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Toby Keith

Cowboy Hall of Fame

Frontier Country


Water Taxi

KEY Oklahoma City

COVER ART: Detail from Eagle Dance. In total this large work is more than nine feet long. It was painted in Santa Fe during the early 1930s by Tonita Peña, the first Pueblo woman to be counted as an easel painter. Peña’s son, Joe Hilario Herrara, also was an important 20th-century Indian artist, and he was among the artists who painted the murals on the façade of Maisel’s Indian Trading Post in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1939.

Begin the year exploring a special exhibition at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum® in Oklahoma City. “American Indian Mural Painting in Oklahoma and the Southwest” draws upon the Museum’s expansive Silberman Collection of Native American art and provides a look at regional mural painting traditions with an emphasis upon work produced during the 1930s and 1940s.

Murals by 20th-century Indian artists are located in public buildings throughout Oklahoma. Six Oklahoma post offices and several state universities are home to large paintings created as part of Depression-era New Deal art projects. These and related works are described in the exhibit.

Included are seven large works from the collection of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Among these are two circa 1940 murals sections by Woody Crumbo (Potawatomie) and Archie Blackowl (Southern Cheyenne), both of which were recovered from the Fort Sill Indian School in Lawton.

Two additional paintings--mural sketches by Crumbo and Blackowl-- also are featured. They have been borrowed from the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa. Recent mural painting activity is represented by the work of Claremore artist Robert Taylor (Cherokee/Blackfeet) and Hopi artist Michael Kabotie.

While Indian mural painting has its origins in the distant past of the American Southwest, it is an art form that has persisted to modern times. Steve Grafe, the Museum’s curator of American Indian art, wrote in an autumn 2008 article in the Museum’s Persimmon Hill magazine, “Twentieth-century Indian mural painting began during the 1930s. In 1932, the Santa Fe Indian School gathered a group of Indian artists and encouraged them to paint the walls of the school’s dining room. After the cafeteria murals were completed, these same artists formed a mural guild. They continued creating oversize works on canvas.”

In conjunction with the “American Indian Mural Painting” exhibition, two educational programs are on tap in 2009. On March 13, a bus tour will take participants to several New Deal mural sites in central Oklahoma. Reservations can be made by calling (405) 478-2250, Ext. 264. On April 21, Michael Kabotie will lecture about his art. Kabotie is an accomplished muralist and his work is featured in the exhibition, which remains on display in the Arthur and Shifra Silberman Gallery through May 3.

Patrons interested in the American Indian Mural Painting exhibition may also be attracted to the adjacent Native American Gallery. According to a recent Museum survey, it is one of the most popular permanent galleries. The displays illustrate how American Indians expressed their world view through design elements on clothing, tools and utensils.

The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum is provided support from Museum Partners Devon Energy Corporation, Chesapeake Energy Corporation, the E.L. and Thelma Gaylord Foundation. Supported through memberships and private and corporate donations, the Museum is located in Oklahoma City's Adventure District at the junction of I-35 and I-44. The Museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. but closed New Year’s Day, January 1.

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