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History of Tulsa's Gilcrease Museum

Posted at 11:45 AM, Jan 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-26 12:45:57-05

TULSA, Okla. — Tulsa's Gilcrease Museum is undergoing a makeover after more than 70 years since its establishment in the area.

The museum closed in 2021 in preparation for the construction of a new space.

MORE >>> Demolition begins for new Gilcrease Museum space


Tulsa oilman Thomas Gilcrease established a museum in his name in 1949 with a collection of American West pieces and collections of historical documents and artifacts.

Gilcrease funded his collecting with oil money in San Antonio, though didn't see the customer base he'd wanted in the area.

He moved the collection from Texas back to Tulsa in an effort to find a more enthusiastic audience.

Acquisition in Tulsa

The City of Tulsa organized a successful bond issue in 1954, designed to pay Gilcrease's debts and secure his collection. He transferred the title to his collection the following year, and the museum was renamed the Thomas Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art.

In 1958 the founder deeded the museum buildings to the community along with more than 13 acres of land.

Gilcrease continued collecting items that would eventually end up in the museum until his death in 1962.

Future of Gilcrease Museum in 21st Century

The city and the University of Tulsa partnered in 2008 to preserve and advance Gilcrease Museum as a steward of the museum and its collections to the national art scene.

The museum is now home to a large collection of Western American art and a fine art collection of more than 12,000 works. The Helmerich Center for American Research at Gilcrease Museum houses the archival collection acquired by Gilcrease, some 100,000 rare books, manuscripts and other archival material. The galleries and vaults display and store over a quarter million extraordinary artifacts related to the aboriginal people of the Americas.

The museum shuttered its doors in 2021 as it looks toward a new space beginning construction in 2022.

Learn more about the museum's history here.

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