Wednesday, February 4, 2015


We entered the Oklahoma State Capitol building not through the grand doors at the front, but through a little side door in the basement. Not so glamorous, but we did feel welcomed, both by the friendly security staff who checked my purse and by the signage:

Nothing says "welcome" like a land grab:
. . . or a spouting oil well:
Our first stop was a small art museum featuring Oklahoma artists. What a great idea!

It is quite an amazing space for a government building:
Heck, it's a pretty amazing gallery for ANY building!
There is so  much art that I love in this well-curated little museum. It's probably my favorite small museum of all time--and it's in Oklahoma. In the capitol building. Crazy. Here are some of my favorites:
Cheyenne Courtship by Mary Spurgeon (1994)
The Dream Sower Papillon
by Robert Terrence "Skip" Hill (2005)
Waiting for the Bus (Anadarko Princess) 
by T. C. Cannon (1977)
Looking Over the Invisible Line by Anita Fields (2002)
Tatiana by Katherine Gordon Rice (1995)
Kimono 2-91 by Michi Susan (1927)
Dawn, Quartz Mountain by Carol Beesley (2010)
Dialogue by Allan Houser (1991)
[The artist who created the sculptures
on the capitol grounds]
The First Immigrants (Mind of Man) by
O. Gail Poole (1993)
Kevin by Patrick
Riley (1971)
[Gotta love a pig
on a pedestal]
Everyone Loves a Clown by Ronald Radcliff (1971)
Narcho's Blues by Jim Wald (2005)
[A tribute to the artist's friend Dean Narcho]
Inert Motion No. 1
by Leo Darrell Chandler (n.d.)
Creating Space I by Lena Beth Frazier (1980)
This Is Not a Cruise, It Is a Dream Boat
by David Roberts (1989)--
[Tied for my favorite title in the show]
Dark Figure Over Red Swirl
by John Brandenburg (2000)
Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin' by Mike Larsen (2007)
[Tied for my favorite title in the show--taken from the musical  Oklahoma!
This painting of a sunrise on the Cimarron River was created for
a U.S. postage stamp commemorating the state's centennial.]
Indian Blanket Quilt by Nettie Wallace
["Indian Blanket" is the name of the state flower. This quilt has 3,000 pieces.
The outer design is a traditional Seminole pattern.]

This museum is a definite perception-changer. In my mind, Oklahomans went from being country hicks to creative, artistic masters with a unique vision, a good sense of humor, and an eye for beauty.

From the museum we moved into the center of the building. Until we visited Oklahoma, I think West Virginia held the title of My Favorite State Capitol Building. Sorry, West Virginia. You just got beat.

Look at this stunning dome, as richly colored as a Renaissance painting:
Close-up of the center point of the dome:
More vivid paintings fill the arches and lintels throughout the building.
Something about the painting below reminded me of the paintings in the Moscow Metro: The romantic focus on honorable hard labor by peasants? The hammer-and-sickle-like design behind the workers? The exaggerated colors?
This is an interesting juxtaposition of disparate figures:
A stained glass ceiling worthy of any of the great cathedrals . . .
. . . adorns this vaulted ceiling:
Symbolic figures of The Guardian (a companion piece to the figure atop the capitol dome) and Soaring Spirit represent the Native American culture so important to the state:

It's not a bad place to work if you are the Governor:
. . . or a member of the Supreme Court:
. . . or a member of the House of Representatives:
. . . or a Senator:
The Senate ante-chamber has this painting of the Fort Smith Council of 1865, a group that negotiated treaties with tribes that had sided with the Confederacy during the Civil War. It was here that the name "Oklahoma" was proposed, a word created from two Choctaw terms meaning "Land of the Red Man." Ah, the irony. (The capitol is full of irony.)

While most capitol buildings are filled with very formal sculptures and paintings like the one above depicting political figures and events that I have mostly never heard of--past governors, senators, treaty signings, and the like--Oklahoma had dozens of cheerful paintings of familiar faces, all of them born and/or raised in Oklahoma.

There were baseball great Mickey Mantle (1931-1995) and "the greatest athlete in the world" (so proclaimed by Sweden's King Gustav V) Jim Thorpe (1887-1953):

Sequoyah (1770-1840) was a Cherokee silversmith who created a writing system for the Cherokee language, something that had never been done by a member of a pre-literate people:

Sam Walton (1918-1992), founder of Wal-Mart, and T. Boone Pickens (b. 1928), business magnate and financier, both hail from Oklahoma:

Lesser known figures (at least to me) are just as interesting, including Dr. John Hope Franklin (1915-2009), author of the book From Slavery to Freedom and one of the most respected civil rights historians of the 20th century, and Dr. Angie Debo (1890-1988), a pioneer who arrived in Oklahoma in a covered wagon and eventually got her doctorate in history, writing nine books and numerous articles along the way that documented pioneer and Native American life.

Humorist Will Rogers (1879-1935) is a favorite son of  Oklahoma. Known for his radio shows during the Great Depression, he also traveled with Wild West shows, performed on the Broadway stage, and even starred in movies, where he was the best-loved Hollywood actor of his day. At the time of his death, he was the most widely read newspaper columnist in America, and his Sunday night radio show was the most popular broadcast.
Wiley Post (1898-1935) was one of the world's most famous pilots, the first to fly solo around the world. He and Will Rogers died together in a plane crash over Alaska. Miss Alice Robertson (1854-1931), born in Indian territory, became the second woman elected to the U.S. Congress in 1920.
Woody Guthrie (1890-1988) combined his singing talent with social activism.Guthrie traveled with displaced Dust Bowl farmers from Oklahoma to California and learned their folk music, which became an important part of his repertoire. His most famous song is "This Land Is Your Land," a song I remember my immigrant mother loving and teaching to her first graders.
  I'm not sure who this Oklahoman is/was, but I wish she could talk and tell me her story.

Essential reading related to Oklahoma is the 1939 classic The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. The book tells the story of the Joad family and other "Okies" whose lives were devastated by the Dust Bowl, the Depression, and changes in the agricultural industry. Forced out of their work as tenant farmers, they traveled westward in search of meaningful labor and personal dignity, but instead of a new beginning, they experienced the dehumanizing life of itinerant farming.

I first read this book in my AP English class as a junior in high school. I lived in a farming community that used a lot of temporary Mexican laborers during the fruit harvest season. More than any book I had read up until that time, this book's story and characters had a tremendous impact on me. It was a stark introduction to the desperation of poverty and the cruel treatment of the lower classes, something I had seen first hand but paid little attention to. However, it was also a moving validation of the power of family and community, even in the worst of circumstances.

The Grapes of Wrath won both the National Book Award of 1939 and the Pulitzer Prize in 1940. When Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize in 1962, this book was cited as one of the main reasons he deserved the award. It is considered to be one of the greatest books of the 20th century, both for its story and for its political commentary.


  1. Another great post with art galore. I'm surprised there was nothing on football - as that seems to me to be the most famous product of Oklahoma. No Bud Wilkinson or Barry Switzer.

  2. What an incredible and surprising Capitol building. Love the variety of art. I remember reading Grapes of Wrath in Mrs. G's class--she could make any book interesting, but this book was great on its own. It remains one of my favorites.