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A. Wolfe Davidson Papers

Identifier: Mss-0356

Scope and Content

Items in the collection date from 1929 to 1981 with the bulk dating from the 1960s to 1970s. The collection is arranged into four series: Personal, Professional, Writings and Photographs.

The Personal series includes collected materials related to Davidson’s varied interests particularly Judaism, Israel, U.S. politics and travel.

Correspondence is with friends and family, including related to the 1974 death of his wife Katherine, who taught English in Greenville, South Carolina and at Brenau College and Gainesville (GA) Junior College. Most of the correspondence is incoming. The series includes two letters and three cards from Davidson’s friend H. Albert Einstein.

Financial materials document Davidson’s purchase and management of rental property in Gainesville, Georgia.

The Professional Series includes correspondence with individuals, institutions and organizations commissioning artwork, galleries interested in showing Davidson’s work, and companies involved in casting his sculpture. Newspaper clippings document his career as an artist and art teacher, as well as his management of a WPA Art Gallery in Greenville, South Carolina and his involvement in the 1956 Georgia Poultry Festival in Gainesville, Georgia. The series also includes materials Davidson collected as inspiration and study materials for his sculpture and paintings.

The Writings Series includes several drafts of an extensive unpublished autobiography, “The Power of Pearls,” describing Davidson’s childhood in and escape from Russia in the early 20th century, his experiences adapting to life in the United States, his career as artist and teacher, and his travels. The autobiography has been divided into four drafts plus miscellaneous pages. Some of the drafts include attached photographs. The series also includes some of Davidson’s lecture notes for his art classes.

The Photographs Series encompass subjects of Davidson’s sculptures, sculptures and paintings by Davidson and others, travel scenes and buildings. Many of the photographs are unidentified.


  • 1936 - 1981


Conditions Governing Access

The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material. This collection is open to the public without restriction, with the exception of the autobiography. Copyright for the autobiography is retained by the family. Contact Special Collections & Archives for additional information.

Biographical Note

Abraham Wolfe Davidson (1903-1981) was born in the province of Vitebsk in Russia. His parents were Chaim Meyer and Chasia Davidson. As a child, Davidson became interested in clay modeling, stone cutting and carving. When he was eleven, his parents planned to escape increasing oppression against Jews in Russia by joining his four older brothers who already had immigrated to the United States. Their departure was delayed by World War I and the Russian Revolution.

During the years of war and revolution, Davidson’s father disappeared and the family suffered through famine and other hardships. However, through the assistance of a sympathetic Army officer, Davidson was able to study at the Russian National Art School in Vitebsk for a short while in 1919. In 1922, a brother smuggled Davidson and his mother out of Russia. They arrived in New York on the ship “Homeric” and joined his brothers in Greenville, South Carolina.

Davidson continued his sculpture and studied English while living in Greenville. He moved to Atlanta and worked briefly at the Atlanta Terra Cotta Company as a clay modeler until the clay irritated his skin. He also worked for a while in Savannah, Georgia before moving to New York City to work and study art from 1924 to 1926.

Davidson returned to Greenville in 1926. Shortly afterward he became seriously ill with a kidney disease from delayed effects of the famine he had experienced in Russia. During the several years it took to recover, he worked at a variety of jobs and continued his sculpture work in Greenville. He completed the five-year process of becoming an American citizen in 1928.

In 1934, as Clemson student George Chaplin posed for a bust by Davidson, they discussed the possibility of Davidson creating a statue of College founder Thomas Green Clemson in exchange for room, board and tuition. Clemson administrators agreed and allowed Davidson to enroll as a special student. He lived at the Y.M.C.A and attended a few classes. College officials gave him a studio and materials to work on the statue. Funds weren’t available to cast the statue in bronze as originally planned so it was cast in stone in 1939 and dedicated in 1941. In 1966, University administrators asked Davidson to come back to campus to complete a plaster model that was cast in bronze and re-installed in front of Tillman Hall. The original statue was destroyed.

While working on the Clemson statue in the 1930s, Davidson also worked on commissions for other public and private patrons and designed a commemorative half dollar for the sesquicentennial celebration of the city of Columbia, South Carolina. He completed two busts for the WPA Federal Art Project. At Clemson he completed busts of Thomas Clemson and President E.W. Sikes. Davidson helped organize the Greenville Art Association and taught the first art classes at Greenville High School.

Davidson married (Mary) Katherine Harbin (c1906 -1974) a teacher in Greenville, South Carolina on June 3, 1936. They had two children: Ivy Dorothy and Edith. After his marriage, Davidson moved back to Greenville where he worked for the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), teaching art classes, working with the public schools and helping to organize a gallery that eventually developed into the Greenville County Museum of Art.

From late 1940 to early 1942, A. Wolfe Davidson took a leave of absence from his teaching position to study at the Art Students League in New York City until World War II interrupted his studies. He returned briefly to his teaching job in Greenville and then moved his family to Marietta, Georgia where he worked as a designer at Bell Aircraft. After the war work ended, Davidson traveled in the Southeast looking for work, briefly carving ice statues for a hotel in Florida.

In 1948, Katherine took a position teaching English at Brenau College in Gainesville, Georgia and Davidson joined the Art Department, eventually becoming Director. Davidson taught at Brenau College until he retired in 1966. He continued to receive commissions for sculptures, mostly in Georgia and South Carolina. He worked to develop techniques that would reduce the cost of casting and firing his work to make it more affordable. In the 1950s, he began painting in addition to sculpting. Davidson also owned and managed several properties in Gainesville, Georgia where he continued to live until his death in 1981.

Davidson continued his association with Clemson through the rest of his life. He created the cast stone relief of the 1940 Cotton Bowl for the front of the Field House (now Fike Recreation Center), busts of Clemson presidents Robert F. Poole and Robert C. Edwards, Business Manager James C. Littlejohn, Architecture professor Rudolph E. Lee, Athletic Director Frank Howard and trustee James F. Byrnes. In 1969, Tiger Brotherhood commissioned Davidson to create the cast aluminum tiger in front of Littlejohn Coliseum. Shortly before Davidson’s death in 1981, he designed the Clemson Medallion, the highest public honor conferred by the University.


8 Cubic Feet (12 document boxes, 1 card box, 1 oversize box, 2 oversize folders)

Language of Materials



Abraham Wolfe Davidson emigrated from Russia to the United States when he was a teenager. He studied art in both countries and became a sculptor, painter and art teacher. Davidson taught for 18 years at Brenau College in Gainesville, Georgia. His sculpture can be found in numerous private and public collections, primarily in South Carolina and Georgia.

Davidson had a long affiliation with Clemson College/University where he enrolled as a special student in the 1930s while working on a statue of Thomas Green Clemson. He later completed several busts of Clemson presidents and faculty. The collection contains correspondence, newspaper clippings, photographs, sketches, financial material, lecture notes and collected material related to Davidson’s art and teaching careers and interests. Of particular note are several drafts of an extensive unpublished autobiography.

Arrangement Note

The collection is arranged into four series: Personal, Professional, Writings, Photographs. The series are arranged alphabetically by folder title.

Acquired From

Dorothy Davidson McCulloch, daughter of A. Wolfe Davidson, as Accession 82-07.

Digitized Materials

Processing Information

Collection processed 2014-2015 and finding aid written by Susan Hiott in 2015.

Abraham Wolfe Davidson Papers, 1936-1981
Susan Hiott
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
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Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Clemson University Libraries Special Collections and Archives Repository

230 Kappa St.
Clemson SC 29634 U.S.A. US