Museums never stop collecting. A dynamic museum like Gilcrease continually strives to build on its strengths and to fill gaps in its collection. Strong collections provide more depth to exhibitions and more opportunities for research. Since 2008, more than 13,500 items have been added to Gilcrease Museum. Thanks to generous donors and judicious purchases, the Gilcrease collection continues to grow in ways that will benefit the citizens of Tulsa and our audiences long into the future.
In 2008, The University of Tulsa partnered with the City of Tulsa to manage Gilcrease Museum, and that partnership has spurred collection development and the revitalization of the museum.
Gilcrease Museum has benefited in the past and continues to benefit from strong support from the community and from distant friends of the museum. Nearly weekly, the museum is approached with offers — sometimes as gifts, other times as possible purchases — of additions to the collection. The depth and breadth of the Gilcrease collection allows the staff to be very selective.
By far, the largest acquisition was the Britzman-Russell Research Collection that includes approximately 13,000 objects made by or owned by Charles M. Russell, the iconic western artist. This is an excellent example of a collection that bolsters the strength of the art collection while providing new opportunities for research. This collection was purchased with funds provided by some of Gilcrease’s generous donors.
Items from the Britzman-Russell Research Collection, and more, will be on display during the Private Collections to Public Treasures: New Acquisitions at Gilcrease Museum exhibition set to open November 23, 2014 and continuing through March 29, 2015.
In preparation for a future retrospective exhibition on Joseph Henry Sharp, the museum acquired a portrait of his first wife, Addie, which he painted while they were traveling in France. The museum’s national board members continue to support the collection with extraordinary gifts. A generous donor purchased and donated three additional Sharp paintings to the collection also in preparation for the forthcoming Sharp exhibition.
A recent gift included Native American works by Pablita Velarde, a pioneering Santa Clara artist and her daughter, Helen Hardin. Recently, Margaret Bagshaw, daughter of Helen Hardin, personally donated one of her prints to the collection. Having three generations of female artists from one family represented not only adds important works of art to the collection, but also tells an important family story.
After the very successful Edgar Payne exhibition, a member of the museum’s national board donated Payne’s Sunshine and Shadows, a gift to Gilcrease that adds an important work from an underrepresented American art movement. This work will be one of several on display in the Private Collections to Public Treasures exhibition.
There is a great story behind the recent purchase of a rare Cherokee bandolier bag. This beautiful and historically important bag was featured on PBS’s Antiques Roadshow. The bag was accompanied by a letter indicating that the Cherokee owner, The Whale, had given it to a young American Lieutenant Cave Johnson Couts in Tahlequah in 1846. The Antiques Roadshow staff put the museum’s staff in contact with the owner of the bag who lived in California. The bag was purchased and returned to Oklahoma. Duane King, director of the Helmerich Center for American Research and a Cherokee scholar, has conducted some extraordinary historical research on the bandolier bag. The beautifully made bag is an icon that connects important political and military events of the American Southeast to the frontier of Oklahoma and then to the political transition in California — a remarkable American story embodied in one object.
Thanks to generous donors and judicious purchases, the Gilcrease collection continues to grow in ways that will benefit the citizens of Tulsa and our audiences long into the future. Gilcrease Museum will continue to be an accessible and indispensable center for stories about the American experience.