Duane King, executive director of the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, was the guest speaker at Tuesday’s Rotary Club meeting.
King spoke about the history of the Gilcrease collection and its founder Thomas Gilcrease.
“Thomas Gilcrease was responsible for the quality and beauty of the collection,” King said.
“Rural Courtship” was the first painting bought by Gilcrease following the discovery of oil on his land at Glenpool, according to King.
Following his second divorce, Gilcrease collected European art which helped him to see the value of American art, explained King.
“He opened a museum in San Antonio, Texas, but it never received the support he needed,” said King.
King called Gilcrease’s acquisition of the Cole Collection of Native American art, more than 600 pieces, as Gilcrease’s shrewdest purchase.
Gilcrease, who had made his purchases with an unlimited budget, went into debt in the 1950s.
In 1954, the citizens of Tulsa voted three to one for a public referendum to pay of Gilcrease’s debts.
“I don’t think that’s happened anywhere else,” King said. “Within a few years, he was able to pay the city back. Gilcrease’s donation of his collection to the city gave the city a treasure we all can enjoy.”
A special exhibit called “Thomas Gilcrease and the Making of an American Treasure” will be held at the museum June 6 through Jan. 1.
Another exhibit being planned will show State Capital art.
The Gilcrease collection was given to the City of Tulsa in 1955. The city recently entered into partnership with the University of Tulsa, which is now responsible for the day-to-day management of the museum.
Because of that connection between the two, King also serves as vice president of museum affairs at Tulsa University.
It was the outstanding reputation of the museum and the positive relationship between the museum and the university that enticed King to accept the positions a year ago.
Many of the Rotarians seemed surprised that there is a copy of the Declaration of Independence signed by Benjamin Franklin in the archives of the museum.
“I think the collection of written materials is perhaps the most underused part of the collection,” King said.
Because there is not enough staff, the archive is not open to the general public, but people can call the museum’s library and make an appointment.
“Because paper needs special care, some pieces are not available,” King said.
King expressed his pride in the association the museum has with Miami native Charles Banks Wilson.
“He’s one of the most important artists to come out of Tulsa,” King said.
He informed the Rotarians that the citizens of Oklahoma have an opportunity to become charter members of the museum for free through the end of June. Charter members will receive the museum’s newsletter and notice of upcoming exhibits on the Internet and discounts in the gift shop.