To Mary Elliott, involvement in Gilcrease Museum is a part of her family legacy. Her parents, Dan and Neva Brannin, established an endowment fund benefitting the museum after their many years supporting Gilcrease and becoming inspired to collect art. Mary and her siblings, Clark, Nancy and Graham serve as trustees of their parents foundation, which supports the museum 66 years after they first became acquainted with it.
Dan and Neva moved to Tulsa in 1953, which happened to be the same year the City of Tulsa was working on a plan to secure Mr. Gilcrease’s debts in order to keep the collection in tact in Tulsa. (The vote to do so successfully passed the following year.) In return, the citizens of Tulsa would ultimately inherit the Gilcrease collection, museum and grounds for the benefit of the city.
“They wanted to be responsible voting citizens,” Mary explained. “So, they decided to go out to Gilcrease to see what it was going to offer.”
When Dan and Neva arrived at the museum, none other than Mr. Gilcrease himself welcomed them in to tour the collection. After their visit, Dan and Neva became inspired by his story, thus sparking their interest in learning about and collecting art; a passion they shared for the rest of their lives.
Neva was always a student of art and wanted to learn. Her fascination was the driving force behind starting their collection. She began to volunteer at Gilcrease as a Gillie and went on to become the organization’s president in 1984. Mary eventually followed her mother’s lead and became a Gillie in 1989. The two shared many Gilcrease moments together. Mary still volunteers at the museum each week, currently assisting with a variety of needs in the anthropology department.
“Learning about the collection was something mom and I had in common,” Mary noted. “We gave tours together at night for special events. We wanted to share our passion with people.”
Dan, a beloved oral surgeon, was fascinated with many of the pieces they collected, particularly The Norther by Frederic Remington, identifying with the emotions conveyed by the sculpture from his experiences with ranching both as a child and at his family’s ranch.
“The Norther was the sculpture that he would always quote saying, ‘I’ve been that cold.’” Mary remembered. “When you look at ‘The Norther,’ remember that in those times, all they had was cotton, silk, wool, maybe some fleece or leather. He was brought up ranching, and when it’s freezing cold, you have to go break open the pond. Daddy would talk about that with less than fond memories. It’s hard work.”
The family ranch, which was home to many animals, became home to her parents’ collection, too. It was a powerful experience for Mary to see that same art displayed at Gilcrease Museum.
“When I think of these paintings, I picture them at my parents’ house.” Mary explained. “At the ranch, art was all over the walls. One of the strangest, peculiar feelings, was when I saw it hung in a gallery. It was beyond overwhelming.”
Gilcrease Museum recently acquired two works from the Brannin collection, purchasing a formerly unknown study of a burro by Frederic Remington and receiving a painting by Warren E. Rollins (the first in the Gilcrease
collection), as a gift from the Brannin family. Consequently, the art the Brannins collected as a result of their affiliation with Gilcrease Museum, now finds itself interspersed within acquisitions made by Thomas Gilcrease himself.
Even for family members who don’t live in Oklahoma, the City of Tulsa and Gilcrease Museum are important to the Brannin legacy, stemming from the many years of family gatherings and summer trips.
“There are three things that my niece and her family do every time they visit Tulsa from New Mexico,” Mary said. “They go to the ranch, go to Gilcrease and go to Braums.”
Through Mary’s continued service as a Gillie and as a trustee of the Dan E. and Neva L. Brannin Foundation, she is carrying the mantle of a proud family legacy that speaks to the importance of art appreciation, lifelong learning and service. These values are now being passed down to successive generations.
“A lot of what is special is that mom and dad both appreciated the art for just art’s sake,” Mary explained. “Mom and Dad never pushed us, but they helped us to appreciate it. One of the neatest things about our foundation is how the next generation is becoming more interactive, because mom and dad helped them learn to appreciate so much.”
Frederic Remington Rediscovered
Is it possible to find a “new” artwork by Frederic Remington, an artist who’s been dead for 110 years? When museums and private collectors work together, new research opportunities can reveal artworks that previously were hidden. The Brannin collection included a drawing of a pack burro, signed “Frederic Remington.” However, the drawing was not listed in Remington’s catalogue raisonnè, the comprehensive record of ALL his known works. The signature alone was not proof of Remington’s authorship, given that his work was frequently copied and forged.
To authenticate the drawing, Gilcrease assisted the Brannin Family by sending the drawing to be reviewed by Frederic Remington scholars at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West’s Remington Exam. The Remington Exam determined the drawing was indeed the work of Remington, and the drawing will now be added to his online catalogue raisonnè and available for future study by scholars and Remington enthusiasts. Gilcrease is thrilled to acquire this “new” Frederic Remington drawing for the permanent collection.