Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Goodbye the Pioneer Woman: Waldine Tauch, the Texas Centennial of 1936, and the Problem of Nudity in Denton, Texas

I gave a paper at the East Texas Historical Association dealing with the statue of the Pioneer Woman at Texas Women's University. This paper examines the role that sculptor Waldine Tauch played in the controversy regarding this statue during the Texas Centennial of 1936.  Waldine Tauch (1892-1986) of San Antonio emerged as an important artist in Texas during her lifetime. As a student and protégé of Pompeo Coppini, Tauch had become by the 1930s one the state’s most promising sculptors. In 1935, in preparation for Centennial celebration of the following year, the State of Texas earmarked funds to underwrite a statue commemorating the role woman had played in the state’s history. Given the name “Pioneer Woman,” this statue would be placed on the campus of the College of Industrial Arts in Denton, today’s Texas Woman’s University. Waldine Tauch felt strongly this sculpture should be the work of a female artist and certainly not that of a male sculptor. She wanted badly to be person who sculpted it. Accordingly, she undertook a campaign designed to award her this commission. She contacted leading politicians, cultural figures, civic leaders, and educators across the state in her attempt to secure this contract, even to the point of attempting to enlist the support of J. Frank Dobie.  Tauch wrote a long memorial to the Centennial Commission outlining her views about the history of women in Texas and detailing why a female sculptor ought to receive this commission, pointing out in some detail why she should be the person selected to do it. This rather lengthy document represents an interesting expression of how one significant female artist of the 1930s saw the history of women in Texas. In the end, a male sculptor, William Zorach, received the commission. Tauch and her supporters thereupon embarked on a campaign of criticism and public complaint against his plans for the sculpture. They loudly objected because the model proposed by Zorach was highly stylized and abstract to the point, they said, it depicted a women without visible clothing – a statue of a nude women. This thus provoked a state-wide barrage of negative publicity and strident vituperation against the proposed Zorach statue planned for female college in Denton. The State of Texas accordingly pulled Zorach’s commission and gave it to a male sculptor from New York, who made the fully-clothed statue that still stands today on the TWU campus. This “nude women controversy” and Waldine Tauch’s role in it says for the historian much about how women were perceived in that era, and how one female sculptor attempted – albeit unsuccessfully – to express her viewpoints about the historical role of women in Texas and its history. This paper is based on research in the Coppini-Tauch Papers at the Briscoe Center at the University of Texas, the Evaline Sellors Papers at the Old Jail Art Center and Archives, and the Women’s Collection at TWU.