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A gorgeous man’s shirt on display at the Gilcrease Museum.

The CCO Conference was open to all Cherokees, but there was a special trip planned afterward for At Large Cherokees. These are the Cherokees who live outside “the 14 counties” considered to be Cherokee country in Oklahoma.*

First thing Sunday morning we piled into vans and went to the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, and arrived before they were open. This was because the Universe wanted to feed my soul. I had been inside a hotel for the greater part of three days and my nature-spirit was dying. The only thing to do while waiting for the doors to open was to visit the adjacent garden. I was also cold and needed to thaw out.

One thing I can never figure out about desert-dwellers is their love affair with air conditioning. And I’m not talking cool-things-off-a-bit AC, what I mean is let’s-recreate-the-arctic AC. If it’s 90 degrees outside, I think cooling things off to 70, maybe 68 is appropriate. But instead we get 54 degrees (maybe I’m exaggerating) and I need to wear boots and a jacket indoors when it’s summer. What a waste of resources. Anyhow, what I’m getting to is that my body needed some warmth. I flew in from a region with a heat deficit to begin with, and then was in a climate-controlled building. I was ready for summer weather!

Let me assure you, after 30 minutes of waiting for the museum to open, I turned into a much happier Crystal. Warm and filled with the quiet sounds and scenes of nature.

The garden has a walking path around a pond, where I tried to identify plants. Luckily I spotted the poison ivy before I walked through it, and also luckily another Cherokee near me pointed to a tree and named it. It was probably the first Redbud I have seen, and I thought of Laurie who is not shy about her love of the tree. The trail passed a demonstration Pre-Columbian garden with plants known to have been in those earliest gardens. Near that was a demonstration pioneer garden. I watched red birds flash through and could not get a photo. Then I listened to the most astonishing bird call that never repeated itself. Cheeps, trills, clicks, warbles – this bird had it all. I was in awe! I think it was a scissor-tailed flycatcher. Oh how I wish I could hear this Maestro every day. I spotted a frog and a turtle too. I’ve had a knack for seeing turtles lately. I didn’t tell you that I found one on my island in the pond at home before I left. But I did tell you about the turtle on the walking trail in Tulsa, and now a turtle at the Museum garden. Pretty good for a girl who has to wear glasses.

The museum has developed 23 acres into themed gardens. I walked through Stuart Park, which holds the Pre-Columbian and Pioneer Gardens.

Statue beside the pond in Stuart Park.

A turtle! One thing I did not expect to find in Oklahoma was so much water: streams, rivers, lakes, ponds…water is everywhere in this part of the state.

After my soul was filled up, I hiked back up the hill to the museum. I was in for a treat. The long name for the Gilcrease Museum is Thomas Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art. It was founded by Gilcrease, a member of the Creek Nation. The collection today holds paintings and sculptures from famous artists of the American West, like Charles M Russell, Albert Bierstadt, Frederick Remington, Thomas Moran, Georgia O’Keeffe and John James Audubon. Our guide told us that the museum is famous for Southwestern Art, and since I’m from the West, that brings to mind a particular style of art. I was soon delighted to find that my assumption was wrong, and while the collection includes faves like original CM Russells (I’ve got a print on my wall at home), most of the art draws from creators across the Americas. Indigenous carvings and masks from Central and South America, a Tlingit totem pole from Alaska, a photographic collection of Indigenous people of the West, and another of landscapes. What I love the most, at nearly every museum, is the classic style of oil paintings of real world scenes that tell a story or beg me to escape into them. And portraits by masters. I could stare for hours at portraits.

The Gilcrease Museum leans heavily on Indian artists and Indian themes and Indian influence. It felt warm and validating to be there surrounded by Cherokee people, in a Cherokee part of the country, with Cherokee art on every side of me. I noticed the unfamiliar feeling of validation regarding this weak little Indian vein flowing through me and trying to get bigger. Wanting validation for being Indian is not something I think much about and did not realize I was craving it. Maybe it’s harder to be Indian when there is nothing Indian around me. But there in the museum, being Indian was practically cheered at me. It felt so good.

I think my jabbering will not add much to the experience, so I’ll just fill the rest with photos and captions. Please enjoy the ones I’ve chosen for you.

The Mourners by Joseph Henry

If I could hang Sierra Nevada Morning by Albert Bierstadt on a wall in my home, I’d never have to rent movies. I could just sit in front of this painting and disappear into it.

Blackhawk and His Son Whirling Thunder by John Wesley Jarvis

A painting of Mt. Hood! It was pretty fun to discover this one, while visiting as a representative of the Mt. Hood Cherokees.

I tend to love the paintings best in any museum, but this one had many other impressive displays, that were not of oil and canvas. Though we were not able to see it, there are documents here like an original copy of the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. We saw less valuable but still exciting documents.

An actual cast of Abraham Lincoln’s face hovers above casts of his hands.

Our van driver, Kevin, gets a close-up shot of this amazing story created from string glued in place.

Close up

We spent a lot of time OOooo-ing and AAhhhh-ing over the Plains Indians displays of clothing, moccasins, and bags, with beadwork on everything. Some of the stitching and beading too intricate to be believed without seeing it yourself.

So many beautiful moccasins.

Dresses I would be proud to wear.

Indian toys.

Beaded tobacco bag.

Sequoyah

Plaque beneath the Sequoyah statue. Please click the image to be able to read it. Seqyoyah is the most famous Cherokee because, among other things, he invented our written language.

One of the At Large Cherokees gets a photo of the famous statue, found on many Oklahoma license plates.

*If you’re curious, this is from the Cherokee Nation website: The Cherokee Nation is not a reservation; it is a 7,000 square mile jurisdictional area covering all of eight counties and portions of six additional counties in Northeastern Oklahoma. As a federally-recognized Indian tribe, the Cherokee Nation has both the opportunity and the sovereign right to exercise control and development over tribal assets which include 66,000 acres of land as well as 96 miles of the Arkansas Riverbed.

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The tea house

The Tower of Cosmic Reflection tea house

Right in the middle of Chinatown (but of course), Portland boasts the lovely Lan Su Chinese Garden. There is bounty for the senses in this carefully arranged space. Occupying the land of one city block, it doesn’t look like much from the outside, and that makes the experience even more remarkable when you step inside.

This is a view of the gardens from the street outside.

This is a view of the gardens from the street outside.

This authentic Chinese garden is so well designed that it is restorative simply to be there.

This authentic Chinese garden is so well designed that it is restorative simply to be there.

A boat rests in a clump of vegetation, and shelters fish in its shadows.

A boat rests in a clump of vegetation, and shelters fish in its shadows.

Portland’s sister city is Suzhou, famous for its gardens. Sounds from the word Portland and Suzhou were taken to form the name Lan (orchid) Su (arise/awaken), so the name of the garden can be poetically interpreted as Garden of Awakening Orchids. It was completed in 2000 by professional artisans from Suzhou in only 10 months, using materials that came primarily from China (including all that rock – wow!).

It’s surprising how much of the city outside disappears once inside the garden.

From the scholar's courtyard I could see camellias and tall buildings.

From the scholar’s courtyard I could see camellias and tall buildings.

The drip tiles display five bats representing the five blessings of long life, fortune, health, a love of virtue, and a painless passing.

The drip tiles display five bats representing the five blessings of long life, fortune, health, a love of virtue, and a painless passing.

We arrived just as a tour was beginning, so we followed the group on stone-paved paths beneath covered walkways  and through courtyards and buildings. When the tour was over we continued to wander wherever our fancy took us.

After some time the sky darkened and the rain fell harder, and we stepped into the tea house. We were able to select from a large menu of teas which was brought to us in a tea service. After we were shown how to properly use the tea service, we were left to enjoy it. Tara ordered a moon cake, and we shared that. The sweetened bean paste reminded me of the bean paste desserts I had in Japan.

The inscription above the moon door reads "Listen to the Fragrance," encouraging us to use our senses in new ways.

The inscription above the moon door reads “Listen to the Fragrance,” encouraging us to use our senses in new ways.

The stone tiles are particularly remarkable throughout the garden. The pattern changes to suit each section.

The stone tiles are particularly remarkable throughout the garden. The pattern changes to suit each section.

Tara practiced calligraphy with water on a stone.

Tara practiced calligraphy with water on a stone.

A skyscraper towers above the Hall of Brocade Clouds.

A skyscraper towers above the Hall of Brocade Clouds.

Sunbeam casts winter shadows.

Sunbeam casts winter shadows.

Attention to detail is rich in every part of the garden, including the insides of the buildings, constructed to represent the types of structures found in the actual garden of a wealthy family.

Attention to detail is rich in every part of the garden, including the insides of the buildings, constructed to represent the types of structures found in the actual garden of a wealthy family.

Our tea service.

Our tea service.

This musician played for everyone in the tea house.

This musician played for everyone in the tea house.

It was a good way to share the day with with my child, and I’m so glad I have a teenager who was actually excited to come here and couldn’t wait to eat a bean cake. Tara is so very different than who I was at age 17, and I am in awe of that wonderful person.

Tara poses with the lion at the entrance to the garden.

Tara poses with the lion at the entrance to the garden.

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