Alexander Phimister Proctor (1860-1950), is born in Canada and becomes one of the most famed American sculptors of his time. He worked extensively in the American West and especially in Oregon. He studied in France under the Master Sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and thereafter sought to exemplify the traditional philosophy of his teacher of Simplicity, Nobility, and Dignity. The other major influence was Proctor’s personal experiences in the American West. He first travels to Montana in 1897 and again in 1914 to capture images of Native peoples in their natural state. Thereafter, Proctor gains a steady stream of commissions to produce monumental sculpture art across the United States, which he is able to complete in two years on average. He begins with animal figures and then by 1914 he has a constant series of humanistic figure commissions, many of them in Oregon. His work is highly valued in Portland, Pendleton, and Eugene, where there are multiple statues on display in public places.
Pendleton, especially in 1914 and 1916, becomes his studio as he studies the men who show up to ride in the Pendleton Round-up. In 1916 Proctor has a commission for a number of busts for the new Vista House monument on Crown Point on the Columbia River. It is not yet known when he was commissioned for Vista House, perhaps when he came to Pendleton in 1914 on his own whim, and he became noticed by the Vista House building committee, and who contracted him by 1916. It is likely the Vista House commission is the commission that drew him back to Oregon in 1916 to set up his studio at the Round-up, where he can study Native faces. While doing his studies, Proctor is said to be constantly and dangerously in the way of the bronco riders, and has a special permit to cut a hole in the roof of his studio for better light. In 1916 Proctor establishes a friendship with Jackson Sundown, and hires him as a model for two of his works.
Proctor and his family camped for six weeks on Sundown’s land near Culdesac, Idaho, during the summer and for eight hours a day the Indian posed while the sculptor worked on his model of the Indian pursuing a buffalo, He worked in the open beneath a tree. The work was not yet finished when Round-Up week arrived. Mr. Proctor and his family desired to return for it and they wanted the Indian to ride again in the bucking contest. Sundown demurred feeling that he was handicapped because he was an Indian. The sculptor insisted and on his arrival in Pendleton himself entered Sundown as a contestant… (Daily East Oregonian, September 25, 1916, p 6)
Proctor convinces Jackson Sundown to come out of retirement and enter the Round-up, even paying his entry fee, where Sundown takes first place, becoming the world champion for 1916. In 1917 Jackson Sundown does the final modeling for Proctor in Los Altos, where Sundown’s wife Cecelia is nervous about being so far from home. Sundown and his wife return to their home early, leaving Proctor in need of a model for one of his sculptures. Proctor finds a new model among the Blackfoot Sioux, Big Beaver.
From 1917 to 1932, Proctor gains a steady stream of commissions from Eugene, Portland, Salem, and Pendleton for large public statues. The first, the Pioneer, is dedicated in 1919 at the University of Oregon. The apparent companion statue, Pioneer Mother, is privately commissioned and donated to the UO in 1932. The Pioneer Mother at UO was inspired by the Pioneer Woman statue erected in Kansas City Missouri at an earlier date, also by Proctor.
In Portland, Oregon, there are three major statues by Proctor. Indian Warrior is Proctor’s first Indian statue, his first major work, and one large casting was purchased by the Portland Art Association in 1911, along with another major large casting, Indian on Horseback. The third is Rough Rider (1920), a statue of Colonel Theodore Roosevelt before the presidency and on horseback, the first of its kind in the nation.
The final major work to mention for Oregon is Circuit Rider (1924) in Salem, Oregon, on the Capital Mall State Park. This statue was created to exemplify the tradition and heritage of the Methodist missionaries in Oregon who rode regular circuits for many years, enduring great hardships, to visit their congregation throughout the early Oregon Territory.
For the Vista House sculpture busts, little is known. It appears that Proctor used images of Native peoples he collected from people attending the Pendleton Round-up in 1914-1916 as the models for the busts in the house. It is likely he had the Vista House commission in hand in 1916, which prompted his return. One of the images is likely Sacagawea, as that is one of the commissioned requests, but the others could be any number of individuals from the many Native people, from several tribes in the region, that attended the Pendleton Round-up from 1914 to 1916.
The philosophy that appears to inform all of Proctor’s work is rooted within the romanticist tradition. Proctor seeks to find the original natural spirit and character in much of his work, whether animal, Native, pioneer or cowboy. His Indian models are never represented in their present-day culture, but always are made to wear traditional clothing, buckskins and breechcloths whenever they are depicted on horseback. They never are shown to use saddles. This posed and romanticized image of “Indians” is akin to much of the art, literature, and scientific studies of the day, where anthropologists did not want to collect information on the present-day (1897-1920) experiences of Native peoples, but instead sought information of their culture previous to the reservations. Instead of Jackson Sundown in the rodeo, Proctor wants Jackson Sundown riding bareback and chasing buffalo, an activity which Native peoples in 1916 were rarely doing as most of the buffalo were gone, hunted to extinction in the late 1900s. Native peoples in this period were living mostly on reservations and wore American-style clothing. They were also not allowed to leave the reservation without permission from the Indian Agent. In fact, Sundown had to ask permission to travel to Los Altos, California to model for Proctor. For his sculptures of rodeo riders and cowboys, all of Proctor’s sculptures are of white Americans. This suggests an obvious bias on the part of Proctor, of the roles of white people versus native people in society.
1897 Proctor spends time in Montana among Blackfeet producing sketches for sculpture, Indian Warrior, studies in French school with master sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, receives Rhinehart Scholarship
1900 Casts Indian Warrior and returns to United States
1901 Stalking Panther, at Portland Art Museum
1911 Portland Art Association exhibit of Proctor and Olin Warner sculpture, PAA acquires Indian on Horseback and Indian Warrior (large versions) by Proctor
1914 travels to study in Montana among Northern Cheyennes, with Little Wolf Family as models for sculptures Indian Pursued (Laban Little Wolf) and Little Wolf (Robert Little Wolf)
1914 Jackson Sundown (1863-1923) and Alexander Phimister Proctor attend Pendleton Round-Up, Proctor sees Sundown compete. Begins Buckaroo, model- Bill “Slim” Ridings with bust Slim
1915 two copies of Buckaroo, one to Portland Art Museum and another to the Oregon Building at the Pan-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, create Bas reliefs William Hanley and C.E.S. Wood.
1915 Proctor Meets Sundown at Pendleton Round-Up, he gets 3rd place, and Proctor secures agreement for Sundown to model for sculptures Indian Pursuing Buffalo (Buffalo Hunt) and On The War Trail.
1916 Sundown poses for Proctor for two sculptures; Proctor convinces Sundown to enter Pendleton Round-Up again and pays his entry fee. Sundown rides Angel, and secures first place world championship. Working on Vista House Indian bust drawings and sculptures while in Pendleton (Oregonian 1/20/1916).
1917 Sundown goes to Proctor’s Los Altos Barn (Studio) for more modeling, but left early to return home, Proctor gets Big Beaver, a Blackfoot Sioux, to model for the sculpture On the War Trail
1917 Proctor Commissioned by Joseph N. Teal to make Pioneer man sculpture
1918, May 5, Vista House dedication and opening.
1919 The Pioneer man sculpture erected at University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon
1920 Tillman D. Taylor begun, Rough Rider commissioned
1922 Theodore Roosevelt/Rough Rider, dedicated at City of Portland, Circuit Rider Commissioned, Robert Booth is the model
1923, December 18 Jackson Sundown Dies of Pneumonia
1924 Circuit Rider dedicated in Salem Oregon, Indian Maiden and Fawn (unknown actual date), at Jordan Schnitzer Art Museum, University of Oregon
1927 Pioneer Mother is commissioned of Proctor by Vice President of UO Burt Barker, modeled by his mother Elvira Brown Barker
1929 The Western Sheriff (Tillman D. Taylor) statue dedicated in Pendleton, Oregon
1931 Pioneer Mother donated to the UO, Eugene, and dedicated by Barker.
1932 Pioneer Mother Bas relief installed on Pioneer Mother Monument base, UO, Eugene
1935 Lions Bas reliefs (Proctor), willed to Portland Art Museum, removed later to Portland Zoo
1953 Dr. John McLoughlin, commissioned Salem, Oregon, United States Capital National Statuary Hall, Washington D.C. (scheduled for removal)
1953 Reverend Jason Lee, Salem, Commissioned Oregon, United States Capital National Statuary Hall, Washington D.C. (scheduled for removal)
Alcorn, Rowena & Gordon, Jackson Sundown Nez Perce Horseman, Montana: the Magazine of Western History, v 33 n 4, 1983.
Bennett, Addison, Vista House to Mark Columbia as Pioneer Memorial, The Sunday Oregonian, January 30, 1916, page 4.
Daily East Oregonian, September 25, 1916, Champion is Model Sculptor Backs Him, Pendleton, Or, p 6.
Hassrick, Peter H., Alexander Phimister Proctor in Montana, Montana: The Magazine of Western History, v53 n3, 2003.
Hassrick, Peter H. The Oregon Art of Alexander Phimister Proctor, The Oregon Historical Quarterly, V104 n3, 2003.
Taft, Lorado, A. Phimister Proctor, Brush and Pencil, v2 n6, 1898
Teal, Joseph N., Address of Joseph N. Teal at Eugene Oregon…, The Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society, v20 n3, 1919.
Whittemore, Margaret, Phimister Proctor’s Statue of a Pioneer Mother, The American Magazine of Art, v19 n7, 1928.
Research note: This essay was inspired by a request from Melissa Minthorne (Umatilla) for more information about the Vista House busts. There is likely more information at the Oregon Historical Society Library and one of their early President’s George H. Himes, was part of the committees for at least two of the commissioned projects in Oregon, those at Vista House and Pioneer Man. The George H. Himes papers may have more information. There are also additional newspaper articles and books with more information about both Vista House and Proctor in Oregon.
Ethnohistory Research, LLC | David G. Lewis, PhD
PhD Anthropology (UO 2009) and Native history researcher. Member of the Grand Ronde Tribe, Takelma, Chinook, Molalla, and Santiam Kalapuya ancestry. Owner of Ethnohistory Research LCC, professional consultant and project researcher.
I teach at local universities and colleges and take contracts with tribes, local governments and nonprofits. I have experience in archival organization, museum development, exhibit curation, traditional cultural property nomination, tribal ethnohistoric research, tribal maps, traditional ecological knowledge, and presentations to large and small gatherings. Contact me for consultation about any of these projects.