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To see the world anew

‘Tour de Quartz’ brings local student artwork to Gilcrease Museum

Quartz Mountain student Easton Taite


Sometimes you have to get away before you can be found.

For 40 summers now, an arts center in the remote Wichita Mountains of southwestern Oklahoma has hosted a gathering of high school students from remote towns and big cities across the state—all chosen for their exceptional artistic ability, brought together for two weeks of intensive study and explosive growth in disciplines including creative writing, orchestra, drawing and painting, dance, photography, acting, and film.

Oklahoma’s creative future gets born again each year, 300 students at a time, at the Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute (OSAI) at Quartz Mountain. Now, a taste of that future is hanging at Gilcrease Museum, part of an exhibit called the Tour de Quartz, which annually brings student pieces created during the summer into public view at galleries across the state. Gilcrease has been the Tulsa host of the Tour for more than five years, this time placing the student work on walls that, appropriately, lead into the museum’s Creative Learning Center.

Striking pastels, acrylic self-portraits, and large-format photography by teenagers from Yukon and Guthrie and Kingfisher, on view around the corner from art by T. C. Cannon and Thomas Moran at one of the region’s most esteemed museums? OSAI’s vision doesn’t get any clearer than that. For kids whose art might otherwise be hiding in a notebook, taking up space at the Gilcrease is a really big deal.

When the Oklahoma Arts Institute was founded in 1977, then-Gov. David Boren hoped it would be a way for talented students to get high-level arts education that wasn’t readily available in schools, particularly in rural areas of the state. That hope has only grown with the years, said OAI president and CEO Julie Cohen, and today thousands of students audition every spring for a coveted spot—each of which comes with free tuition.

“Access to a program like this is especially important in Oklahoma, which over the past decade has made the deepest cuts in funding for K-12 education of any state in the nation,” Cohen said. “Many Oklahoma students simply have no access to quality arts education. By offering tuition-free attendance, we ensure that Oklahoma’s most talented students have access to arts education of the highest quality.”

That quality comes in many forms. One is world-class teachers: The likes of Richard Avedon and Maria Tallchief have taught at OSAI through the years. Students whose work is up in the Tour de Quartz studied with noted painter Geoffrey Todd Smith and international photojournalist Paul Taggart, who took them well out of their comfort zones in an atmosphere of challenge and discovery.

“I decided to ignore their age and treat it like a much more advanced workshop,” Smith said of his OSAI drawing and painting students in his artist statement. “I was completely shocked at the willingness of such young students to embrace abstraction and other complex art ideas normally reserved for much later in the study of art.”

For his part, Taggart challenged his students—part of a generation saturated with screen-sized, disappearing photos—to think more deeply about photography. “The goal was to slow the image-making process down to make each photographic decision more considered,” he said. Having students take photos without using a viewfinder—so they had to engage the subject, not the image—was just one way of exploring the possibilities in the process.

For the students, having highly gifted peers to engage with is every bit as life-changing as working with teachers who are the finest in the field. (It seems to have done some good for Megan Mullally and Tim Blake Nelson, both OSAI alums.)

“I was used to always being the best artist in the class,” said Easton Taite, whose bold pastel drawing of a Ferris wheel is a mind-bending attention-grabber. “But since the program at OSAI was full of the best artists in their classes, it was much more challenging. After OSAI, I realized that the only way to get better was to push myself. By the end of the two weeks, I felt as if I had grown more than I have done in a year on my own time.”

Booker T. Washington student Kasimir Pratt, a photographer, has a mesmerizing portrait, full of deep shadows and delicate colors, featured in the Tour de Quartz. She agreed with Taite that the peer environment at OSAI is key. “Being surrounded by people that were original and excelling in the photography world was inspiring and challenging,” she said. “There was so much talent and support at Quartz you didn’t have to worry about what others would think, which was a breath of fresh air from the competitive side of
the industry.

“It is wonderful to know that places like Quartz Mountain exist for young people to explore how much good art does for this world,” Pratt continued. “I hope that when people see my artwork in Gilcrease, they feel something. I hope others can start seeing the world in different perspectives from the work I, and everyone from Quartz, created.”

Tour de Quartz
Sept. 10 – Oct. 28 | Gilcrease Museum
1400 N. Gilcrease Museum Rd.
918.596.2700 | gilcrease.org

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