Entirely new Gilcrease Museum on the way

An entirely new Gilcrease Museum is on the way. I was able to visit the “old” facility just prior to its closing.

The Gilcrease Museum has unveiled its concept design for a completely new facility, reimagining the museum from the ground up. The new 83,500-square-foot building will create opportunities for Gilcrease to explore broad, complex stories of American history, art, and culture. The re-envisioned museum will present a much-improved visitor experience and state-of-the-art exhibition space meeting today’s standards for care of the collection and touring exhibitions.

The current Gilcrease Museum facility will close to the public on July 5, 2021 for de-installation of the collection in preparation for groundbreaking of the new building in winter 2022. Gilcrease Museum houses more than 350 years of American painting, sculpture, and works on paper, including the world’s largest public holding of art of the American West, a comprehensive collection of Indigenous works from 12,000 BCE to the 21stcentury, and more than 100,000 manuscripts, photographs, maps, rare books, and other material related to the history of the Americas from the 15th–20th centuries as part of the Helmerich Center for American Research.

Location on the Osage Nation

The new Gilcrease Museum is conceptually centered on reconnecting humankind to nature. Located within the Osage Nation reservation boundaries, the new building design contains subtle references to Osage culture. The museum is conceived to align cardinal directions with natural elements and experiences: north/sky; south/earth; west/night; and east/day.

The color and material palettes for the building reflect the art deco styles found throughout Tulsa, including the use of stone and gilded metals in concert with natural tones of the land and sky. The lower level of the building is comprised of earth tones, creating a connection to the ground, while the upper level utilizes sky tones, blurring the line between architecture and the sky.

A three-story atrium helps orient visitors while other spaces throughout the building frame views of Downtown and North Tulsa, and panoramic views of the Osage Hills that will create experiential moments between visitors and the “Great American Landscape” that surrounds the museum and grounds.

The sun court is an internal space for reflection that frames a view toward The Gilcrease Mausoleum, North Tulsa, and Downtown Tulsa. Credit: Courtesy of Smith Group and Gilcrease Museum.

New exhibits and exhibition spaces

With improved gallery space, the totally new Gilcrease Museum will be able to utilize its collections to tell a richer, more nuanced story of American history and culture, offering multiple perspectives and exploring the relevance of the past to today. New exhibitions and galleries designed by Gallagher & Associates in collaboration with the Gilcrease curatorial team, will be drawn from the permanent collection and organized around the themes of landscape and place; identities and communities; and healing and conflict.

Visitors will be able to engage with each of these themes through three different lenses: making (art); meaning (historical context); and relevance (current community perspectives).

An introductory space will orient visitors to the new exhibitions, allowing them to move through the galleries at their own pace, using a variety of interpretive tools, including state-of-the-art technologies. Through a mix of art, history, and anthropology representing America’s diverse populations, the new Gilcrease aims to inspire conversation and learning, challenge preconceived ideas, and become a bridge to deeper connections within the community.

A bold vision emerges

Plans for the new Gilcrease Museum began to take shape in September 2019, when a citizen-led task force appointed by the mayor reviewed proposals from 30 firms before selecting Smith Group to develop a new master plan for the campus. The design team studied the existing facility, which originally was built in 1913 and expanded numerous times, most recently in 1987, each time with different codes and standards for the care of the collection.

When it became apparent that an entirely new building would be necessary, it opened opportunities to vastly improve the visitor experience with larger galleries and more intuitive wayfinding throughout the museum. Critically, a new building allows Gilcrease to greatly enhance the long-term care of the collection through improved storage, and modern temperature and humidity controls.

Through a number of community engagement sessions conducted by the museum and design team over the last 18 months, incorporating the museum grounds into the visitor experience emerged as a priority. The museum’s master plan includes outdoor spaces where people can engage with one another and with nature.

In addition to a new building that is responsive to nature, plans for the Gilcrease campus include more than 13 miles of new walking/bike trails that will ultimately connect with trail networks throughout the city, increasing access to Gilcrease, nature, and community.

The design team will continue to refine plans through extensive consultations with many tribal nations from Oklahoma and across the country, and input from the museum’s Community Advisory Council, a group of 25 members from diverse neighborhoods throughout Tulsa.

The new Gilcrease is anticipated to be completed by the end of 2024.The new Gilcrease is funded through a combination of public and private sources. The City of Tulsa is contributing $65 million approved by voters as part of Vision Tulsa.

View from the East showing the visitors' approach to the museum . Credit: Courtesy of Smith Group and Gilcrease Museum
View from the East showing the visitors’ approach to the museum . Credit: Courtesy of Smith Group and Gilcrease Museum

About Gilcrease Museum

The Thomas Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art, known as Gilcrease Museum, houses a comprehensive and interdisciplinary collection of more than 350,000 items reflecting the art, culture, and history of North America. The museum represents hundreds of Indigenous cultures from across North and South America, with works of art and material culture from 12,000 BCE to the 21st century.

The collection includes more than 350 years of American paintings, sculptures, and works on paper, including the largest public holdings of art of the American West.

The museum is owned by the City of Tulsa, which has partnered with The University of Tulsa to manage the museum.

To learn more about Gilcrease Museum, please www.visitgilcrease.org.

About the Helmerich Center for American Research

The Helmerich Center for American Research at Gilcrease Museum houses the Gilcrease Library and Archive, a collection of more than 100,000 manuscripts, photographs, maps, rare books, print portfolios, and broadsides related to the history of America from the 15th–20th centuries, from the Spanish arrival in the Americas, to the New England colonies and Westward settler expansion, to the experiences of America’s native peoples. Through innovative research, institutional collaborations, publications, educational programming, digital services, visiting scholars’ programs, and research fellowships, the Helmerich Center for American Research is dedicated to enhancing our understanding of human society and culture.

As an institute for collections-based research, the center supports and creates opportunities for research and scholarship in the humanities, and hosts visiting faculty, students, and scholars from around the world at its 25,000 square-foot-facility.

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