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. 

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Behind the Scenes

The Anthropology Collection is currently closed to all visiting students, artists, scholars, and curators.

The Anthropology Collections storage area is undergoing a complete redesign, expansion, and reconstruction in 2016-2017. With the help of funds from the Improve Our Tulsa sales tax, the Anthropology Department will double in space and include Space Saver compacting storage shelving as well as a larger and separate work space to accommodate staff, volunteers, and researchers. The last upgrade and expansion of the Anthropology storage space was in 1984, and the collection has outgrown its space once again. With the addition of compacting shelves and a larger space, the Anthropology collection will be housed to current archival standards, be more accessible, and have room for growth.

Construction and renovation activities require the relocation of the more than 250,000 objects in the collection. In preparation for the relocation, the Anthropology Collections staff and volunteers have been rehousing and inventorying objects along with carefully moving the entire collection to a temporary storage area on-site so the existing space can be renovated. By the fall of 2017, the collection will be reinstalled in its newly constructed home and available for research. Check back for updates on the progress!