This is our third foray into Oklahoma, and perhaps the most interesting. The land around Tulsa is prosperous -- what with oil and some high-tech Phillips Museum garden and ranches on the rolling hills and the navigable Arkansas River. The Waite Phillips mansion (Mrs. Phillips raised three oil millionaires) now houses an art collection in Tulsa, and the surrounding homes ain't so bad to look at, either.
We had a lot of fun heading north from Tulsa to see a whole clutch of museums. First we went to Dewey, where we photographed the 1899 Dewey Hotel and the Tom Mix Museum, though we were too early in the day for Tom Mix and too late in the year for the Hotel. Still, we can imagine what they would have been like. There was a big Tom Mix mural painted on the side of the museum. We headed back to Bartlesville for a driving tour. Frank Lloyd Wright built his only skyscraper here; there's a story that some of the furniture had to be disassembled to fit in the four-person elevator, then reassembled in the rooms on the upper floors. According to the architect it was supposed to represent "a tree that escaped the Wright's skyscraper crowded forest." The Frank Phillips home looked substantial, as did its neighbors, and the Phillips hotel is open for business, looking more like an apartment building than a hotel. The Research Center has been renamed Conoco-Phillips; we wonder how much longer Phillips will stay part of the oil company's name.
West of town we found the Red Dirt Soap Company, up the hill on a side road, with a fragrant collection of soaps, salts, and oils; just down the street from the Keepsake Candle Factory and Country Store.
By then it was nearly ten, and places were opening up, so we drove south on highway 123 to Woolaroc, Frank Phillips' ranch and hideaway. He used to hold annual parties for the local cowboys, indians, and outlaws, and developed quite a collection of exotic game. We first spotted a sign: Bison on Woolaroc Ranch Do Not Leave Your Vehicle For The Next Two Miles. After crossing a cattle guard and coming face-to-face with herds of free-range elk and bison we understood. These animals get to live to old age in a protected environment, and they grow to an impressive size. In addition to elk and bison there are fallow deer, longhorn cattle, ostrich, emu, rhea, water buffalo . . . . so we took lots of tamelife pictures.
Frank Phillips intended to be a barber, and expanded until he owned all the barbershops in a town in Iowa. Then he married well, and his father-in-law gave the newlyweds the challenge of selling investments while honeymooning in New England. They travelled by horse and buggy and earned $75,000 in commissions. Soon thereafter he returned with his brothers to Oklahoma, formed a company, and started buying up oil leases. Phillips Petroleum was the result, giving Frank the time and money to pursue a wide variety of interests. When the Dole Pineapple Company offered $35,000 in prizes for a flight from San Francisco to Hawaii (this was right after Lindbergh's transatlantic flight), Phillips sought a plane and Woolaroc museum door pilot to use his new lightweight gasoline. The plane was renamed Woolaroc and won the race. Afterwards, Frank had to have someplace to store the plane, so he began building a museum at the ranch. Over the years the museum has grown to reflect Frank's interests in the people of his home state - cowboys, indians, pioneers, oilmen. He financed the WPA archaeological excavation of the Spiro Mound, after treasure hunters had plundered most of it. The treasures from the Mound on display at Woolaroc are outstanding and represent a sophisticated artistic talent.
Woolaroc embodies all the romance of a famous western ranch belonging to an oil millionaire -- lavish home and guest houses, manmade lakes and exotic animals; all set on a modest 17,000 acres of land, now part of the Osage Indian Nation. Phillips, incidentally, was made a silver chief of the Osage, the only white man ever so honored. Large bronze statues of cowboys fill the informal gardens, and the entry doors to the museum are decorated with colorful mosaics of indians and reproductions of the elaborately carved gorgets found in the Spiro Mound. The central gallery of the Model race-winning plane museum has a terrazzo floor representing a Navajo sand painting.
Why did we fall in love with the Woolaroc museum and why were we left unmoved by the Phillips Art Museum in Tulsa? We both agreed the latter was cold and reflected the institutional nature of its collection, consisting of a little of this and that used for teaching school art classes, while Woolaroc was warm and reflected Frank Phillips' exuberant and curious spirit. William Randolph Hearst's personality is hard to spot at San Simeon, where the art treasures were acquired by Hearst's hired buyers. At Woolaroc you get the feeling that Frank Phillips was a nice man, and is sharing his intellectual interests with you, the guest in his museum.
We strolled through the bunkhouse and lodge, filled with trophy game heads. We tried Lunch at the Lodge, which we cannot recommend, however.
There was more to do, so off we went to Claremore. Do you remember the quotation, "Anybody here from Claremore?" We didn't. It was often J. M. Davis' collections spoken by Claremore's most famous hometown boy, Will Rogers. In Claremore we visited two well-publicized museums: The J. M. Davis Arms & Historical Museum, and the Will Rogers Memorial Museum.
Davis was a successful hotel keeper and three-term mayor of Claremore who was first and foremost a collector. Some of his collection was on display in his Mason Hotel, but it grew too large for the display space available. He bequeathed his collection to a charitable trust, which in turn leased it to the State of Oklahoma for 99 years for $1 in return for a 40,000 square foot museum built in downtown Claremore. The biggest part of the display is taken up with over 20,000 firearms, swords and knives; but the museum is punctuated with other collections, such as 1200 German steins, various musical instruments, a set of John Rogers' Statuary, and a bewildering variety of ribbons and badges from various conventions and campaigns. The heart of the collection is firearms, and an avid gun enthusiast could easily come back for several days in a row. The most famous Oklahoman
The Will Rogers Memorial Museum, across the street from Rogers State University, reminded us of a Presidential Library in tone, and indeed, Rogers was probably of greater national stature than the president near the end of his life. When we happened to visit the memorial to Will Rogers and Wiley Post on a brief trip to Barrow, Alaska in 2000, we did not realize that four years later we would come to this museum in Claremore. Part Cherokee, and proud of it, Rogers started out in Oklahoma as a trick roper, got so good that he made a movie, entitled The Roping Fool. Soon he became a silent movie star, and later welcomed the transition to talkies. He appeared in over 400 films, including State Fair and Connecticut Yankee. He became an immensely influential newspaper columnist and radio personality as well. The museum includes many statues and paintings, a reproduction of Rogers' Santa Monica study, galleries of tributes, and -- best of all -- at least four different small theaters running his films. An avid pilot, Rogers flew to disaster areas, sometimes arriving before the Red Cross. He publicized a Mississippi flood and an earthquake in Nicaragua, helping the fundraising efforts, and died on an adventurous exploration of the last American frontier -- Alaska.