Jo Davidson (March 30, 1883 – January 2, 1952) was an American sculptor. Although he specialized in realistic, intense portrait busts, Davidson did not require his subjects to formally pose for him; rather, he observed and spoke with them. He worked primarily with clay, while the final products were typically cast in terra-cotta or bronze, or carved from marble.
Davidson was born in New York City, where he was educated before going to work in the atelier of American sculptor Hermon Atkins MacNeil. He subsequently moved to Paris in 1907 to study sculpture at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.
After returning to the United States, he was befriended by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, who purchased some of his work.
In 1911 Davidson secured his first solo gallery shows. In 1927 he was one of a dozen sculptors invited by the oilman E. W. Marland to compete for a commission for a Pioneer Woman statue in Ponca City. Each was paid a commission to produce a small model, and the dozen works were exhibited in major cities in the US. Davidson did not win the commission.
In 1934 Davidson won the National Academy of Design's Maynard Prize. In 1944, he was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Associate Academician. In 1947 the American Academy of Arts and Letters hosted a retrospective featuring nearly 200 of his works. In the summer of 1949, Davidson was one of 250 sculptors who exhibited in the 3rd Sculpture International held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Among Davidson's commissions are a design for a United States War Industries badge, a collection of pieces for the Government of France to commemorate the first victory of the Troupes de Marine, and bronze busts of the leaders of the First World War Allies. His portraits of world leaders and celebrated figures gained him international acclaim. He created statues of oilman and future governor E. W. Marland and his two adoptive grown children.
Davidson served as chairman of the Independent Citizens Committee of the Arts, Sciences and Professions (ICCASP), a leftist-liberal group that supported the policies of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his re-election. In 1946 this group merged with the National Citizens Political Action Committee (NCPAC) to become the Progressive Citizens of America (PCA); Davidson became co-chairman (the other chairman being Dr. Frank Kingdon).
PCA struggled during tensions of the Cold War, with its members under suspicion by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) for leftist leanings. It worked for racial equality, economic justice and civil liberties. Important segments of the PCA became the base for Henry A. Wallace's candidacy for U.S. President in 1948 on the Progressive Party ticket.
Some of Davidson's work is in the National Gallery of Art.
In 2006, The Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery opened a permanent exhibition, "Jo Davidson: Biographer in Bronze", showcasing fourteen Davidson works in terracotta and bronze, including portraits of Gertrude Stein and Lincoln Steffens.