Though he had apparently not created art during a career in the State Department that included postings in India, China and Russia and brushes with Mao, Gandhi and Nehru, Davies drew on cultural appreciation he had garnered across the globe to turn out stylish furniture and art.
Now the monoprints of that era are being displayed in his onetime home of Washington for the first time in more than a half-century, just as a new posthumous autobiography of his diplomatic career is being published.
“A Singular View — The Art and Words of John Paton Davies, Jr.,” a collection of about two dozen of his works from the late 1950s and early 1960s, opens Saturday at the Mansion at Strathmore.
And just out from the University of Pennsylvania Press is “China Hand,” a memoir that covers his birth in China to missionaries, his education in the United States, and his work in the Foreign Service in China from 1931 to nearly the end of World War II. It is filled with stories of his work under Gen. Joseph “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell, wartime commander of the Allied forces in East and South Asia, and U.S. Ambassador George F. Kennan in Moscow.
Davies had a hand in creating the “containment” response to the Soviet Union in the Cold War and predicting the fate of China after the communist revolution. But because some in the United States wanted someone to blame for the “loss” of China to communism and the notorious Sen. Joseph McCarthy was waving papers with what he said were the names of dozens of communist sympathizers in the State Department, Davies was called in for nine different hearings over six years.
With no evidence of disloyalty found, he was still pressured to resign as others in the State Department did. Instead he forced Secretary of State John Foster Dulles to fire him in 1954 for the stated cause of “demonstrating a lack of judgment, discretion and reliability.” He was cleared of the charge in 1969.
Davies covers that front-page drama in “China Hand” but also includes other chapters of his career, such as when he led a team of people, including newsman Eric Sevareid, in a tough, month-long trek out of an Asian jungle after they were forced to parachute from a transport plane whose engine failed. It earned him a Medal of Freedom in 1943.
Just about the only mention of his artistic ability in the book comes when he tried to diagram flags and a train in a drawing for a tribe of headhunters they encountered in the jungle during that adventure.
But early in “China Hand,” Davies mentions his Aunt Flossie, an art editor at the Detroit News with whom he stayed in 1931, after college, while awaiting word of his Foreign Service exams.
“Through her I met at one time or another Diego Rivera, hard at work on a turgid mural; the calmly droll Swedish sculptor Carl Milles and Eero Saarinin, the architect, gingery and taciturn, both of whom lived near Detroit,” Davies writes.