Open to the Public
That’s one of the greatest strengths of art erected in open spaces – its universal accessibility. Anyone passing by has the chance to get an admiring eyeful, and photographer M.J. Alexander was delighted to do just that for pieces throughout the state. She’s chosen some of her favorites and added commentary, so please enjoy this guided tour of some of the high points of Oklahoma’s cultural landscape.
OKLAHOMA COUNTY: “Flamenco” (2015) Commissioned as a tribute to John Belt, arts advocate and founding father of Oklahoma City’s Paseo District, the 11-foot high red steel sculpture anchors the median at the intersection of NW 29th Street and Paseo Drive. Artist Johnathan Hils says of the work: “The overall spirit of the piece is meant to evoke the dramatic relationship between art, dance and music, that is both timelessly modernist while also contemporary in approach. A dance, I feel, is an apt way to memorialize life and its accomplishments. I am particularly interested in the metaphor of ‘dancing through life,’ where harmony, movement and interaction prominently dictate our evolution and enrichment as individuals.”
OKLAHOMA COUNTY: “Dawn of Hope,” bronze likeness of Russell R. Dougherty (1918-1943), 2nd Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, by Mary Lou Gresham. An inscription on the base reads: “The first of Edmond's young men to die in World War II, Dougherty joined the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1941, receiving his wings in 1942. Flying B-24's with the 307th Bomber Group (H), Dougherty was flying from the Island of Guadalcanal in the Southwest Pacific when his plane was lost with its entire crew of nine men. Although only one of the host who lost their lives in World War II, Russell Dougherty personifies the sacrifice and dedication of those Americans who fought to free the world from tyranny. In the bricks at your feet are the names of others associated with Edmond who committed what many believed to be the best years of their lives so that future generations the world over would be free.” The statue is located on the southwest corner of Boulevard and Hurd, in front of Russell Dougherty Elementary School.
OKLAHOMA COUNTY: “Borrowed Light” (2012), by Deedee Morrison. Southwest Oklahoma City Library, 2201 SW 134th St. The nine-foot-tall illuminated kinetic sculpture is created by five cylindrical columns forming a cloverleaf design. The Alabama-based artist describes her work as comprised of 12 sheets of industrial-grade aluminum, “laser cut and welded over an internal armature for stability and support. Each of the vertical panels features an intricate laser design that is backed with a bluish green material that creates a perception of depth. At night, LED lighting inside the sculpture causes it to glow and gives the work an added dimension.” The installation outside the library inspired Morrison: “I'm an avid reader and a believer that books offer a wonderful way to experience the universe. It doesn't matter if you get that knowledge through a book or an electronic format; the process is the same. Anyone who's willing to go through the doors of a library has access. ‘Borrowed Light’ is the information you may encounter."
PAWNEE COUNTY: “Bond of Friendship” (1926), Skedee. Margaret Baker of Wichita was commissioned by Colonel Ellsworth Walters to memorialize his alliance between Osage Chief Wah-she-hah, known as Tom Bacon Rind. Walters, the auctioneer who oversaw the sale of Osage oil leases, had the monument built in the middle of the intersection in the town of Skedee, where he lived until his death in 1946. He was not a military man, but had the name Colonel bestowed at birth in 1866 in honor of a Civil War officer held in high regard by the family. The statue was dedicated April 22, 1926, measuring 18.5 feet from the ground to the top of Bacon Rind’s otter-skin cap. In a news article on a 1983 fund drive by the Pawnee County Historical Society, Floris Brandenburg, former chairwoman of the Osage Tribal Council and a longtime friend of the Walters family, said, "I've seen monuments all over the world kept up through generations, and I've never seen two races of people clasping hands in friendship before. You always see monuments at scenes of battles and massacres, but never of friendship and peace.”
BECKHAM COUNTY: “Myrtle” (1962) The 14-foot-tall kachina fashioned of scrap metal and oil drums is celebrating its 25th anniversary outside the National Route 66 Museum in Elk City. Welded half a century ago by local resident Johnny Grayfish, “Myrtle” had stood guard outside Queenan’s Trading Post in Elk City from 1962-90. Wanda Queenan, former owner of the trading post, later became curator of the museum. A member of the Route 66 Hall of Fame, Mrs. Queenan inspired the character of Lizzie in the Pixar movie “Cars.” She died in 2014 at the age of 91. “Myrtle” continues her vigil as unofficial museum mascot.
GARVIN COUNTY: “I Lift My Lamp …” (1990) At least nine Statue of Liberty replicas dot the state, including tributes in Enid, Yukon, Edmond, Shawnee, Chickasha, Purcell, Norman and Oklahoma City. But it is the town of Lindsay that boasts the version with the largest working lamp, which lights the area in front of the town’s depot. A plaque notes the statue was “Dedicated in memory of Betty Ann Harrison by the people of Lindsay and Lindsay Chamber of Commerce, 1990.”
OKLAHOMA COUNTY: “Compass Rose” (2013) was created by New York City-based artist Owen Morrel, and dedicated Oct. 4, 2013 in the Oklahoma City Boathouse District, 725 S. Lincoln Blvd. The sculptor says of his 25-foot-high spherical work: “It is a monument to the perseverance and ambitious energy of Oklahomans. “Compass Rose” is a door through which visitors, and dwellers of the city can pass to make discoveries about the act of seeing, the powers of pure geometry and the potential of positive thought. The central disk, a propeller-like shape gives homage to the four winds, and alludes to the perpetual motion within which we exist. In a parallel way the activities of the Boathouse District Park beckon viewers to become active participants in the various challenging structures the park offers; ‘Compass Rose’ asks visitors to be active participants in the creative act.”
OKLAHOMA COUNTY: “Galaxy” (1984) The largest of Oklahoma City’s early public art works, the 14-ton Alexander Liberman sculpture stands 45 feet tall, 27 feet wide and 12 feet deep on the plaza in front of Leadership Square. Dedicated on Feb. 8, 1984, its 14 elliptical hollow tubes are welded steel painted in "Liberman Red.” The work was conceived of and constructed in the artist’s studio in Connecticut and shipped Oklahoma City on three flatbed trucks. The Russian-American Liberman is best known for his 55-year career as editorial director at Condé Nast. When explaining his use of his trademark shade of red, he said: “I used red because, first of all, it stands out against the gray of cities, that’s the primary reason. Also, I just like red. I think red increases the dynamics of form. I attempt as much as I can in my sculptures to have a sense of elevation, of thrust, directional thrust. Just as my triangles communicated a message from above, well, maybe the public sculptures will communicate a message from above. By asking the spectator to literally look up.”
OKLAHOMA COUNTY: “Disk” (2010) The four disks installed outside the Oklahoma Office of State Finance are meant to represent an evolving Oklahoma. The North Carolina-based sculptor Thomas Sayre states, “The three rough, earth-cast concrete disks located to the south, refer to the rich past of Oklahoma’s relationship to the earth: of farming, the Land Run and the State’s historic challenges. The intricate, shiny, stainless disk to the north speaks of new Oklahoma: of technology, craft and ingenuity and of the unknown future.” Sayre grew up near Washington National Cathedral, and says his interest in using natural materials was inspired by watching the work of the Cathedral stonecutters. He favors producing large public art pieces because “it is here where the idea of producing art intersects with the realities of life. The art will work only when disparate opinions come together through collaboration to form a coherent vision.”
OKLAHOMA COUNTY: Children’s Tiles, Oklahoma City National Memorial (1995) In the months after the April 19, 1995 Murrah Federal Building blast, children from around the world sent artwork expressing feeling of encouragement. Selected ceramic tiles from the more than 5,000 received are installed in the memorial’s children’s area, which also offers buckets of chalk and chalkboards set into the ground, “to give children a place where they can continue to share their feelings — an important component of the healing process.” The first tiles were spearheaded by Janet Langsam, director of the Westchester County Arts Council, who sought a way for children in New York to reach out to children in Oklahoma City.