Hey friend! Welcome back to another post! Today, we’re talking about the Richard Gordon Matzene Art Collection at the Ponca City Public Library. This article will discuss the history of the library, the story of Richard Gordon Matzene, and the Matzene Art Collection. So, let’s get started!
Richard Gordon Matzene (c.1880-1950) was a photographer and art dealer who loved to travel the world. He had studios in Chicago (1900-1937); New York City (1908-1911); Los Angeles (1911-1919); Shanghai, China (1920s); and Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, India (1920s). Upon his death in August 1950, he donated much of his extensive art collection to the Ponca City Public Library through his will. The collection at the Ponca City Library contains a variety of pieces including charcoals, oils, water colors, bronze sculptures, and pottery.
TRAVEL TIP: When you enter the library go to the front desk and ask for an art tour book. The books are FREE! It has information about the collection and Richard Gordon Matzene. The book also explains the significance of many of the paintings, important words concerning the art, and artist bibliographies. It is a very cool book that doesn’t take long to read at all! You can easily read it while walking through the library. I read it after I got home… so I totally recommend reading it while at the library! It might take a little bit longer, but it would definitely be worth it!
*All photos were taken at the Ponca City Public Library in Ponca City, Oklahoma unless otherwise noted in the photo caption.
Ponca City Library History
The original Ponca City Library was organized in 1904 by the women of the Twentieth Century Club in an insurance office on Grand Avenue. The library was housed in the back of the insurance office, but soon outgrew the space.
The first library building was constructed in 1910 on the corner of Fifth and Grand Avenue with funds from Andrew Carnegie (the steel magnate from the late 19th and early 20th centuries). The Carnegie grant for the Ponca City Library was $6500.00 (Today, that is around $195,000.000). Carnegie donated funds to other libraries across the United States as well. There are 25 so-called “Carnegie Libraries” in Oklahoma.
Ponca City continued to grow larger and soon outgrew the Carnegie Library. A bigger library was needed, so, the city bought some land with a grant from the Public Works Administration (PWA) in 1935. The larger building was 18,000 square feet and built by the WPA in a Mediterranean Revival style designed by George Cannon. Bret A. Carter describes the building’s architecture as follows in his book Kay County’s Historic Architecture:
“The Ponca City Public Library is built of buff-color brick and ornamented with terra-cotta details at windows, front arcade, and clerestory window of the main reading room.”Bret A. Carter, Kay County’s Historic Architecture (Page 105).
In 1989, an additional 10,000 square feet of space was added to the building. This allowed for more space and activities in the library. Next, let’s talk about Richard Gordon Matzene – who he was, why he collected art, and what he did with that art!
Richard Gordon Matzene
Richard Gordon Matzene’s birthdate is contested – some say he was born in 1875 while others say 1880. His birth name was Jens Rudolph Matzene which he used for many years before changing his name to “Richard Gordon.” His birthplace is unconfirmed – the 1910 US Census lists his birthplace as Denmark, his 1918 US Draft Registration claims England as his birthplace, and when he was older he told people he was born in Hungary. So, basically we’ll never know for sure where exactly he was from… The Tour Book from the Ponca City Library says that he was born in London, England; attended schools in Denmark and Italy; and moved back to England after the death of his parents to live with an aunt and uncle (page 3).
Matzene also claimed to be a Count, but this was never confirmed either. Some have suggested that he knew Americans had an affinity for royalty and he adopted the title.
Matzene actually had to hide in the basement belonging to a friend in China during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900.
“Mr. Matzene was in China during the dangerous days of the Boxer Rebellion when Chinese soldiers, under orders from the Dowager Empress, were attempting to kill all foreigners in the country. During this time, he was safely hidden in the home of a Chinese friend who, a few years later, helped him purchase many treasures from the Imperial Palace when they were offered for sale.”File Note from the Matzene Collection in Stacey Pierson’s, Collector’s, Collections, and Museums: The Field of Chinese Ceramics in Britain, 1560-1960 (Footnote 62: Pages 134-135).
Matzene opened a studio in Chicago in 1900 that operated until 1937. He had other people running the studio in his absence. Next, he opened a New York City studio in 1908 that operated until 1911. Matzene had to file bankruptcy claims in late 1911.
He met Antonia Baumer during this time and they were married in New Orleans, Louisiana on May 20, 1909. She was 39 years old according to their marriage record.
After this, Matzene and his brother-in-law, George Baumer moved to Los Angles. The Los Angles studio operated from 1911 to 1919. He had a business deal with the L.A. Times to take society and theatrical photos for the paper. He took photos of early stars and was considered a master of the glamour shot!
“In these days a photographer needs to be an artist, a chemist, a keen observer, and perhaps a raconteur all in one.”Richard Gordon Matzene
Matzene’s photography is pretty significant according to an article published by the Stillwater News Press. He took many photos of members of high society – including the Royal Nepalese Family. Keep reading to learn more about that!
Matzene was required to register for the World War I (WWI) Draft in the United States. He registered at Draft Board 14 in Los Angles, California. According to his draft card, he had blue eyes, gray hair, a medium build, and he was tall (another record lists him at 5 ft 10 in). He was still married to Antonia at this time.
He tried to make movies from 1918-1919, but wasn’t too successful. He attempted to begin “Matzene Productions,” but it flopped. He did co-direct a 1919 film With David Hartford titled, “It Happened in Paris.” Have you seen it?
According to the 1920 US Federal Census, Matzene was 40 years old and living in Seattle, Washington working as a photographer. He was single at the time and lodging at the home of Andrew and Carolyn Casbeer. The 1920 Seattle Washington City Directory lists his business at 309 Mutual Life Bldg R 504 4th Av. He eventually left Seattle and settled in Ponca City – a booming small town in Northern Oklahoma.
Home on the Plains – Ponca City, Oklahoma (c.1927-1950)
Matzene collected Oriental Art and American Western Art by networking with artists from around the world in his spare time. There are several ship arrival and departure records on Ancestry.com if you are interested in more information on that (not sponsored – just ran across the records on a search). Matzene met several important people on these journeys – one man who changed the trajectory of his life, Oklahoma oilman Lew Wentz.
Supposedly in late 1927, Matzene met Wentz on a cruise. Wentz told Matzene of the new booming town in Northern Oklahoma, Ponca City. Wentz claimed that the town was in need of someone who could help the wealthy purchase art for their homes. Matzene liked the idea and settled in Ponca City, Oklahoma.
Matzene was kind of a local mystery in Ponca City, but he did well for himself through art brokerage and decorating services. He even photographed Native Americans during this time. According to the US Federal Census of 1930, Matzene was living in Ponca City, Oklahoma as a lodger in the home of Charles and Maud R. Calkins. He was 55 years old and still working as a photographer. He was widowed at this point in his life.
Matzene was granted U.S. Citizenship in 1939 according to the Blackwell Journal-Tribune from Blackwell, OK (a small town close to Ponca City). This is supported by a Naturalization record from the District Court in Newkirk, Oklahoma (a small town north of Ponca City). His Naturalization date was January 11, 1939.
While living in Ponca City, he was drafted for World War II (WWII) in 1942. An L.H. Wentz was listed as his next of kin on the WWII Draft Card. I’m assuming this was “Lew” Wentz. The same man who had convinced him to move to Ponca City in the first place.
He stayed in Ponca City until his death on August 30, 1950. Richard Gordon Matzene donated a portion of his large collection to the Ponca City Library in the 1950s via his will. I have attached a newspaper article with specific details from Matzene’s will below!
Matzene Collection History (Ponca City, OK)
The Matzene Collection at the Ponca City Library contains a variety of pieces including charcoals, oils, water colors, bronze sculptures, and pottery. I have attached photos of a few pieces throughout this article, but there are so many more beautiful pieces that you need to go see!
More of Matzene’s photos were discovered in a closet at the Marland Grand Home in Ponca City. These photos were also donated to the Ponca City Library. It was a journey to identify the people in the photos according to an Oklahoma State University Art Professor – Marcela Sirhandi. She traveled extensively trying to figure out the puzzle and ultimately figured it out! Check out her book “Royal Nepal Through the Lens of Richard Gordon Matzene.” He was invited to photograph the Nepalese Royal Family in 1927. This was a special project because the royal family of Nepal typically didn’t allow outsiders to have access to the family. Matzene’s photos allow historians and art historians a rare glimpse into their lives.
Additional pieces in the collection include the pottery shown below. Richard Gordon Matzene collected the pottery pictured below on summer trips to Taos, New Mexico in the 1930s and 1940s.
Wentz-Matzene Collection (Norman, OK)
Richard Gordon Matzene and Lew Wentz donated items to the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art at the University of Oklahoma (Norman, OK) in 1936. My boyfriend and I actually visited the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art in Norman, Oklahoma. CLICK HERE to read that blog post next!
The Wentz-Matzene Collection contains 758 pieces. Some of the most notable pieces include “Gandharan sculpture, Persian miniatures, Nepalese and Tibetan art, and Chinese ceramics, bronzes, and paintings.” In 1936, the collection was valued at $250,000 (That’s around 5 million dollars today).
TRAVEL TIP: Admission at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art in Norman, Oklahoma is free. For those not familiar with Oklahoma geography, Ponca City is in the Northern part of the state and Norman is in the central part of the state. So, you might have to take 2 separate trips to see both parts of Matzene’s Collection.
Lew Wentz was an oilman who helped finance Matzene’s trips to Asia to buy more art. They had met in the late 1920s on a cruise. Wentz was instrumental in influencing Matzene to move to Ponca City. Below is a photo of Matzene and Wentz – I’m not exactly sure when the photo was taken, but it was published nearly a decade after Matzene passed away in August 1950.
The Matzene Art Collection at the Ponca City Library is truly a hidden gem. I accidentally stumbled across it one day when planning a Ponca City road trip – I wish more people knew about it and Richard Gordon Matzene’s story.
I would like to give a shoutout to the kind people at the Ponca City Public Library. A local elderly gentleman stopped and talked to me about the art. He said he was glad that I was there to see it and he told me which one was his favorite. I absolutely love being able to connect with people over shared passions for art and history. I hope you’ll stop by if you’re ever in the area!
Happy Traveling! I’ll talk to ya soon! 🙂
515 E. Grand Avenue
Ponca City, Oklahoma 74601
“Richard Gordon Matzene Art Collection” – Ponca City Library Tour Book (Pictured below – Ask for one at the front desk!)
Bret A. Carter, Kay County’s Historic Architecture (Google Books)
Stacey Pierson, Collector’s, Collections, and Museums: The Field of Chinese Ceramics in Britain, 1560-1960 (Google Books)
Royal Nepal: Through the Lens of Richard Gordon Matzene – Marcella Sirhandi’s Website
List of Carnegie Libraries in Oklahoma – Wikipedia
“Making Connections: Associate Curator Shawn Yuan visits the Matzene Collection in Ponca City” – OSU Museum of Art Blog Post
Matzene Art Collection – Ponca City Website
Matzene Studio – Broadway Photographs
“Photos in Sheerar Museum exhibit show link between Oklahoma and Nepal” by Laura Wilson (June 28, 2010) Stillwater News Press
Ponca City Library – PDF Information Sheet
Richard Gordon Matzene – Google Arts & Culture
Wentz-Matzene Collection – Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art – University of Oklahoma Website
“Citizenship Paper Issued Three in Kay,” Blackwell Journal-Tribune (Blackwell, OK), January 13, 1939. [Page 5].
“Julia Claussen Tuesday,” The Chattanooga News (Chattanooga, TN), June 12, 1916. [Page 7].
“Matzene,” The Tulsa Tribune (Tulsa, OK), October 8, 1922. [Page 17].
“Matzene Art Display Closes This Afternoon,” The Norman Transcript (Norman, OK), November 13, 1932. [Page 1].
“Matzene Wills His Paintings And Investments to Library,” The Ponca City News (Ponca City, OK), September 3, 1950. [Page 2].
“Miss Rosa Raisa,” Chicago Tribune (Chicago, IL), November 5, 1916. [Page 43].
“MME. Yorska in Films,” The Los Angles Times (Los Angles, CA), August 4, 1918. [Page 46].
“More Paintings From Matzene Collection Placed on Display at Ponca City Library,” The Ponca City News (November 12, 1952). [Page 11].
“Mrs. Winfield R. McKay,” Chicago Tribune (Chicago, IL), July 30, 1919. [Page 19].
“Names Mrs. Phillips As Honorary Colonel,” Morning Examiner (Bartlesville, OK) November 6, 1945. [Page 1].
“Oriental Art Discussed For Members of League,” The Oklahoma News (Oklahoma City, OK), February 9, 1937. [Page 7].
“Painter and Art Collector, Gordon Matzene, Dies Here,” The Ponca City News (Ponca City, OK), August 30, 1950. [Page 7].
“Valuable Figures Are Added to University’s Collection of Ancient Oriental Art,” The Oklahoma News (Oklahoma City, OK), March 21, 1937. [Page 27].
“Wentz Donates Valued Paintings,” The El Reno Daily Tribune (El Reno, OK) May 24, 1936. [Page 1].
“What is a Library? Books? Well, partly…,” The Ponca City News (Ponca City, OK), April 10, 1961. [Page 3]
4 thoughts on “The Matzene Art Collection @ The Ponca City Public Library: Ponca City, OK”
Another great volume of history brought to life by a dedicated historian. Great job Professor Weldon. I always learn so much from the wealth of information you discover and share. Thank you very much!