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 Herndon Davis  (1901 - 1962)

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Lived/Active: Colorado/New York/Oklahoma      Known for: newspaper illustration, murals, opera set painting

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Ad Code: 4
Herndon Davis
from Auction House Records.
Old Cabin
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Herndon Davis was born in 1901 in Wynnewood, Oklahoma to rancher parents who moved frequently. At fourteen he left home to go to Kansas City, Missouri, working at menial jobs and taking art lessons. He later worked in Chicago as an engraver's apprentice and a commercial artist.

Herndon came to Denver in 1920, while in the army.  The army recognized his artistic talent, and he was stationed in Washington, D.C. at the War College to work on maps of Japan and China.

He later studied briefly at Yale, and by the mid 1920s was living in Greenwich Village.  He attended classes at the Art Students League and the National Academy, and earned a living producing drawings for the New York Herald-Tribune, the Washington Daily News, and the Washington Times-Herald.  In 1929 he met his future wife Edna Juanita (Nita) Cotter, eleven years older than he.

He returned to Denver in 1936 and worked for the Denver Post while moonlighting painting murals.

That same year Herndon was commissioned to do a series of paintings for the Central City Opera Association. While working on this project, Herndon became involved in an argument with project director Ann Evans about the manner in which the project should be executed.  The result was either that he quit or was fired.  On his last night in Central City he painted The Face on the Barroom Floor.  Herndon describes the experience...

"The Central City Opera House Association hired me to do a series of paintings and sketches of the famous mining town, which they were then rejuvenating as an opera center and tourist attraction.  I stayed at the Teller House while working up there, and the whim struck me to paint a face on the floor of the old Teller House barroom.  In its mining boom heyday it was just such a floor as the ragged artist used in d’Arcy's famous old poem.  But the hotel manager and the bartender would have none of such tomfoolery.  They refused me permission to paint the face.  Still the idea haunted me, and in my last night in Central City, I persuaded the bellboy Jimmy Libby to give me a hand.  After midnight, when the coast was clear, we slipped down there. Jimmy held a candle for me and I painted as fast as I could. Yet it was 3 AM when I finished."

It is widely believed that The Face is actually a likeness of Nita.

Herndon worked for many years as an illustrator at both The Denver Post and The Rocky Mountain News.  Examples of his art could be found at the original Meininger's art supply store.  He painted murals all over Denver, including the tearoom of the Denver Dry Goods store and one in the card room of the Denver Press Club showing Denver newspaper people of the 1940s.

In 1962 Herndon was working on plans for a mural for the Smithsonian Institution when he suffered a fatal heart attack. He is buried in Fort Logan National Cemetery.

The Denver Press Club Historical Archives.

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
"The art of Herndon Davis holds a place in Colorado History.
Widely known for his famous 'Face on the Barroom Floor' in Central City, Davis also created likeness of many famous persons.  His sketch of Abraham Lincoln appeared in the rotogravure picture section of the Denver Post Feb. 6, 1949.  He drew, sketched and painted Indians, popes and presidents.
The famous Colorado cannibal, Alfred Packer, caught Davis' attention.  The result was a map showing the route of Packer's travels and noting points where events too place.  Packer is buried in the Littleton Cemetery.
A showing of the works of Herndon Davis is now in progress at the Platte Valley Trading Co., 3038 E. 6th Ave.  Paul Gray is the exhibitor.  The show is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Monday through Friday until Christmas."
A note underneath the charcoal 18.5 x 12.4 inch sketch reads: "ABRAHAM LINCOLN still lives in the hearts and minds of the American people, who will celebrate his birthday next Saturday, Feb. 12.  In this charcoal sketch based on portraits made during Lincoln's lifetime, Herndon Davis, Post artist, has achieved a 'speaking likeness' of the great Civil war president.
The Denver Post Zone 2 Wed. Dec. 17, 1975.

Submitted May 2010 by Dennis Eros

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