5 Things to See at the Oklahoma State Capitol
Entrance to the Betty Price Gallery at the Oklahoma State Capitol Complex. Photo courtesy of the Oklahoma Arts Council
Oklahoma may be where “the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain,” but it is also home to a magnificent art collection in a prominent if unlikely location---the State Capitol building in Oklahoma City. The Capitol complex, completed in 1917, is located on more than 100 acres in northwest Oklahoma City and is the only state capitol grounds with active oil rigs.
This post began as a quest to identify and share my five favorite pieces from the Oklahoma State Art Collection, but I quickly realized that not only would it be difficult to choose five pieces, but doing so would not properly spotlight both the quality and quantity of art at the Capitol building. Instead, I would like to highlight five different places to see art at the Capitol, and encourage you to go find your own favorite pieces.
The Oklahoma State Capitol is open to the public during the week from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the weekends. Admission is free.
The galleries at the Capitol are curated by the Oklahoma Arts Council. Exhibits in each of the five galleries change frequently, so visit more than once and you’ll likely encounter something new and different each time.
1. State Art Collection – the Betty Price Gallery – First Floor, West Wing of the Capitol
"Painted Seed Jar" by Richard Bivins and "Ghost of Metacom" by Yeffe Kimball. Photo courtesy of the Oklahoma Arts Council
Jim Thorpe, Troy Aikman, and Mickey Mantle are just a few of the notable athletes from Oklahoma. Oklahoma’s most notable artists? They can be found at the Capitol in the Betty Price Gallery. In 1971 Oklahoma established a collection from notable artists who were either “born in, trained in, or have produced a significant portion of works in the state,” and since 2007 the collection has been housed at the Capitol. The collection highlights the rich cultural diversity of Oklahoma.
2. Capitol Art Collection
A view of the Capitol Rotunda. Photo by John Jemigan.
More than 100 pieces of art dating from 1919 to the present make up the Capitol Art Collection, which can be seen across the Capitol grounds. A notable piece---and one of the first acquired by the state---is Constance Whitney Warren’s bronze sculpture, "Tribute to Range Riders." Whitney was a native New Yorker who spent most of her adult life in Paris, but she was enchanted by horses and had heard from her father, an engineer, about the American West. The result is a beautifully rendered statue and an important reminder of Oklahoma’s history. Each of the murals, sculptures, and paintings that make up this collection serve to educate and document Oklahoma’s storied and proud history.
3. North Gallery – First Floor of the Capitol
"HeadStart Grad" by Tom Fields, 1978. Photo courtesy of the Oklahoma Arts Council
On view through September 18, Nativescapes---A View From the Interior explores the work of documentary photographer and Stillwater resident Tom Fields. Fields is a true pioneer---his photographs were the first ever to be shown at the annual Indian Art Exhibition, and he is credited with helping change the perception of photography in American Indian culture to that of a serious art form. Field’s photographs document the unique aspects of American Indian culture, from the ceremonial to the everyday, and provide a unique insight.
The North Gallery is devoted to works on paper, including but not limited to prints, lithographs, drawings, collage, and photographs. Exhibits change often, as they do throughout the Capitol, in order to accommodate the diverse range of mediums and artists.
4. East Gallery
"Fluvian" by Jean Ann Fausser. Photo courtesy of the artist
The East Gallery is devoted to showcasing the best Oklahoma has to offer in painting and mixed media. The current exhibition, Roots and Connections, showcases the stunning work of fiber and mixed media artist Jean Ann Fausser. The striking "Fluvian," above, exemplifies several of Fausser’s key themes: a love of nature, lively colors, and rich texture that simply cannot be captured in a photograph. You simply must see her work in person to appreciate the intricate details. Fausser began her career as a painter and incorporates not only that skill but a variety of materials into her work. She uses fiber---an older, traditional material typically used in clothing, in combination with more modern materials such as gel, collage, and even inkjet printing to create beautiful, heartfelt scenes of nature.
5. Governor’s Gallery
"On a Limb" by Holly Wilson. Photo courtesy of the Oklahoma Arts Council
The Governor’s Gallery is located on the second floor of the Capitol next to the Blue Room, which is often used by the Governor for press engagements and official appearances. Governor George Nigh established the Governor’s Gallery in 1979 to showcase an “artist of the month.” This gallery, also dedicated to painting and mixed media, currently showcases the work of Holly Wilson. Whispers, Secrets, and Other Untold Stories, on view through October 2, addresses Wilson’s Delaware/Cherokee American Indian heritage through a series of panels and delicate bronze figures. Wilson, a Lawton native, now lives and works in her Oklahoma City studio. She uses the lost wax process to cast her sculptures, and like the carefree young girl depicted in On A Limb, many appear to be young and full of life. As the exhibit notes, “they each portray a raw emotion and tell a universal story of the spirit of youth and quiet innocence.”