Amidst the green rolling hills of North Tulsa, Gilcrease Museum remains a treasure trove filled with all things American. Though no new exhibits open this month, I decided to check out the space. Honestly, I had not visited Gilcrease since middle school when the late Bill Brown directed my jazz band in a concert there.
I was in for a treat. Recently, Gilcrease announced its new director, Duane H. King. King is the first director under a new agreement that shifted management from the city-owned museum to the University of Tulsa-owned museum. His official title is a mouthful, University of Tulsa Vice President of Museum Affairs and Director of Gilcrease Museum.
This is exciting news, for sometimes I feel Gilcrease's remote location hinders the public's knowledge and interest of this fascinating museum. When I arrived, I was given an impromptu tour by the museum's Public Information Officer, Anne Brockman. I discovered that Gilcrease is still alive and well, exhibiting permanent collections of North and South American art, as well as temporary, seasonal exhibitions featuring artwork that is, while still in the museum's American West theme, entirely unexpected.
"Rendezvous 2008" is Gilcrease Museum's annual fundraiser. Thirty-five artists contributed 144 artworks to be exhibited and sold. This is the 27th incarnation of "Rendezvous," and it has become a tradition for the museum. Two artists, Tim Shinabarger and Hollis Williford, are honored as featured artists for this event.
Tim Shinabarger is an award-winning sculptor and accomplished painter. His wildlife studies and monumental celebrations of big game animals have earned him honors and recognition from the National Sculpture Society and several prominent museums.
Hollis Williford, who passed away last year, was the featured sculptor at "Rendezvous 1988." He was the first artist to be featured twice at "Rendezvous." His etchings, drawings, oils and sculptures display an affinity for animals and Native American culture.
"Rendezvous 2008" has been open to the public since April 19, and the exhibition continues through July 13. This collection of artworks is quite large, and boasts a wide range of prices.
"There is a little bit of everything here; not just cowboys," said Brockman.
One will find many bronzes, ranging from a monumental sculpture of Will Rogers hurling a lasso, to expressively chiseled bronze buffalo and horses, to a pair of beans in pods.
"Snow Blind-The Only Way Home," by Fritz White depicts a horse and its rider, trudging through a blizzard.
This is implied by the snowy white patina that has been effectively utilized on the surface of the bronze.
"Savannah" by Shirley Thomson Smith is the head of a beautiful Native American woman who wears hoop earrings and a scarf on her head. The physical features of the subject are vague, suggesting the full lips and rounded nose of a Nubian maiden. There is a subtle bluish glow to the bronze as well that is quite nice.
Other pieces of interest include "Warm & Cool," a small oil painting by Matt Smith. The blues employed in this tiny landscape are magical; they shimmer with an out-of-this-world, iridescent gloss.
"Silk and Velvet" is an oil painting by Daniel F. Gerhartz. This piece, a portrait of a woman dressed in black, displays some wicked coloring. The reds and oranges smolder your retinas, leaving a lasting impression.
Finally, "To Believe" is a representational watercolor by Steve Hanks. A woman sits amidst the gardens of Philbrook, while the stately edifice dominates the background.
"These are pieces by active, working artists. Most have shown at Gilcrease before, so regular patrons will recognize some of the names represented," added Brockman.
Pen and Ink
Also on display at Gilcrease, "The Poetry of Line: The Pen and Ink Drawings of Earl Biss" comprises more than 50 drawings. These are on display for the first time since the museum purchased the drawings for its permanent collection in 2004.
Biss, of Crow and Chippewa descent, was a central figure during the 60s who helped change perceptions of Native American and Southwest Art. He, along with other artists such as Fritz Scholder, T.C. Cannon and Kevin Red Star, rejected traditional approaches to creating Native American Art.
Biss experimented with Abstract Expressionism, which, to him, offered an emotional outlet and a modern visual language which he could use to present a contemporary Native American perspective.
Biss' drawings are abstracted and expressionistic, while also representing animals, Native peoples and scenes. Raised by his grandmother in Crow Agency, Montana, Biss felt a connection to the land and his people. As an adult, he frequently returned to Montana to work and receive inspiration.
Pen and ink drawings, prints and a few paintings make up the exhibit in its entirety, and they all hang against a backdrop of deep, purple walls.
Though Biss considered himself an "abstract expressionist," his drawings and prints are representational.
"Battle Talk" is a monoprint on paper. Against a cream background, a row of horses and their riders line up horizontally across the picture plane. Up close, one will recognize the forms immediately, but because of the abstracted nature of the forms, from a distance they all but melt away into blobs of color and line.
"Nine Horses Running About Before the Storm," an ink drawing, connected with my subconscious. The equine forms are reminiscent of the paleolithic cave drawings of horses, like those that can be found in the caves of Lascaux.
One section of Biss' drawings really captures the emotions he felt and portrayed in his work. Drawings like "A portrait of sorrow by a window," is a painfully expressive composition depicting a lonely, melancholic figure. Vibrating with the energy produced by the medium, this drawing (and others that include screaming figures) emanates a grief that is palpable.
"These works are obviously Western and obviously American, but it's more modern, different from our American West Gallery. When people come to see this show, they are often surprised because the works don't fit the mythological context of 'Indian' art," said Brockman.
"The Poetry of Line: The Pen and Ink Drawings of Earl Biss" remains on display through October 12.
The exhibition "1776-1876: A Century of American History in Art" will be on display for a few more days, but it is definitely worth checking out. On July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence and changed the course of American history. The subsequent defining events following the Declaration were immortalized through the arts, and this exhibit is made up of portraits, busts and documents that illuminate this period.
Gorgeous, oil paintings of George Dubya (the original), General Custer and other forefathers eerily peer out at the viewer from smooth, glossy picture planes. Be sure and check out the garments of the early Americans. How did we end up a nation that swears by jeans and t-shirts?
Glittering marble busts of Andrew Jackson and others display the influence of classical civilizations on our own early art and culture.
A brooding, bronze bust of Abraham Lincoln sits in a corner, with head downcast. It seems as if it would lift its head and talk to you, like Night at the Museum.
Thomas Gilcrease not only collected art, but rare historical documents as well. A rare broadside of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Lincoln, Washington's "Address to the Delaware Nation," and the only known certified copy of the Declaration of Independence are presented (and well protected) in this riveting exhibit.
Brockman said that anyone in need of an American history refresher should come see this exhibit. "It is a surefire history lesson through paintings and art," she added.
With the fallibility of school textbooks, this is an excellent opportunity to piece history together for oneself.
"1776-1876: A Century of American History in Art" remains on display until this Sunday, May 18.
Gilcrease Museum is dedicated to bringing art, history and people together to discover, enjoy and understand the diverse heritage of the Americas. The museum is open daily from 10am to 5pm. Admission is free. For more information, call 596-2700 or visit www.gilcrease.org.
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