Gilcrease features comprehensive exhibit of 1960s-70s Native artist

Gilcrease features comprehensive exhibit of 1960s-70s Native artist
(Peabody Essex Museum) The ‘T.C. Cannon: At the Edge of America’ exhibit will be featured at the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa through Oct. 7.

Sterling Cosper/Manager

‘T.C. Cannon: At the Edge of America’ hosted through Oct. 7

TULSA, Oklahoma — Native artist T.C. Cannon was known for breaking with convention, which reflected American culture during the time in which he made his most famous works.

“Really shifting colors from what you would see in the natural world. So he incorporates that really vivid electric use of color into his work, almost psychedelic,” Gilcrease Museum Senior Curator and Curator of Art Laura Fry said on ‘Mvskoke Radio.’

The Gilcrease is featuring a rarely extensive exhibit of his work through Oct. 7 called ‘T.C. Cannon: At the Edge of America’ organized by Karen Kramer through the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts.

“They were going to galleries to try and track down who might have purchased the piece, and then at some point they were just using Facebook to contact brothers and cousins of someone who might own a piece or going through Instagram or social media; doing Google searches,” Fry said.

Fry said Cannon (Kiowa/Caddo) was influenced at a young age by the Kiowa Six, who were some of the first professionally-trained Native artists and became famous for portrayals of their traditions, according to

“But then he really does this radical shift and brings in global influences into his work and portrays Native people in the present day, and not just as a relic of the past and in ways that really challenge stereotypes,” she said.

Fry said showcasing Cannon fits with their mission to get back to highlighting modern artists like the museum founder, Muscogee (Creek) citizen Thomas Gilcrease did in his own day through the 1940s-50s.

“We have many historic Kiowa objects in the Gilcrease collection and he can help us bring that story to the present and show how these cultures and art forms continue to evolve and change,” she said.

The featured broad representation of his work is made up of the eclectic mediums that Cannon explored, which also included poetry, songwriting and singing.

“To kind of bring it up to the present day, the Peabody Essex Museum invited the really wonderful artist, Oklahoma singer Samantha Crane who is Choctaw, they invited her to compose music to one of T.C. Cannon’s poems and also to compose her own song responding to the mural that T.C. Cannon produced,” Fry said.

‘Epochs in Plains History’ is a 22-foot long mural that reflects his style of bringing Native culture to the modern day.

Fry said it starts on the right side with images of what he called the old people from the beginning of time and ends on the right with a gourd dancer in contemporary clothing walking off the edge.

“It took an entire day to unpack that crate, unroll the painting. We had a whole team,” she said.

To further round out Cannon’s connection to social activism, music and poetry, several events are set through the fall that will feature live performances, food trucks and appearances from known artists like Joy Harjo.

An exhibition catalog for sale also features Harjo’s work as well as Heather Ahtone from the American Indian Cultural Center in Oklahoma City and Deana McCloud from the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa.

Cannon’s art was influenced by his military service in the Vietnam War and along with recognition by fellow artists, his work has elicited response from other veterans.

“One of our docents who is a Vietnam veteran himself came and said, ‘you know I’ve never heard of this artist’ but he was just so moved, he was almost brought to tears by seeing the show and just thought it was fantastic,” Fry said.

The event has also afforded an opportunity for his family to come and pay respects.

“Many of them of course live here in Oklahoma and might be a couple hours away but some of his family members left sweetgrass and prayer ties in the exhibition to honor him, and we left them there and put a small note next to them and respectfully asked people to leave them in place,” Fry said.

Cannon passed away at the young age of 31.

Fry said the poem ‘The Apathetic Indian’ featured in the exhibit, captures Cannon’s spirit and is about dealing with the ambiguity of his art career, ending with him musing about possibly ending up at the Guggenheim.

“Some of the work has some humor in it; it has some very serious themes in it. But he’s really thinking maybe this kid from Oklahoma can end up touring Europe and showing his work in New York City and Washington, D.C., and he was able to do this even in his own lifetime,” she said.

To learn more about the exhibit and accompanying events visit and the museum Facebook page

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