Indian territory edifices grace Gilcrease walls

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By Richard Mize -- The Oklahoman

TULSA, Okla. - Permanent collections often play second fiddle to splashy traveling exhibits, but the Gilcrease Museum has put Vinson Lackey's gorgeous paintings of Indian territory schools, tribal capitols, forts and other institutions on a pedestal - by hanging them on the wall.

Thomas Gilcrease himself commissioned the work, 105 paintings in all, in 1945. They line two walls adjacent to Helmerich Hall in the museum, at 1400 Gilcrease Museum Road, in northwest Tulsa not far off Interstate 244.

Anyone interested in the architectural history of Indian territory will love seeing them. The special exhibit goes away Sept. 30. It's the only place to see images of most of the buildings in pristine condition, since most are long gone or crumbling.

Tushkahomma, the Choctaw Council House built in the 1880s near the town now called Tuskahoma; Armstrong Academy, the school and one-time Choctaw capitol, built in the 1840s near present Bokchito; Wapanucka Academy, the Chickasaw girls school that opened in 1852 near present Bromide; the Cherokee Council House in Tahlequah; Sacred Heart Mission, built in the 1870s near Konawa - all are there, and many others.

Lackey was born in 1889 in Paris, Texas, and moved with his family to Hobart, then Muskogee. His father was a housing contractor in the Kiowa/Comanche/Apache lands, then in the Choctaw and Creek nations.

He interviewed early settlers and American Indians who lived near the structures, and he walked abandoned foundations and measured remaining chimneys.

But his background as a contractor's son aided his own artist's eye to give him an understanding of structural detail and the building plans and specs - and a few precious photos - he relied on.

Museum docent Joe Meeks, a former junior high school history teacher, will present a lecture on Lackey and his work on Statehood Day, Nov. 16. The time has not been set. If you're interested, call the museum: (918) 596-2700.

In the meantime, go enjoy the paintings - until Sept. 30 - because they've never been published and truly are irreplaceable.

Copyright (c) 2007, The Oklahoman. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.