Monday, February 2, 2015


Our first impression of the Oklahoma State Capitol Building was that its Greco-Roman architecture made it look a lot like many other capitol buildings, including the United States Capitol Building (Ignore the winter vs. summer differences):
Washington, D.C.
Originally, however, the Oklahoma building did not have a dome. That was added in 2001-2002. At that time the statue was also added on top (see left photo below). Standing 17 1/2 feet and entitled The Guardian, it is a Native American holding a spear. Oklahoma is the first state to so honor the Native American population. The U.S. Capitol also has a figure atop its dome. It stands 19 1/2 feet tall and is a classical female bronze statue entitled Freedom.
In spite of the fact that Oklahoma's statue is two feet shorter than the U.S. Capitol's statue, Oklahoma's building is five feet taller than the U.S. Capitol, which I'm sure the architects took into consideration when they drew up the plans for the dome addition.

Oil rig in front of capitol
However, one thing Oklahoma has that we have never seen the likes of at any other state capitol building is a working oil well in the front yard. (Scroll back up to the first picture in this post to see how close it is to the capitol building.) There is another one behind the building. Oklahoma is the only state in the Union with oil wells on the capitol grounds. What else can you do when you discover your capitol is built right on top of an oil field?

Supposedly one of the rigs is named Petunia #1 because it was dug right in the middle of a flower bed. Charming.

It is an interesting juxtaposition--the Native American culture and the oil industry. They've been somewhat at odds over the years, and it seems appropriate that they are fighting for attention at the capitol.

Oil rig behind capitol
The grounds of the Oklahoma Capitol are really quite remarkable for the amount of interesting art they contain. On the north side of the capitol complex is the Oklahoma Veterans Memorial, anchored by what is referred to as "The Big Guy":
This 8 1/2-foot-tall statue stands on a 3 1/2-foot-tall pedestal. He has Native American features and wears Vietnam War gear:

Behind him are four large bas relief panels, each depicting heart-wrenching scenes from a different war. The back of each panel lists the names of Oklahomans killed in that war.
World War I, 1914-1919
World War II, 1941-1945
Korean War, 1950-1953
Vietnam War, 1959-1973
Names of the dead listed on the back of the panels. So many names.
Oklahoma's Eternal Flame burns at this memorial directly behind "The Big Guy" and in front of the United States flag.
On the 58th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1999, a memorial to the U.S.S. Oklahoma was unveiled. The only ship ever named for our 46th state, it served in World War I, the Spanish Civil War, and World War II. It was hit by several bombs and torpedoes during the attack on Pearl Harbor, and when it sunk, it took 429 crew members to their deaths.

As we walked back towards the main entrance of the capitol, we came upon the first of several Native American statues created by Allan Houser, a Chiricahua Apache from Oklahoma. They were all stunning. 
Entitled As Long as the Waters Flow, the name refers to President Andrew Jackson's promise to the Native Americans that they would possess their lands "as long as the grass grows and the rivers run."
She is looking away from the
oil well. She can't be too
happy that it is there.
She carries an eagle feather fan, and the broad planes of her face convey both strength and peace:

Five other Houser bronzes are located around the building, and plaques note that they are "on loan," part of a temporary exhibit to commemorate the 100th birthday of the artist, who died in 1994. They will be at the capitol until March 2015. Near the east entrance to the building is Singing Heart, a Chiricahua Apache mother holding her baby. Both of them are wrapped in a roughly textured blanket that contrasts wonderfully with the otherwise glossy surfaces.
Houser's wife once said that she believed this scene was meant to be Allan's mother holding Allan himself.
A third Houser work also stands near the east entrance of the capitol building. A man this time, it is entitled Morning Prayer and depicts an Apache singing a traditional song as he waits for the sun to rise.

In the north plaza is Spirit of the Wind. At first glance the sharp points give it a fire-like appearance, but it also has a twisting, turning feel, much like a tornado:
This tree on the capitol grounds has a similar look:
Near the main public entrance on the east side of the building is this bas relief by Houser entitled Hunter's Vision.

The final Houser sculpture is Apache Man. The angular cheekbones and pointed profile differ from the smooth flatness of the front view, and it's impossible not to reach out and touch.  Although substantially more modern-looking, it reminds me of the huge Olmec heads in Mexico.

No state capitol building should be without a man on a horse, and Oklahoma has it's own unique version:
Instead of a Civil War general on his trusty steed, however, Oklahoma has a bucking bronco posed over a prickly pear cactus. According to information at the site, this "bronze tribute to the romantic riders of the range" was sculpted by a "sculptress of Paris, France and New York," the "distinguished American Artist" Constance Whitney Warren, who created a similar one for the Texas State Capitol. (Oklahoma likes linguistic flourishes.)

We rarely spend this much time and attention outside of a capitol building, but I really loved the statuary and was impressed by Oklahoma's dedication to art. As we walked into the building, I was moved by these two table-top pieces, Pioneer Woman by Bryant Baker (love that she's holding the hand of her young son and striding forward with such confidence) and Chief Standing Bear by Oreland Joe.

Our visit to the Oklahoma State Capitol was off to a great start, and we hadn't even gotten past the security guys in the lobby yet.

Next: Oklahoma State Capitol Part 2


  1. I loved the Indian sculptures outside. Hated the oil wells. It said to me that they pay lip service to one and actually gravitate to the other.

  2. Those Houser sculptures are amazing--how lucky that you got to see the temporary exhibit.

    I think it's weird they have an oil well there.

  3. I think it is really weird too that they have an oil well on the site.

  4. For the right amount of money, I would also put an oil well in my front yard. Maybe I could even afford some of these great sculptures to distract visitors to my home.