Senate Art Collection arrives in Tulsa

Thursday, 11 June 2009
altMore than 80 paintings from the State Senate Art Collection were taken off the State Capitol walls in Oklahoma City and shipped to the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa last week.

The collection will be on display at the museum from July through October.

Audio interviews with former State Senator Charles Ford, who began the organization responsible for the Senate Art Collection, as well as the Executive Director of the Gilcrease Museum, will soon be available. To learn more the Senate Art Collection, the artists, or to view images of the works, please visit

The current feature exhibition provides a rare glimpse into what international experts hail as the second finest collection of Americana in the world – Tulsa’s own Gilcrease Museum.  The story of how that collection developed is explored in, “Thomas Gilcrease and the Making of an American Treasure” scheduled to run through January 10, 2010.

One of the foremost collectors of Western art and artifacts, Thomas Gilcrease was a man whose vision founded Gilcrease Museum which now houses more than 410,000 items of priceless art, artifacts and archival materials.

This exhibition will be the largest and most comprehensive display of original Gilcrease holdings ever assembled. It will include more than 300 objects, ranging from premier works of art to priceless artifacts and significant historical documents. The exhibition will represent 25 years of collecting by Gilcrease, who excavated some of these items with his friend, archaeologist Gregory Perino.

Items in the exhibition provide a rarely seen glimpse into the massive assemblage of items in Gilcrease Museum’s permanent collection. Because of space considerations, only a small percentage of permanent collection items are ever on display at a given time.

“These works are impressive on their own, but together in an exhibition of this magnitude, they speak to the foresight Gilcrease saw in creating this national treasure,” said Duane King, Vice President for Museum Affairs for The University of Tulsa and Executive Director of Gilcrease Museum. “Thomas Gilcrease’s passion for collecting the most important works of art and historical items from the American West and this hemisphere is truly apparent throughout the exhibition.”

altWith Thomas Gilcrease and the Making of an American Treasure, visitors will get the chance to see some of the items Gilcrease himself collected, such as his first art purchase. Gilcrease bought Rural Courtship by Daniel Ridgeway Knight, in a Tulsa hotel in 1912. At that time Gilcrease knew little about art, but was eager to learn.

Also on display will be a true treasure of the Gilcrease collection, a Beaver Effigy Platform Pipe, an item rarely on display.

“Some of the items Gilcrease [gathered] in his collection include the best examples of that kind of work,” said Randy Ramer, Gilcrease Museum Collections Manager and Curator of Anthropology.  “The Beaver Effigy Platform Pipe excavated by Perino in Pike County, Illinois is an excellent example.  There you have one of the finest artifacts of prehistoric North America made by the Hopewell people about 200 A.D.  Perino and Gilcrease saved that piece for future generations to enjoy and study.  The piece is truly a treasure of the Gilcrease collection.”

Selections from the impressive Cole Collection, a collection of Western art purchased from Dr. Phillip Cole in 1944, can be viewed as well.  Regarded as the single greatest acquisition of Western art in history, the Cole purchase netted Gilcrease 636 works of art, books, photographs and archival material.  The collection included works from:
     • Frederic Remington who became known for capturing the West with his Impressionistic influence and action-packed paintings.
     • Charles M. Russell, recognized as one of the great Western artists, who work possessed a narrative quality.
     • Charles Schreyvogel, whose works captured the interaction between the government soldiers and the Plains Indians warriors.
     • Frank Tenney Johnson, who created works that captured the individual in the great west.

Important documents from Gilcrease Museum’s archival collection also will be displayed, including:
     • The only known certified copy of the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation, both signed by Benjamin Franklin and Silas Deane, and sent to Frederick the Great of Prussia;
     • The Codex Canadiensis, a catalog created in the 17th century containing some of the earliest drawings relating to Canada; and
     • The Cortez Decree of 1521 is a document signed by Cortez, Conqueror of Mexico, and is the earliest official decree following the fall of Mexico. Considered one of the first official orders issued by Cortez following the conquest.

The Man and the Museum

Thomas Gilcrease, born in 1890 in Louisiana, moved to the Creek Nation in Oklahoma that same year with his family.  Because of his Creek lineage, Gilcrease was allotted 160 acres of land south of Tulsa.  That land would be part of Oklahoma’s first major oil field, the Glenn Pool.  Gilcrease’s collecting began in the mid-1920s, and in 25 years he amassed more than 10,000 works of art, 300,000 anthropological artifacts and 100,000 rare books and documents.  

In 1947, Gilcrease moved his collection from his oil company’s headquarters in San Antonio, Texas, to his modest home just northwest of downtown Tulsa.  In 1949, he opened the new facility, the Thomas Gilcrease Museum.  In the early 1950s, the citizens of Tulsa approved a bond issue to assume public ownership of the Gilcrease collection and development of the Museum.  In 2008, the City of Tulsa partnered with The University of Tulsa to manage the city-owned Museum.

Items in the Gilcrease Museum’s permanent collection range from masterworks by Thomas Moran, Frederic Remington and Albert Bierstadt to engraved Eskimo scrimshaw, Peruvian garments, Mississippian pottery, documents dating to the 15th century, works by Native artists Woody Crumbo, Acee Blue Eagle and Willard Stone, and hundreds of thousands of other notable items.

Only a fraction of the Museum’s impressive holdings are ever on display at one time because of the sheer volume of items.  Thomas Gilcrease and the Making of an American Treasure provide the opportunity for visitors to see highlights of the impressive and eclectic holdings Gilcrease is proud to call its own.

About the photos:
Photo 1:  “1825 Osage Treaty Signing” by Oklahoma artist Mike Wimmer was removed from the state Capitol on Tuesday.  The painting is being transported along with more than 80 works of art for an exhibit of the State Senate Art Collection at the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa.

Photo 2: Entrance to Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Photo3: Warriors
Last Updated ( Saturday, 20 June 2009 )