American Indian Art hits the 'Big' Time

Friday, February 20th 2009, 1:08 pm
By: News 9

By Darren Brown, Insite team

OKLAHOMA CITY -- We used to call them cave drawings, and they could be found all over the southwest.  Seventy or so years ago, they were part of FDR's New Deal.  Now they hang in reputable museums across the country.

The exhibit "American Indian Mural Painting", on display at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, is a look at the traditions of this unique art form and its relevance to Oklahoma's past. 

Steve Grafe, the American Indian Art Curator at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, claims that traditional Indian art was very flat, and well-suited for large walls or canvases.

The U.S. Treasury Department, which funded most of the New Deal art in Oklahoma, recognized that early on and actually recruited Indian artists to paint murals," said Grafe. "We're fortunate to have in our collection three mural-sized canvases and three actual mural pieces that were taken out of public buildings in the state of Oklahoma."

The exhibit also features two preliminary sketches of actual murals from the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa.

"One of them is still, a Woody Crumbo work, is still visible, and the other one by Archie Blackowl has since been covered up," said Grafe.

More than a few murals in Oklahoma have either been removed, or painted over.

"It's really really chilling, because if they were done on canvas and people want them no longer, obviously it'd be wonderful to just remove them." Grafe said.  "The murals, just because of their age have a certain amount of important history, and certainly an important history that references Indian art in the state, and to a certain extent the New Deal."

In addition to the exhibit, a bus tour of New Deal mural sites in central Oklahoma is planned for March 13.

There are also six post offices in Oklahoma that still contain murals by American Indian artists.  The post offices are located in Anadarko, Coalgate, Marietta, Nowata, Okemah and Seminole.

The "American Indian Mural Painting" exhibit is on display at The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum through May 3.  For more info on the exhibit, or the bus tour, call (405) 478-2250.