Tulsa, Oklahoma: May 28-30, 2012

Reminders: 1. Posts are in chronological order with most recent on top. 2. Pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them and then using the back button (not close) to return to the text.

We breezed through Oklahoma in 2010, visiting only OKC. If we were going to stop anywhere, that was the right place. But now we had a brief opportunity to see a more eastern segment — as brief as one full day in Tulsa. So we got naught but a taste. The folks at the campground were very helpful; they sent us highlights we could handle. We got to two venues, but one of them was totally off-limits to photography. So you’ll only have to put up with a small quantity of my usually challenged images!

Our first visit was to the Tulsa Historical Society Museum. Tulsa was entering its “Golden Age” as the Oil Capital of the World when brothers David and Samuel Travis, Lithuanian immigrants migrated to Tulsa from Ohio and made fortunes in the oil field equipment salvage business. In 1919, architect Noble Flemming designed them complementary mansions in Italianate Revival style, set at the crest of a broad lawn on South Peoria Street. The two homes instantly became Tulsa landmarks. Not long after the mansions were completed, however, the brothers left Tulsa for California. After subsequent ownerships, David’s home (above left) was sold to the City of Tulsa in 1954 and is now the Tulsa Garden Center. Samuel’s (above right) remained a residential property until late 1997 when it was purchased by the Tulsa Historical Society.

The Museum has eight exhibit galleries. It claims that all exhibits rotate at least once a year, but the exhibit that tells the Mansion’s story is “ongoing.” The subjects are as diverse as they could be. Here are the ones we saw:

Starmaker: Jim Halsey and the Legends of Country. The words Halsey and Country have been joined at the hip since 1949. Born in Independence, KS in 1930, young Jim produced his first show at age 12, a Marine drill team of pre-teen boys who marched every week to promote the sale of war bonds. Inspired by his study in high school of Sol Hurok, he started his real career by booking a local talent show, then booked shows for Country Music Hall of Famer Hank Thompson in the early fifties. He opened his talent agency in 1951. In addition to Thompson, he’s managed and/or booked hundreds of stars; you’d be hard-pressed to mention a Country name he hasn’t. He has produced sellout shows throughout the world, written books and produced seminars on star-making, taught at prestigious universities and started a school of his own. The list of firsts attributed to him is virtually endless. He settled in Tulsa a dozen or so years ago with his wife, artist Minisa Crumbo Halsey, who has gallery showings internationally and is the daughter of Potawatomi artist Woody Crumbo and Creek educator Lillian Hogue.

The fourth picture (top right) features Russian eggs presented by the Soviet Minister of Culture following detente concerts, for which Jim brought Roy Clark and the Oak Ridge Boys. The Great Seal of the Cherokee Nation was presented to Jim in an awards ceremony in 1999. The last two shots are guitars provided and signed by many musicians, including Freddy Fender, Clint Blck, Aerosmith and many others.

Cultivating City Life from a Prairie Town, 1878-1900. This show was a combination of photo/dialogue panels and well-displayed artifacts. It clearly took in both the European and Native American populations into consideration. The center picture in Row 2 shows Creek women making safke, a corn concoction that is either drunk or spooned depending on how thick the batch was made. It has a sour “acquired” taste, we’re told.

The Big 97: Tulsa’s KAKC Radio. About five years ago, Steve Clem, operations manager of Tulsa’s Public Radio station, decided that he wanted to preserve the legacy of his city’s earlier air waves. That meant KAKC, which dominated during the 50’s through the 70’s. According to auditors, half of the listeners in Tulsa were tuned to KAKC every day from 1956 – 66, despite the fact that the city had seven stations. In the era of the transistor radio, shown below in gargantuan size, jocks brought Top 40 alive until the 70’s when Mike McCarthy brought forth long-haired hippie-dom. The nostalgia is far more poignant for locals, of course, but we got a kick out of the outfits, publicity stunts and tempo of the eras. Clem produced a two hour documentary, presented on his station last year and due out in book format later in 2012.

A Century of Production: the W.C. Norris Story. In sharp contrast to the Travis brothers, Wilbur Norris built an empire by manufacturing supplies and equipment for the oil drilling industry. He worked in his father’s company in Pennsylvania, and when he first arrived in Tulsa, he started with 8 employees in a small machine shop. From these humble beginnings, he grew to industrial complex size (see second pic). Norris specialized in the production of sucker rods, slim tubes that bring the oil to the surface, and he eventually became the world’s largest producer of the rods. During WWII he refigured his plant to produce shell casings for the War Department, and he received multiple federal citations for his efforts.

Interior View of Tulsa Stores. Pictures taken inside stores were much less common that outside shots. This collection, a smattering of which you see below, takes everyone back to early prices and early traditions. When’s the last time you saw a shopkeeper in suit and tie??

Life of a House: A History of the Travis Mansion. Here’s where we picked up all the knowledge about the history of both mansions above, along with an abbreviated tour. When I asked where the grand staircase was, I learned that it had been embedded behind walls to make space for 21st century use. The first photo shows the 17,000 square foot addition added five years ago that houses the Museum and dwarfs the original dwelling!

Two exhibits that are listed on their website but we didn’t see were a photojournalist’s story of Fishing the Arkansas River and a presentation of the traveling exhibit of the Legacy Project, based on the bestseller Dream, A Tale of Wonder, Wisdom & Wishes. It “combines contemporary art from 15 top illustrators with thought-provoking quotations from historical sages and a multilayered poetic story about hopes and dreams across a lifetime.”

We did, however, view a display of porcelain, including a lesson on how it’s painted, as well as an exhibit in the Whiteside Portrait Room.

Our other city visit was a trip to The Gilcrease Museum at the University of Tulsa. Thomas Gilcrease was the first of 14 children born to William and Elizabeth Gilcrease. Elizabeth was one-quarter Creek, and they moved that same year — 1890 — to Indian Territory to take advantage of land grants. Thomas received his own grant in 1899, and it turned out to be adjacent to the Glen Pool Reserve. He formed the Gilcrease Oil Company in 1922, headquartered in San Antonio, and became a millionaire many times over. He married twice, the first time to Belle Harlow, an Osage (1908-24) and the second to Norma Smallwood, the first Oklahoman to win the Miss America pageant (1928-33). He had three children, two boys with Belle and a girl with Norma.

Traveling extensively in Europe, he was inspired to become a collector. He opened his first gallery in San Antonio in 1943, and he moved it to his Tulsa estate in 1949. Cash poor in the fifties, he offered it for sale. To save it, the citizens of Tulsa floated a bond that paid all of his debts. In return, he deeded the collection to the City of Tulsa in 1955 and the entire estate in 1958. From then until his death four years later, he funded archaeological expeditions and lived in his sandstone home on the property.

His collection followed two passions: the History of the American West and his Native American Heritage. He sponsored artists like Woody Crumbo, Acee Blue Eagle and Willard Stone. His assemblage includes almost 100 works of Charlie Russell and Frederick Remington, about equally divided between bronzes and paintings, and a portfolio of the photographic work of Edward Curtis. The entire collection, including both flat and dimensional art – and documents – numbers more than 10,000 pieces.

Ah, but, sadly, photography is strictly prohibited. The only other museum in which I’ve seen that many uniforms was the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, where the no pix policy is equally enforced. So here’s the website: www.gilcrease.utulsa.edu in case you’re interested in at least a limited peek.

We’ve had another taste of Oklahoma, but we need to go back. The land was originally chartered as a repository of Native Americans who were in the way as the nation was fulfilling its Manifest Destiny. It became home for dozens of tribes and nations from all directions, including those forced to travel the Trail of Tears. This is one critical piece of Oklahoma experience that we haven’t spent enough time with.

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