A new art exhibition titled “The First Fifty Years of Oklahoma Art” opens Thursday, Oct. 1, in The First Gallery at the Museum of the Western Prairie. The exhibition presents a rich selection of works on loan from the Melton Art Reference Library in Oklahoma City and honors the pioneers who blazed trails with paintbrushes and pencils. Over the course of the first fifty years in the history of our state, these pioneer artists were the catalysts of fine art, art education and the development of art museums.
The Western Trail Historical Society will host a reception beginning at 6 p.m. for the premiere of the exhibition, and a program showcasing the stories of artists who produced the American Indian scenes, impressionistic landscapes, and abstract canvases will be presented at 7 p.m. The reception and the program are free and open to the public.
“We are very fortunate to have secured the loan of this exhibition from the Melton,” explained Jennie Buchanan, director of the Museum of the Western Prairie. “The premiere of the exhibition on Oct. 1 will be a gallery opening and a history lesson all in one. The show features ‘pioneering’ artists who went beyond just creating their own art to making sure that art education and art museums were a part of the fabric of our brand new state.”
The exhibition includes works that predate statehood by nearly 20 years. Featured artists include familiar names like Woodie Crumbo and Stephen Mopope as well as some not so well-recognized names. However, the oil paintings, watercolors, pencil drawings, and mixed media pieces have one aspect in common: each was created in Oklahoma by an Oklahoman who thought art and art appreciation were important, even as our young state was being born.
For example, in a piece by early-day Oklahoma artist Augusta Metcalfe, a cow looks at us with big, inquisitive eyes from the rocky terrain of an oil painting. Metcalfe, lived some 75 years on her family’s farm near Durham in western Oklahoma and has been described both as Oklahoma’s Grandma Moses as well as Oklahoma’s Georgia O’Keeffe. Leonard Good balances town and country in a “Landscape” of a street scene, and Stephen Mopope, one of the esteemed Kiowa Five artists, captures the lively movements of a “Fancy Dancer.” Even more expressive in movements and exotic in terms of costume is the “Fancy Dancer” in a tempera painting by Woodrow Wilson Crumbo, an artist who was director of art at Bacone College in Muskogee. Oklahoma City art educator Martha Avey relies on a dark background to make crimson and white blossoms in a vase stand out dramatically in a “Still Life.” Nellie Shepherd’s powerful pencil “Portrait of (a) Woman” is an outstanding figurative work.
The artists in the show were the first to share their lifeways, culture, art and traditions to a state and nation; the first to establish a museum in the state, the first to institute an art curriculum for the Oklahoma Public School systems, and the first to have a collection formed for the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. They launched Oklahoma into being a place to where people from all over the world would come for a better life and where artists would come for a better future as an artist.
“The First Fifty Years of Oklahoma Art” debuted earlier this year at the Gaylord-Pickens Oklahoma Heritage Museum in Oklahoma. John Brandenburg, art critic for The Oklahoman, ended his review of the exhibition by writing, “This historical exhibit is highly recommended during its run.”
Reach Jeannie Buchanan at firstname.lastname@example.org