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Indigenous Paintings at Gilcrease Museum

As Gilcrease Museum sits on the ancestral and removed lands of numerous tribal nations, and as our founder was a citizen of the Muscogee Nation, our attention to the Indigenous-made pieces in the collection is opportune and overdue. Researching Indigenous paintings in the Gilcrease collections empowers the museum, scholars, Indigenous communities, and artists to rethink the role of culture, history, and identity in the study and display of Native arts. 
     —Chelsea M. Herr, PhD, Jack and Maxine Zarrow Curator for Indigenous Art and Culture, 2021

About the Indigenous Paintings

The Gilcrease Museum’s collection of Native American paintings and drawings spans more than 150 years of visual expression, and includes nearly 2,500 works on a variety of mediums including hide, paper, and canvas. It embodies the wealth of artistic, aesthetic, and stylistic diversity of the thirty-nine federally recognized tribes of Indian Territory, as well as Indigenous nations across the United States...

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Read about 80 Artworks

New research by curatorial scholar Jordan Poorman Cocker (Kiowa [Cáuigù], Tongan) was rooted in an oral history–based Indigenous research methodology of Daum Yì:dop, which roughly translates to “touching the Earth.” This process includes extensive input from the artists and their descendants or tribes, and it gives an Indigenous perspective and interpretation to 80 works of art, corrects previous inaccuracies, and enriches the story of America’s Indigenous past and present. Cocker was assisted by Chelsea Herr, Gilcrease’s curator for Indigenous art and culture. The 80 objects with their texts can stand on their own as a source of information about the work of art, and you can read them in any order.

Explore 80 Highlights

Indigenous Artists

Of the more than 200 Indigenous painters in the Gilcrease collection, 47 were selected for this project. Of those, biographies were written for 10 artists, giving further context to their life and work. 

Browse works by 47 artists and 10 artist biographies

Explore Ideas

Browse: Indigenous Women Artists in the Gilcrease Collection

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Browse: Honoring the Boarding School Survivors: Indigenous Artists in the Gilcrease Collection

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Browse: Gilcrease Museum’s Indigenous Paintings: Relationships between People, Artworks, and Material Culture

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Browse: Bacone College: A Legacy of Indigenous Art in Indian Territory

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Browse: The Kiowa Six: Painting Oral Histories

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Browse: Exploring Graphic Visual Languages: Indigenous Paintings on Hide

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Daum Yì:dop (Touching the Earth)

Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa is situated on the unceded territory of the Osage Nation, who, along with the Wichita, Caddo, Quapaw, Pawnee, and other Indigenous communities, were the original stewards of this land. These nations all called this place “home” before the federal policies of forced removal and the eventual land runs led to an influx of other communities... 

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The grant from the Henry Luce Foundation enabled Gilcrease Museum to research and digitize more than 2,500 Indigenous paintings and drawings in its collection. Devoting resources and attention to Gilcrease’s Indigenous-made works was relevant and long overdue: the museum sits on the ancestral and removed lands of numerous tribal nations; its founder, Thomas Gilcrease, was a citizen of the Muscogee Nation; and the institution is the steward of hundreds of thousands of artistic and anthropological objects and archival materials. Until now, however, the museum’s collection of Indigenous paintings was sorely under-researched, and many works that relate to the history of Oklahoma—some predating statehood—were unavailable to scholars, museum professionals, and the wider public.

One goal was to rethink the role of culture, history, and identity in the study and display of Native arts, and this project serves as a catalyst for more ethical, appropriate, and inclusive research and representation in colonial institutions. To this end, curatorial scholar Jordan Poorman Cocker used a place-based Indigenous arts research practice centered on the artists’ connections to land as well as their biography or lived experience. She sought to uphold Indigenous sovereignty by prioritizing the voices, experiences, and ancestral or treaty territories of artists whose works exemplify pivotal shifts in Indigenous art and point to the past, present, and future trajectories of Indigenous painting practices. She corrected previous colonial misinterpretations of the artworks, removed offensive terms from titles, and, where possible, interviewed artists, their descendants, or tribal members to gain greater insight into the artworks and the scenes or people they depict.

Poorman Cocker narrowed her research to 47 artists and 80 works of art, and the brief texts she wrote to accompany these objects provide deeper contextual information about Indigenous art, culture, and tribal practices, as well as the fraught history of Native Americans in the United States. Each object text is self-contained, and you can read them in any order. If you would like to review the collection in a more systematic manner, however, we have grouped them into six thematic essays.


                                            Gilcrease Museum thanks the Henry Luce Foundation for making this project possible:

Henry Luce Foundation

The Henry Luce Foundation seeks to enrich public discourse by promoting innovative scholarship, cultivating new leaders, and fostering international understanding. Established in 1936 by Henry R. Luce, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Time, Inc., the Luce Foundation advances its mission through grantmaking and leadership programs in the fields of Asia, higher education, religion and theology, art, and public policy.

A leader in art funding since 1982, the Luce Foundation's American Art Program supports innovative museum projects nationwide that advance the role of visual arts of the United States in an open and equitable society, and the potential of museums to serve as forums for art-centered conversations that celebrate creativity, explore difference, and seek common ground. The Foundation aims to empower museums and arts organizations to reconsider accepted histories, foreground the voices and experiences of underrepresented artists and cultures, and welcome diverse collaborators and communities into dialogue. 

Absentee-Shawnee Tribe of Indians
Alabama-Quassarte Tribal Town
Apache Tribe of Oklahoma
Caddo Nation of Oklahoma
Cherokee Nation
Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes
Chickasaw Nation
Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma
Citizen Potawatomi Nation
Comanche Nation
Delaware Nation
Delaware Tribe of Indians
Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma
Euchee (Yuchi) Tribe of Indians
Fort Sill Apache Tribe of Oklahoma
Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma
Kaw Nation
Kialegee Tribal Town
Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma
Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma
Miami Tribe of Oklahoma
Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma
Muscogee Nation
Osage Nation
Otoe-Missouria Tribe of Indians
Ottawa Tribe of Oklahoma
Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma
Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma
Ponca Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma
Quapaw Nation
Sac & Fox Nation
Seminole Nation of Oklahoma
Seneca-Cayuga Nation
Shawnee Tribe
Thlopthlocco Tribal Town
Tonkawa Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma
United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma
Wichita and Affiliated Tribes (Wichita, Keechi, Waco, and Tawakonie)
Wyandotte Nation

Indigenous curator, scholar, and artist Jordan Poorman Cocker is an enrolled member of the Kiowa Tribe and of Tongan descent. She holds a BA in design from Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand, where she is also a PhD candidate. In 2017 she received an MA in museum and heritage practice from Victoria University of Wellington, where her practicum included the study of Indigenous museum practices with the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Her curatorial methodology utilizes oral histories, multivocality, and Indigenous knowledge systems to explore intergenerational relationships within Indigenous art forms. Poorman Cocker is the 2021–24 Terra Foundation guest co-curator of Indigenous art for the Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University. 

Chelsea M. Herr, a citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, is Gilcrease’s inaugural Jack and Maxine Zarrow Curator for Indigenous Art and Culture. Her work is focused on advocacy, inclusion, and self-representation of Indigenous peoples and cultures in museum spaces. She holds a BA in art history from Seattle Pacific University and an MA in art history with an emphasis on Native studies from the University of California, Riverside. In May 2020, Herr earned a PhD in Native American art history from the University of Oklahoma, with a dissertation on Indigenous futurisms in the works of Native North American artists. She was guest curator of Stitched in Sovereignty: Contemporary Beadwork from Indigenous North America (2020, Couse-Sharp Historic Site, Taos) and guest co-curator of Indigenous Futurisms: Transcending Past/Present/Future (2020–21, IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, Santa Fe).

For inquires please contact Dr. Chelsea Herr, Gilcrease Museum Curator for Indigenous Art and Culture, at

Henry Luce Foundation