years of this century, had a vital relation to many of the important developments. in the financial life of America. He never talked about himself. He posed neither before others or himself. He had an abiding interest in the welfare of others. Davison lived in the' concrete. He did things and inspired others to do things."
Had he not died so young, he would. undoubtedly have played an even greater role in the political and financial story of this nation.