Bernard A. Drew | Our Berkshires: The acid ink of Homer Davenport

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GREAT BARRINGTON — With a stroke of his pen, Hearst cartoonist Homer Calvin Davenport depicted Ohio Sen. Mark Hanna wearing a dollar-marked business suit as a bloated political opportunist. With a crosshatch and shading, the artist's smiling Uncle Sam with a hand on the shoulder of Theodore Roosevelt elevated TR to a viable presidential candidate.

A more-than-worthy successor to Thomas Nast, Oregon-born Davenport (1867-1912) had several Berkshire connections.

Davenport honed his pen nib with the Portland Oregonian, then joined William Randolph Hearst's San Francisco Examiner. Hearst moved Davenport to Manhattan in 1895 to help push the Morning Journal to prominence. The artist crafted biting caricatures of Republican presidential candidate William McKinley and his campaign manager, Hanna. Hanna's son, Dan, purchased an estate near Interlaken in Stockbridge in 1916.

Davenport was introduced to Pittsfield in 1901 when assigned to provide art for The New York Herald's coverage of the sensational Robert Fosburgh manslaughter trial — Mary Fosburgh died of a gunshot wound at the family home on Tyler Street, either at the hands of three burglars, in the family's accounting, or through an accident with brother Robert holding the weapon, according to the DA.

The commonwealth didn't have a very strong case, despite some forensic evidence. Judge William B. Stevens (1843-1931) put heavy constraints on the press, and Davenport couldn't find a way into the courtroom to make drawings.

"Judge Stevens had quarters in the Maplewood hotel," The Berkshire Eagle reported Aug. 8, 1901, reprinting a story from The Boston Herald, "and thither hied the cartoonist. He sent up his card, and was received very affably by the distinguished jurist, who desired to know in what way it might be his pleasure to serve him."

Davenport said he would like to sketch the jurist. The judge said no; "I have no ambition to see my face in the paper." The artist told Stevens his editor wanted an image. He imagined a conversation with his editor: "But you saw him, didn't you?" the editor might say. "Oh, yes, I saw him all right." "Then go ahead and make a picture."

"What would the result be," Davenport posed to the judge, "perhaps your honor can imagine.'

"`Oh,' ejaculated the judge, reflectively, `yes, yes; I hadn't thought of that. Yes, that's true. How long will it take?'"

"And a minute later he was posing patiently for what turned out to be an excellent character study of a very expressive face."

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The judge ultimately called a halt to the trial and issued a directed verdict, dismissing the charges for lack of evidence. The case was never solved.

"Davenport, while classed as one of the leading cartoonists of the day, was not a highbrow and he accepted assignments to caricature prize fighters as eagerly as orders to comment on moving political events of the day," the Asbury Park Press said in 1912.

Leisure brought the penman back to the Berkshires. In 1904, Davenport and his wife, Daisy, camped in Lanesborough. "He makes daily visits to this city for supplies," The Eagle said.

Growing up on a farm, Davenport from childhood had loved a particular breed of horses. His father related stories of Arab people and their bold steeds. Not quite 4, Davenport used his watercolor paints to produce his first image of an Arabian horse. Assigned to sketch Arabian horses at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago for The Chicago Daily Herald in 1893, Davenport had solidified a lifelong fondness for the breed.

In 1903, he purchased a roan pacer, "Edward W.," from Edward Van Buren of Chatham, N.Y. The animal had made its reputation with a 2:21 run at the Housatonic Agricultural Society race track in Great Barrington. Davenport gave to horse to Sultan Abdul Hamid II.

By now, Davenport, who earned approximately $35,000 a year, was financially able to nurture his horse hobby. In 1906 he obtained a presidential nod from Teddy Roosevelt to travel to abroad to purchase pure desert-bred Arabian steeds from Bedouin Akmet Haffez and the Anazeh. He partnered with fertilizer millionaire Peter Bradley to establish a stud farm. The so-called Davenport bloodline survives today.

In 1908 and again in 1909 Davenport was a guest of New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad President Charles Mellen at the latter's estate in Stockbridge (behind the fire station). Financier and philanthropist "Diamond Jim" Brady was another guest. They arrived in Mellen's private car, "Connecticut." Davenport noticed the name and commented to Mellen, "Charlie, why not `New England'! You own that as much as you do Connecticut."

In 1910, temporarily unemployed, Davenport started his own syndicate offering "Men I Have Sketched" illustrated essays to papers across the United States. He began a cartoon contest that continues to this day. He dropped the syndicate when he rejoined The Journal, which had been renamed The American.

Davenport went to the New York docks in 1912 to witness the arrival of the Carpathia, which was carrying survivors of the Titanic sinking. It was cold and damp at the harbor. Davenport contracted pneumonia. Two weeks later, he died.

Hearst paid for a grand funeral and Davenport's burial in Oregon.

Bernard A. Drew is a regular Eagle contributor.


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