Charles Banks Wilson, Part Deux

In 1941, Wilson, a non-Indian, married Edna McKibben, a member of the Quapaw Tribe. The Wilsons, who divorced in 1988, had two children, Geoffrey and Carrie, a former Miss Indian Oklahoma. Wilson still maintains the same studio overlooking Main Street in Miami, population 14,000. A steep stairway leads to the homey second floor hallway where walls, floors and tables are filled with treasures such as beadwork, moccasins, pottery, baskets, pipes and other items used as models in various drawings and paintings through the years.

Wilson was first introduced to lithography as a student in Chicago. Although he had worked and excelled in many other media, his preferred medium is creative lithography because he loves to draw. “Art is afterall, a means of communication, and there is nothing that communicates quite as forcefully as a line drawing.” He stresses.

One of Wilson’s first commissioned lithographs was for the Associated American Artists organization, at the suggestion of Missouri artist Thomas Hart Benton who had seen some of the young artist’s works. A close friendship later developed between the two. Wilson helped Benton find Indian models for a mural he was painting for the Harry S. Truman Library, and they carried on a lively correspondence that Wilson remembers with fondness today.

Eventually, Benton invited Wilson to paint his portrait—the only one ever made of Benton from life that he didn’t paint himself. The egg tempera portrait hangs in Wilson’s studio hallway, a few feet from a small statue of the Missouri artist which serves as a model for a larger sculpture Wilson is currently completing for the Kansas City Art Institute, MO. The small figure of Benton striding forward is bathed in white light from an old skylight over the hallway. Wilson says it was Benton’s use of design that impressed him; both artists were influenced by the light and dark patterns that played so major a role in the art of El Greco and Raphael.

Wilson’s exacting attention to lighting, as well as to research and authentic detail, is vividly illustrated by his creation of the Roots of Oklahoma murals completed in 1972 and hanging in the state capitol at Oklahoma City. The four giant murals encircle the top of the rotunda and depict the state’s history from 1541 to 1900.

After Wilson had decided on the events and people to include in the murals, he made clay models of each person and re-created his scenes using a common light source to give the characters a cohesive relationship to one another. Consequently, events that took place over a span of years appear to have happened simultaneously, on a given day. Wilson even had special lights made to duplicate natural sunlight and hung them over the huge canvas panels as he painted.

When the mural project was first conceived, some supporters wanted the panels to eulogize state heroes, but after his research, Wilson realized that the state wasn’t founded by heroes but by ordinary people. Populated by what he calls “prototypes for heroes,” the murals record people going about such activities as hunting, trapping and farming. In a like manner, Wilson says he did not paint the murals for art critics, but for taxpayers who can walk into the capitol and feel as if the murals belong to them.

Wilson credits go on and on. He has illustrated 28 books, including such classics as The Mustangs by J. Frank Dobie and an edition of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. He also illustrated numerous magazine articles and travelled the countryside producing more than 90 watercolors of Oklahoma’s lakes, streams and farms for Ford Times. Illustration work taught Wilson the benefits of research. His state-commissioned portraiture of famous Oklahomans Will Rogers, Jim Thorpe, Sequoyah and others gave him the opportunity to master the technical aspects of acrylic paints. And all of his experience came together in painting the capitol murals.

Wilson found time as well to establish the art department at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College in Miami and taught there for fifteen years. He’s written articles and book about the history and customs of the Indians of his area.

Charles Banks Wilson attributes his youthful attitude to the profession of art: “Always looking and being alert to what’s going on keeps a person young,” he observes. “One of the great things about being an artist is your enjoyment of everything you see. I’ve painted the big murals; I’ve won awards. Now, I just want to do those things I find interesting.”

In 1995 Wilson painted “Freedom’s Warrior”, which commemorates the history of Native American involvement in the U.S. armed forces, and their contributions to our country in times of war or peace. Commissioned by David W. Hearn, Jr., and currently on loan to the Clifton Steamboat Museum in Beaumont, Texas. The painting was loaned to the museum to highlight its collection of Wilson’s work.

May 9, 2007 “Charles Banks Wilson Day” was confirmed by the Oklahoma House of Representatives and the Oklahoma State Senate.

The NEO Foundation recently renovated the Charles Banks Wilson Art Gallery at NEO as a way to honor his contributions to the college. The 15,000-square-foot (1,400 m2) space will include a student gallery, classrooms, studio space, computer-graphic design studio and faculty offices.

Wilson died in his sleep at the age of 94 on May 2, 2013.

This Blog Has Been Kindly Sponsored by The Big Time Group Marketing Consultants

Comments Off on Charles Banks Wilson, Part Deux

Filed under Default

Oklahoma’s Old Master: Charles Banks Wilson

Charles Banks Wilson’s list of credits readily confirms the epithet “Oklahoma’s Old Master” bestowed upon him by museum curators and art appreciators throughout his home state.  Wilson, jokingly disapproves of the “old part of the tile.  And it doesn’t fit this energetic, enthusiastic artist who is as busy today with his painting, printmaking, sculpture and travel as he was back in the late 1930s when his career as an illustrator of rural Oklahoma with its varied landscapes, farmers, cowboys, miners and Indians began.

Born in 1918 to settlers in what was then called Indian Territory in far northeastern Oklahoma, Wilson displayed an early interest in art but received little formal training.  Instead, he pursued drawing and painting as a pastime, sometimes painting posters for the local theatre.

After high school graduation in 1936, Wilson entered the Art Institute of Chicago, IL.  When fellow students learned where he was from, they wanted to know all about the Indians of Oklahoma.  Their interest inspired him to draw Indian and western subjects from memory during his first semester and from real life during summer breaks when he attended powwows bear his Ottawa country home.

Although the American Regionalist movement predated Wilson slightly, he admits that it played an important role in his decision to return to his hometown of Miami, OK, in the summer of 1939.  Wilson’s America would not be the urban landscape that inspired regionalists John Sloan, Reginald Marsh and Edward Hopper, nor the rural life depicted by Thomas Hart Benton, Grant Wood and John Steuart Curry.  Rather, in true regionalist tradition, Wilson’s home state of Oklahoma—his place and his time—became the focus of his work.

“The American Regionalist movement emerged when people as a whole in this country were looking inward…The whole country seemed to be taking stock; and because art does not lead but reflects, artists fulfilled a social function by expressing the perception of the spectator as well as of the artist,” Wilson has written, adding, “In the nineteenth century Oklahoma had been the place of relocation for 63 Indian tribes from far corners of the country.  At that time the territory was known to be a beautiful, bounteous place, a hunter’s paradise, but it wasn’t long until pioneer Americans began to need these lands too—and there went the neighbourhood…All this set the scene for me.  The regionalist concept had prepared me to see all these phenomena as an artist.”

Set up in a studio on the second floor above his family’s downtown Miami paint store across the street from the bus station, Wilson found he was in a good spot to view the changing world before him.  Indians waiting for buses found his studio a more comfortable and inviting place than the depot lounge.  Often, the hallway outside the studio was filled with Indians talking in their respective tribal languages, smoking clay pipes or combing and braiding their hair.  Inside, Wilson worked feverishly, with scarcely a break from morning until evening, as he captured on canvas the faces that fascinated him.

“I found the essence of design in the Indian face,” he says today, seated in the same studio.  Though he paid his models 25 cents an hour—not bad wages for the time—Wilson had to work quickly.  Some subjects never returned for a second sitting; at most, he might see a sitter two or three times.

Wilson’s models knew little or nothing about art, but their judgment of his work was invaluable.  “You might say that the Indians made an artist out of me,” Wilson quips.  “All they wanted to know was whether it ‘looked’ like them, so I concentrated on getting a good likeness.  I’ve always had a strong ability to caricature—to quickly capture the essence of a subject.  If you don’t capture that spirit in the first few minutes of a sitting, you won’t get it all.”

As Wilson’s interest in the Indians developed, he learned that the rest of the world felt differently.  “I became aware of the public’s ambivalence toward them,” he writes.  “Despite its appreciation and delight in things ‘Indian,’ the public found in Indians much to criticize and discriminate against.  There was little interest in ‘modern Indians.’  After 1941, when I portrayed Indians in lithographs they were in either ceremonial or historical contexts.”

These early works show a people in transition.  Wilson soon realized that rapid societal pressures were changing forever the way that Indians lived and even how they looked:  The mixing of bloodlines through the centuries and intermarriage with non-Indians in modern times was accelerating their extinction.  Wilson decided to set his sights on “purebloods” or Indians of one tribal heritage.  His documentation would turn into a personal quest that continued for more than 40 years and resulted in a body of 148 works in a series titled “Last of the Purebloods” in 1983 the series became a touring exhibition organized by the Stoval Museum of Science and History.  Oklahoma City, OK, with an accompanying catalog illustrating 66 of the drawings.

Says Wilson, “Sometimes Indians came to my studio, but more often I went to them, drawing wherever they could be found:  in their homes, in hospitals, bars, back porches, tents, along rivers, in jails or churches, or during ceremonies.”

Most of the portraits in the collection are of tribal elders, and Wilson was lucky to find them.  He was racing against time.  One man, believed to be the last pureblood Oto, died a few days after Wilson completed his portrait.  Others died between the time they were identified as purebloods and the time a sitting could be arranged.

Comments Off on Oklahoma’s Old Master: Charles Banks Wilson

Filed under Default


Throughout his travels Borg studied the techniques of both historical and contemporary painters and developed skills in oils, watercolours, gouache, etching and woodcut. Although best known for his loose, confident, unlabored style associated with plein-air painting, Borg varied his stylistic treatment depending upon where he was and his desired effect. On location, he made pencil, watercolour or gouache studies that he brought back to the studio to be developed into major paintings. His best works are casual landscape scenes that convey an open, expansive feeling while skilfully integrating small figures which convey a sense of intimacy between the subject and nature.

Exposure to the painters of Paris, France, in 1912 must have readied Borg, if only subconsciously, for the subsequent impact French Impressionism would have on American art and on his own technique. Formal concerns of intense desert light and atmospheric conditions as they envelop and define figures in the landscape were crucial to him, as was an emphasis on forms and their placement within the context of the overall design. Still, Borg’s interpretations of the impressionistic technique varied considerably, ranging from colourful light-filled paintings produced with quick, rhythmic brush-strokes to more tightly painted works with broad, flat areas of color. Nevertheless, light was never allowed to dissolve form in his work—the paintings capture quality of light, color and spontaneity without disturbing the importance of the subject.

Borg’s fifteen-year association with the Indians of the Southwest started in 1916, when Phoebe Hearst arranged a commission from the University of California, Berkeley, and the United States Bureau of Ethnology for Borg to paint and photograph the daily activities of the Navajo and Hopi Indians. Almost every spring from 1916 to 1932 he travelled to New Mexico and Arizona, where he established warm, lasting friendships among the tribal members with whom he lived. According to Borg biographer Helen Laird, the painter “rendered… the ‘real’ American, his spirit and his land, as they were witnessed and understood by an artist who was also a historian, mystic and poet walking the edge of time. The Indians called him ‘Hasten-na-va-ha-sa,’ or ‘He Who Comes in the Spring.’”

Borg himself would state, “The Indians, of course, interested me because to my mind they are the ‘only Americans,’ a fast disappearing race, and I wanted to try and preserve some of their customs and religions in a permanent form.” Among those customs and religions were the ceremonies of the Hopi who admitted Borg into their kivas and initiated him into the Snake Clan at Shipaulovi.

From 1918 until 1925, Borg and his first wife, art student MadelineCarriel, lived in Santa Barbara, CA, in a pueblo-style home built by Borg and inspired by the old Spanish church at Zuni, NM. His reputation as a fine artist firmly established by this time, he exhibited in group and solo exhibitions while teaching and enjoying a close circle of friends. Madeline was lonely for her family, however, and in 1925 he gave into her pressure to move to Los Angeles. There Borg embarked on a five-year association with the movie industry, working as art director for Douglas Fairbanks and Samuel Goldwyn. While still pursuing his fine-art career, Borg executed hundreds of watercolours detailing scenes, movie sets and costumes for major films, including The Black Pirate, The Winning of Barbara Worth, The Gaucho and The Iron Mask.

The Great Depression was particularly difficult for artists and by the early 1930s Borg’s change in fortune and marital troubles ushered in a period of personal depression as well. The Los Angeles community had become a metropolis; representational art was out of favour as modern art became mainstream; and many of Borg’s old friends had died. Estranged from his wife, Borg travelled the West. “In a changing world, hostile to his values, Borg cleaved to old standards,” writes Laird. “His work reflects his loneliness, but never the chaos of despair. Art for Borg was order; by achieving harmony in his art, he found emotional equilibrium, but the effort seemed tremendous now, and friends, concerned to see him so unhappy, urged him to return to Sweden.

Borg made three trips to Sweden in 1934, 1936 and 1938, each time returning to either New York or Los Angeles. During his 1938 trip he married Lilly Lindstrand, whom he had met in 1936, and settled his affairs in order to become a Swedish resident again. “Borg was a prominent member of the community, the eminent Swedish-American artist who had come home. But he was not at home in Sweden for long,” relates Laird. “The euphoria of the new beginning did not survive the climate, the confinement of the war or the closer association of his bride.” Less than two years after his marriage, Borg wanted to return to the States. Lilly agreed but with the outbreak of World War II they were unable to leave until 1945. Borg had made no other plans beyond returning to Santa Barbara to paint Indians. He executed canvases in his studio from a file of field studies made in the Indian country years earlier. A year later he died of a heart attack while dining in a Santa Barbara restaurant. “He had asked that his ashes be given to the wind and the dust in the Grand Canyon, and they were,” writes laird. “There he joined his God and the spirits of the Native Americans who had made the same migration for ages.”

Borg’s legacy on canvas embraces the spirit of man and nature living in unison, a focus he felt had not been explored in the works of earlier American artists. Committed to a representational style, the artist added to it in nineteenth-century academic concepts of romantic idealism and a formal as well as spiritual intensity that responded to patterns of light, form and color. Inspired by the Indians and their blanket, pottery and basket designs, Borg captured his subject’s exuberance for life while revealing his own evolving and maturing artistic vision in the process.

As a mature artist, Carl Oscar Borg was highly regarded in his lifetime and received prestigious awards and medals in both the United States and Europe. Yet, by the time of his death, his work was almost forgotten. Except for a 1934 show of his etchings at the Smithsonian, Borg has seldom been featured in solo shows, and although his paintings are in museum, university and private collections nationally and in Europe, they have rarely been seen by the public until this exhibition.


Comments Off on CARL OSCAR BORG (Part 2)

Filed under Default

American Southwest Artist: CARL OSCAR BORG

The artistic achievements of painters of the American Southwest in the early 1900s are just now being given due scholarly attention. Overlooked since World War II in favour of mainstream modern art, southwestern painters had been considered a breed apart, their work labelled as provincial and regional and, therefore, of lesser value and interest. The most recent retrospective on Carl Oscar Borg (1879 – 1947), however, adds his name to a growing list or artists whose opuses are being re-evaluated and placed within the context of American art history.

During the latter part of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth century, many artists from Europe and the eastern United States travelled to the Southwest looking for new vistas and experiences. Swedish-born Carl Oscar Borg was among those who were particularly fascinated by the ethnic and cultural environment as well as the landscapes he found in California, Arizona and New Mexico. Using paint, brushes and canvases, Borg broadcasted the uniqueness of the mountains, canyons, vari-colored arroyos, rugged mesas and desert flats. The special quality of light in the area was a particular challenge to him especially because it emphasized the grandeur, clarity and expansiveness of the Southwest as well as adding to its mystique. Brilliantly colored skies, mountains bleached by intense sunlight, fast traveling thunderhead clouds casting sharp shadows across mesas, vast stretches of horizontal spaces, and dramatic colors and geological features demanded that artists like Borg find new formal solutions and varied approaches to painting the landscape.

Equally intriguing to Borg were the Native American cultures and lifeways. Indians in colourful ceremonial regalia provided endless subjects. So, too, did the multi-storied stone structures of the Hopis. Ladders, chimneys and protruding vigas became favourite details in Borg’s paintings, transcending their functional roles to create dramatic shadows and patterns of light and dark.

Yet for Borg, the Indian was always a mystery, representing an ancient, unspoiled heritage. His pictorial descriptions of them are as evocative of that mystery today as they were when first created.

Borg’s story began in the small farming community of Dals-Grinstad, Sweden, where his boyhood dream was to become a professional artist. Discouraged in that pursuit by his father, Borg sought out friends—a Lutheran minister and hos wife—for encouragement. They admired his drawings, took notice of his intelligence and gave him his first set of oils, as well as access to their extensive library. Although he lacked a sustained formal art education, Borg would take this early training with him when, in 1901, at the age of 22, he set sail for the United States in exchange for paintings for the captain’s cabin. A couple of years later, he moved to California, which became home base for his travels throughout the American Southwest, Europe, Central America and North Africa.

A key figure in the Los Angeles, CA, art scene of the early decades of the twentieth century, Borg played a major role in the development of the cultural and artistic heritage of the American West. He was a founding member of several art organizations, among them: The Painters Club (1906), California Art Club (1909), California Watercolor Society (1921), Painters of the West (1924), American Scandinavian Art Society of the West (1925), Foundation of Western Art (1932) and the Academy of Western Art (1934).

Among his lifelong friends Borg counted Los Angeles Times art critic Antony Anderson; cultural leaders Charles and Eva Lummis; Everett C. Maxwell, the first curator of art at the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art; and artists Tomas Moran, Edward Borein and William Wendt. Civic leader and art patron Mary Gibson made it possible for Borg to travel with her in 1908 to Central America for six months to sketch, paint and photograph, and Phoebe Apperson Hearst (mother of media magnate William Randolph Hearst) sponsored a four-year tour of Europe and North Africa beginning in 1910 so that Borg could visit major cities, museums and archaeological sites. Hearst was so impressed with Borg’s work that she remained his chief supporter until her death in 1919.

Comments Off on American Southwest Artist: CARL OSCAR BORG

Filed under Default

Indian Reservations

There are more than 550 federally recognized Indian tribes in the United States, including 223 village groups in Alaska. “federally recognized” means thse tribes and groups have a special legal relationship with the U.S. government.

An Indian reservation is land reserved for a tribe after it has given up its other land areas to the U.S. There are approximately 275 Indian land areas in the U.S. administered as Indian reservations. These have the largest populations:

Navajo (Arizona, new mexico and Utah)

Pine Ridge (Nebraska and south Dakota)

Fort Apache (Arizona)

Gila River (Arizona)

Papago (Arizona)

Rosebud (South Dakota)

San Carlos (Arizona)

Zuni Pueblo (Arizona and New Mexico)

Hopi (Arizona)

Blackfeet (Montana)

Here are the largest American Indian tribes:












Canadian and Latin American tribes



Tohono O’Odham




Alaskan Athabaskans



Many American places have been named after Indian words. In fact, about half of the states got their names from Indian words. The name of Kentucky comes form an Iroquoian word (Kentahten), which means “land of tomorrow.” Connecticut’s name comes from a Mohican word (Quinnehtukqut), which means “beside the long tidal river.” Here are some other indian place names.

Chicago (Illinois): Algonquian for “garlic field”

Mississippi (river): Indian word in several languages for “great water”

Manhattan (New York): Algonquian, believed to mean “isolated thing in water”

Milwaukee (Wisconsin): Algonquian, believed to mean “a good spot or place”

Niagara (falls): named after an Iroquoian town, Ongiaahra

Pensacola (Florida): Choctaw words for “hair” and “people”

Saratoga (New York): believed to be Mohawk for “springs (of water) from the hillside”

Tahoe (lake in California/Nevada): Washo for “big water”


Comments Off on Indian Reservations

Filed under Default

American Indians/ Native Americans

American Indians are indigenous to North and South America—they are the people who were here before Columbus and other European explorers came to this land. They live (and lived) in nations, tribes, and bands across both continents. For decades following the arrival of Europeans, American Indians clashed with the newcomers who had ruptured the Indian’s way of living. For centuries to come, Indians were often displaced, became assimilated or even worse, killed.



During the nineteenth century, both United States legislation and military action restricted the movement of American Indians, forcing them to live on reservations and attempting to dismantle tribal structures. In 1924, the Indian citizenship act granted citizenship to all American Indians. Unfortunately, this was not enough to end the social discrimination and mistreatment that many Indians have faced. Today, with over two million American Indians living in the U.S. this group still faces challenges.



May of the more than 560 recognized tribes in the United States live primarily on reservations. Some tribes have more than one reservation, while others have none. Together these reservations make up less than 3 percent o the nations land area. The tribes have the right to form their own governments and enforce laws, similar to individual states. Many feel that this sovereignty is still not enough to right the wrongs of the past and hope for a change in the U.S. government’s relationship with American Indians.


Comments Off on American Indians/ Native Americans

Filed under Default