Gilcrease Museum

A gorgeous man’s shirt on display at the Gilcrease Museum.

The CCO Conference was open to all Cherokees, but there was a special trip planned afterward for At Large Cherokees. These are the Cherokees who live outside “the 14 counties” considered to be Cherokee country in Oklahoma.*

First thing Sunday morning we piled into vans and went to the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, and arrived before they were open. This was because the Universe wanted to feed my soul. I had been inside a hotel for the greater part of three days and my nature-spirit was dying. The only thing to do while waiting for the doors to open was to visit the adjacent garden. I was also cold and needed to thaw out.

One thing I can never figure out about desert-dwellers is their love affair with air conditioning. And I’m not talking cool-things-off-a-bit AC, what I mean is let’s-recreate-the-arctic AC. If it’s 90 degrees outside, I think cooling things off to 70, maybe 68 is appropriate. But instead we get 54 degrees (maybe I’m exaggerating) and I need to wear boots and a jacket indoors when it’s summer. What a waste of resources. Anyhow, what I’m getting to is that my body needed some warmth. I flew in from a region with a heat deficit to begin with, and then was in a climate-controlled building. I was ready for summer weather!

Let me assure you, after 30 minutes of waiting for the museum to open, I turned into a much happier Crystal. Warm and filled with the quiet sounds and scenes of nature.

The garden has a walking path around a pond, where I tried to identify plants. Luckily I spotted the poison ivy before I walked through it, and also luckily another Cherokee near me pointed to a tree and named it. It was probably the first Redbud I have seen, and I thought of Laurie who is not shy about her love of the tree. The trail passed a demonstration Pre-Columbian garden with plants known to have been in those earliest gardens. Near that was a demonstration pioneer garden. I watched red birds flash through and could not get a photo. Then I listened to the most astonishing bird call that never repeated itself. Cheeps, trills, clicks, warbles – this bird had it all. I was in awe! I think it was a scissor-tailed flycatcher. Oh how I wish I could hear this Maestro every day. I spotted a frog and a turtle too. I’ve had a knack for seeing turtles lately. I didn’t tell you that I found one on my island in the pond at home before I left. But I did tell you about the turtle on the walking trail in Tulsa, and now a turtle at the Museum garden. Pretty good for a girl who has to wear glasses.

The museum has developed 23 acres into themed gardens. I walked through Stuart Park, which holds the Pre-Columbian and Pioneer Gardens.

Statue beside the pond in Stuart Park.
A turtle! One thing I did not expect to find in Oklahoma was so much water: streams, rivers, lakes, ponds…water is everywhere in this part of the state.

After my soul was filled up, I hiked back up the hill to the museum. I was in for a treat. The long name for the Gilcrease Museum is Thomas Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art. It was founded by Gilcrease, a member of the Creek Nation. The collection today holds paintings and sculptures from famous artists of the American West, like Charles M Russell, Albert Bierstadt, Frederick Remington, Thomas Moran, Georgia O’Keeffe and John James Audubon. Our guide told us that the museum is famous for Southwestern Art, and since I’m from the West, that brings to mind a particular style of art. I was soon delighted to find that my assumption was wrong, and while the collection includes faves like original CM Russells (I’ve got a print on my wall at home), most of the art draws from creators across the Americas. Indigenous carvings and masks from Central and South America, a Tlingit totem pole from Alaska, a photographic collection of Indigenous people of the West, and another of landscapes. What I love the most, at nearly every museum, is the classic style of oil paintings of real world scenes that tell a story or beg me to escape into them. And portraits by masters. I could stare for hours at portraits.

The Gilcrease Museum leans heavily on Indian artists and Indian themes and Indian influence. It felt warm and validating to be there surrounded by Cherokee people, in a Cherokee part of the country, with Cherokee art on every side of me. I noticed the unfamiliar feeling of validation regarding this weak little Indian vein flowing through me and trying to get bigger. Wanting validation for being Indian is not something I think much about and did not realize I was craving it. Maybe it’s harder to be Indian when there is nothing Indian around me. But there in the museum, being Indian was practically cheered at me. It felt so good.

I think my jabbering will not add much to the experience, so I’ll just fill the rest with photos and captions. Please enjoy the ones I’ve chosen for you.

The Mourners by Joseph Henry
If I could hang Sierra Nevada Morning by Albert Bierstadt on a wall in my home, I’d never have to rent movies. I could just sit in front of this painting and disappear into it.
Blackhawk and His Son Whirling Thunder by John Wesley Jarvis
A painting of Mt. Hood! It was pretty fun to discover this one, while visiting as a representative of the Mt. Hood Cherokees.

I tend to love the paintings best in any museum, but this one had many other impressive displays, that were not of oil and canvas. Though we were not able to see it, there are documents here like an original copy of the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. We saw less valuable but still exciting documents.

An actual cast of Abraham Lincoln’s face hovers above casts of his hands.
Our van driver, Kevin, gets a close-up shot of this amazing story created from string glued in place.
Close up

We spent a lot of time OOooo-ing and AAhhhh-ing over the Plains Indians displays of clothing, moccasins, and bags, with beadwork on everything. Some of the stitching and beading too intricate to be believed without seeing it yourself.

Dresses I would be proud to wear.
Indian toys.
So many beautiful moccasins.
Beaded tobacco bag.
Plaque beneath the Sequoyah statue. Please click the image to be able to read it. Seqyoyah is the most famous Cherokee because, among other things, he invented our written language.
One of the At Large Cherokees gets a photo of the famous statue, found on many Oklahoma license plates.

*If you’re curious, this is {WAS! see below} from the Cherokee Nation website: The Cherokee Nation is not a reservation; it is a 7,000 square mile jurisdictional area covering all of eight counties and portions of six additional counties in Northeastern Oklahoma. As a federally-recognized Indian tribe, the Cherokee Nation has both the opportunity and the sovereign right to exercise control and development over tribal assets which include 66,000 acres of land as well as 96 miles of the Arkansas Riverbed.

{UPDATE: July 9, 2020 the landmark McGirt v Oklahoma case was decided, and now the U.S. government confirms that Cherokee land in Oklahoma is indeed a reservation. This changes our authority for self-governance and sort of changes the world for us.}

16 thoughts on “Gilcrease Museum

    1. I had not thought of that, but you are so right. Add the weight of the beads to the leather clothing, and that was much to carry. I was told that a common practice for the moccasins was to put the elaborate beadwork onto a leather piece sewn to the top of the moccasins. When the moccasins were completely worn out, the beaded piece was taken off, the shoes discarded, and the beads sewn onto a new pair of moccasins. Great idea, especially for children, ha ha!

  1. It’s built into us to want to find our tribe. That place where we feel we fit. Being surrounded by it has brought that somewhat closer to home for you, it seems. It’s devastating that we are wiping entire nations of peoples off the planet without a second thought. We will find one day through quantum physics that in our DNA, we are all connected to each other. There is no them and us. I’m glad you got so much out of your visit and out of that conference room. Being indoors too much is not good for us. I’ve been getting out for early morning walks while it’s still cool. Have a great 4th. I’m sure you have something special planned. 🙂 Hugs.

    1. I am sure you are right about wanting to find our own tribe. I’m not exactly sure who my tribes are, because I have very special people in my life, but I hesitate to be able to put them into one category. I talked about what impacted me the most about the trip with my therapist. After a while, she said to me, “It sounds like when you were with them, you felt that you were enough.” A simple statement, and I think it’s exactly what I felt.

      We ARE all connected in our DNA. I have no doubt. I view it in a very practical way, and the people who spend energy to point out differences puzzle me.

      I’m glad you are still going out for walks. Keep it up! Tell me to do it, too. 🙂 I am having the hardest time fitting in some kind of routine exercise, and I know if I could add that, I would be that much happier. I hope you have a nice 4th! I plan to go watch the Portland fireworks from Mt. Tabor. They will be small from there, but it will be a lovely atmosphere, I’m sure.

      1. Your therapist got it exactly right! Those people that “when you were with them, you felt that you were enough.” is who your tribe is. Doesn’t matter where they come from, we feel good about ourselves when we are with them. We don’t have to be “on” or censor our words so much. We are all connected and more alike than different. No mistake about that. I’m still trying to find people that I can be myself with and not worry so much if I said or did something wrong. Never feeling quite “enough”. My day is spent quietly alone taking care of things here. It will get noisy later but I have time now to catch up some on comments and blogs. I’ve never been big on fireworks. Hope you have a fun evening.

  2. It looks like a museum I would really enjoy, Crystal. History, for one, always appeals to me. Albert Bierstadt is a favorite of mine with his romantic wilderness paintings. Like you I could easily walk into one of his paintings and be happy.
    I’ve started my series on petroglyphs, or rock art as I like to call it, a passion of mine. –Curt

    1. Bierstadt had to be one of my faves from the whole museum. I think there were about 4 of his on the walls, all huge and jaw-dropping. As with many museums, it was explained to us that the majority of their collection was in storage, and displayed were the ones they had room for. Just think of filling a whole room with Bierstadt.

      Rock art!! One of my favourite favourite topics! I should tell you about this Cherokee artist friend of mine. He has been using spy satellite software to look at petroglyphs. The software is designed to help spacecraft “see” camouflaged operations on earth. So Joe Cantrell uses his software to see pictographs that have faded. He can photograph a bare rock face, run the photos through the software, and viola! Images appear. He is working with a local protected site to catalog all the pictographs there, previously unknown or barely discernible. How exciting is that? His website does not show any pictographs but it does show some of his astonishing macro photos of rocks.

  3. Crystal, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post, and totally understand wanting to get out of that hotel and into a garden. As I read throught the post, though, I kept wondering if you have posted more about your personal journey in discovering your Native American heritage. Can you share the link if so?
    I’ve been a bit absent from WP lately so I may have missed it.

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