One hundred years ago, Oklahoma sculptor Willard Stone was born February 29, 1916 — a Leap Day birthday. To mark the occasion, Gilcrease Museum presents Following the Grain: A Centennial Celebration of Willard Stone. Opening February 20, this exhibition highlights Stone’s unique artwork and the legacy of his collaborations with the museum.
In 1945, recognizing the sculptor’s potential, Thomas Gilcrease offered Stone a position as the first artist-in-residence for the Gilcrease Foundation. A three-year appointment with a stipend, the residency provided Stone with the opportunity to concentrate on his art without the worries of supporting his growing family. They sealed the agreement with a customary handshake, beginning a mutually beneficial arrangement: All the art that Stone created during his residency would belong to the museum, and he was able to earn a steady income to care for his loved ones. With the freedom to create, Stone developed a distinct streamlined style of woodcarving influenced by modern Art Deco design and his own Oklahoma heritage.
Stone would later reflect: “Tom Gilcrease gave me the chance to find out what I could do with wood and clay and to develop a style of my own. I would not have been recognized had it not been for him because he gave me the courage to try.” Stone credited Thomas Gilcrease as the single greatest influence on his artwork. Given his impact on Stone’s art career, the museum that Gilcrease established is the perfect venue to celebrate Stone’s remarkable sculptures.
Following the Grain: A Centennial Celebration of Willard Stone features more than 30 woodcarvings as well as several drawings, photographs and correspondence between Gilcrease and Stone. Works in the exhibition represent several themes in Stone’s art, including depictions of the natural world, Native American figures and carvings that speak to world events and politics of the 1940s. By highlighting the unique forms of Stone’s work, Following the Grain: A Centennial Celebration of Willard Stone reveals how this singular Oklahoma sculptor transformed “whittling” into exquisite artwork.