The last time I had been at Woolaroc was over 45 years ago when I was a nine year old boy in 4th grade at Lutheran School in Ponca City. My father, Dale Pickens, drove school buses for the Ponca City School System and chartered his school buses for church groups and private organizations and I remember that dad drove our class over to spend the day at Woolaroc.
As a nine year old boy, I thought Woolaroc was exciting and wonderful. The most fascinating items were the dinosaur egg from the Gobi Desert, the shrunken heads from the Amazon jungle, and a miniature of the Pioneer Woman Statue that I had seen in Ponca City many times and eleven more miniatures that were never produced as full side statues.
With the perspective of 57 years of age and having seen museums all over the world, Woolaroc seems a lot different now than I remembered and the emotions I felt while I was walking through the museum weren't so much excitement as sadness and regret over lost innocence.
When I was nine years old I asked my father why the Pioneer Woman Statue was in Ponca City and the miniatures were 75 miles away in Woolaroc. He wouldn't tell me me and I forgot about it for forty years. Visiting Woolaroc made me remember my questions and do some research.
I decided I wanted to find out what really happened and the best way for me to develop a factually accurate narrative is to research an article for Wikipedia so I researched and wrote a section on the Pioneer Woman Models and added it to the Wikipedia article about Woolaroc.
Here is the story.
In 1928, EW Marland, founder of Marland Oil Company (later to become Conoco) and one of the richest men in the world, commissioned twelve miniature 3-foot sculptures that were submitted by US and international sculptors as models for the Pioneer Woman. Marland paid each sculptor $10,000 for his submission. The miniatures traveled to twelve cites where they were viewed by 750,000 people who cast votes for their favorite.
The winning statue was produced by British-born American sculptor Bryant Baker and was unveiled in a public ceremony on April 22, 1930 when forty thousand guests came to hear Will Rogers pay tribute to Oklahoma's pioneers. The Pioneer Woman Statue, located in Ponca City, is 27 feet high and weighs 12,000 pounds.
After financial reverses that included the loss of his company Marland Oil Company, E. W. Marland wrote a letter to his friend Frank Phillips on March 11, 1940: "My financial condition compells [sic] me to sell objects of art, tapestries, bronzes, rugs, and paintings acquired by me in more prosperous years. I will sell at a price approximately 25 per cent of their cost to me... And will consider it a kindness if you will come yourself or send someone to look them over with the object of buying anything you fancy."
Phillips sent art expert Gordon Matzene to inspect the bronzes and began bargaining with Marland for their purchase. In the end Phillips offered Marland $500 for each of the twelve miniatures. Matzene declared that the purchase was a wonderful bargain and the miniatures were removed from Ponca City along with other statues and artwork to became part of Phillips' collection at Woolaroc where they are on display today.
The Frank Phillips Foundation that runs Woolaroc Museum was founded in 1937 by Frank Phillips and his wife Jane Phillips with "the primary purpose of providing educational support for the employees of Phillips Petroleum Company and their families." Now that Phillips and Conoco have merged into ConocoPhillips, there are lots of Phillips employees in Ponca City who would benefit from Woolaroc's mission of providing educational support for their employees.
Wouldn't it be a noble gesture if the Frank Phillips Foundation returned EW Marland's twelve miniature statues of the Pioneer Women to Ponca City where they really belong to benefit Phillips employees in Ponca City?
Take a look at the photo essay of the Pioneer Woman Miniatures that I put together with additional information on the history of this unique sculptural competition.