July 08--STILLWATER, Okla. -- When Charles Ford became a member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives in 1966, there were few embellishments to the Oklahoma State Capitol. Early Oklahoma history and some leading people were featured in photographs and inexpensive prints hung on the walls. There were some paintings funded by oilman Frank Phillips in the 1920s and the Oklahoma Arts and Humanities Council had added a few murals and portraits.
Ford found little interest in fine art among the legislators but eventually renovations were needed to the building itself. After serving 14 years as a representative, Ford was elected to the Oklahoma State Senate in 1980. There was momentum to change the look of the capitol and significant changes occurred in 1994 when the Senate Chamber and Lounge and the House Lounge were restored. Ford, an art and antique collector for most of his life, initiated a program in 1997 to replace the prints in the Senate Lounge.
"I commissioned Oklahoma artist Wayne Cooper to paint Washington Irving's historic meeting with the Osage in 1832," he said. "When the painting was dedicated the idea of adding original art by Oklahoma artists to the capitol caught on."
Ford created the Oklahoma State Senate Historical Preservation Fund. As the new century dawned, more works of art were commissioned each year as legislators saw what an important difference they created. Due to term limits, Ford retired from the legislature in 2004 but he still continues in his mission to beautify the capitol with the collection growing to 160 pieces.
"This is the people's house. It is far more than our seat of government -- it represents the unique history of this land and the people who made it their home," Ford said. "It's important for us to ensure it is a source of pride for all Oklahomans."
Ford, along with Oklahoma State University Art Museum Postal Plaza Gallery Director Victoria Rowe Berry, has selected works from the Senate Collection for a new exhibit opening Monday in Stillwater. "Framing History: Highlights from the Oklahoma State Capitol Senate Collection" celebrates artists and their process for capturing the narrative. After the borrowed exhibit leaves the Postal Plaza Gallery, the Oklahoma Senate Collection will be officially transferred into the state's records and will no longer travel. Many pieces will return to some restricted locations which can only be seen on private tours of the capitol.
"This exhibition offers a rare opportunity to view so many selections from the Oklahoma State Capitol Collection here at the Postal Plaza Gallery in Stillwater," Berry said.
The exhibit shares the culture of Oklahoma while also celebrating the process of making art and telling stories. Several sculptures are included.
"It's a nice history lesson, particularly the early days of the state," Ford said.
The 51 pieces brought to Stillwater represent various events and several of the state's famous citizens including Mike Wimmer's portrait of T. Boone Pickens and Harold Holden's painting of Frank Eaton who was the man that OSU mirrored for the school's mascot Pistol Pete.
"The artists in the exhibition come from differing perspectives in framing the stories they tell in their paintings," Berry said.
She said that Ford's interest in framing helps convey the historical approach to the collection. Although most of the selections have been created in the past 15 years, "I did not want people to look at the painting and think it was painted yesterday," Ford said.
He preferred finished corners and period-style frames dating from the 1880s. Sometimes he bought cheap art, just to acquire a frame in his quest to find the best framing styles for commissioned works. If an antique frame was available, he often asked the artist to paint a canvas to fit the frame. Berry said the frames shape the story painted within, providing a window into Oklahoma's rich history.
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: Framing History: Highlights from the Oklahoma State Capitol Senate Collection
WHERE: OSU Art Museum Postal Plaza Gallery
720 South Husband Street
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday
July 7 to October 18
Opening reception: 5-7 p.m.August 14
Artist talk with Sonya Terpening: 2-3:30 p.m.August 15
Artist talk with Mike Wimmer: 5-6 p.m.September 18
Workshop with Mike Wimmer: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.September 20, Stillwater Multi Arts Center
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