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Get the Full Story
Date posted:  February 3, 2016

Anthropology is the study of humanity in all dimensions: cultural, social, historical, biological, and linguistic. At Gilcrease, the anthropology collection and the work of the Department of Anthropology focus on the cultural history of North, Central, and South America, from the first prehistoric populations up to the present-day. The collections comprise more than 250,000 objects, covering prehistoric and historic archaeology and ethnographic materials from Native American, Hispanic, and Anglo-American cultural traditions. These diverse materials help tell the story of the many peoples and cultures that have made the North American continent experience unique and complex.

Thomas Gilcrease employed a number of methods to create the core anthropological collections of the museum. These included purchase of individual objects, acquisition of complete collections assembled by others, and assembly of collections through systematic research. Clear examples for each type of collecting activity can be isolated in the anthropological materials of the museum.

In the late 1940s Gilcrease began to add anthropological objects to his growing collections of fine art a few selected pieces at a time. In the late 1940s and early 1950s he turned to the same strategy he had employed in building the fine art collections of the museum, purchasing private collections of significant scale and quality. 

Following the original transfer of his collection to the City of Tulsa in 1955, Gilcrease continued to collect fine art and manuscript materials although this activity was eclipsed by his growing interest in archaeology. The subsequent addition of other private collections in the late 1950s and early 1960s added geographic and temporal scope to the anthropology holdings of the museum. 

The anthropology collections at Gilcrease have continued to grow since the death of our founding patron. Through his bequest, the Gilcrease Foundation donated the collections he had acquired between 1955 and 1962. The addition of these extensive archaeological materials to the permanent collection established the national reputation of the Anthropology Department of Gilcrease Museum.