Tom King grew up a mile from Gilcrease Museum and used to wander the grounds exploring with friends. Judy King first visited Gilcrease around 1963 and loves the landscape of the Osage Hills.
Together, Tom and Judy have raised two children and traveled the world, but they always come back to Oklahoma — and Gilcrease. In 2013, they decided to become museum members.
“We always visited Gilcrease and decided to join after realizing how much time we spent at the museum. Our membership has made it possible to do and learn more here,” said Tom, a 1976 graduate of The University of Tulsa.
He credits his alma mater, which began managing the museum in 2008, for giving him the push to join. He also supports Golden Hurricane athletics, TU’s College of Engineering and Natural Sciences and has served on the Alumni Association board. “I have really enjoyed the activities at the Helmerich Center for American Research,” Tom said. “The programs complement the museum collection, and the collaboration with the George Kaiser Family Foundation on The Dylan ArchiveSM is a great opportunity.”
Tom and Judy have become more involved, attending a variety of programs and exhibition openings. Along the way, they regularly increased their annual membership gift and joined the Gilcrease Council in September. As a retiree of ConocoPhillips, Tom leveraged a corporate match gift option to further support Gilcrease.
The two have developed a deep appreciation for the work of contemporary Native artists displayed at the museum. Judy found a connection to the work of Rick Bartow, whose career retrospective, Things You Know But Cannot Explain, was on display at Gilcrease in 2016. “I was blown away immediately,” she said. “I could hear him speak in the exhibition. It was more than just beautiful artwork; he experienced what he painted. He lived it.”
Judy found Bartow’s work extremely telling and personal. “I was struck by the portrait of his wife. Although I didn’t know who she was at first, I immediately saw love — the love of his life — and peace. It was very emotional. I knew it was someone cherished and revered,” she explained.
She also saw patriotism in his work. “The impact of Vietnam on him was hard to miss. Our veterans don’t just go to war; they bring a part of the war home with them. It becomes a part of their life,” she said.
Tom admitted needing a little time to warm up to Bartow’s work. Yet, when he saw Foti’s Indian, a monotype of an Indian bust with wild headdress and somewhat reminiscent of the Native American portraits staged by Edward Curtis, “It was Gilcrease,” he said. “It belonged in the museum.”
The couple visited the Bartow exhibit repeatedly during its run and casually mentioned a few times that Gilcrease should acquire the work. Sadly, the artist passed away three weeks before the exhibition closed, but the Kings were unable to let the monotype go and later that year inquired about its availability. By the end of the year, Tom and Judy had made arrangements to purchase the piece for Gilcrease.
Judy’s infatuation with Bartow’s work continued, and she approached Gilcrease with interest in one of the artist’s paintings. (Bartow had already donated four pastels and the large, iconic sculpture From Nothing Coyote Creates Himself to the museum before his death.) After a few conversations with museum staff, the Kings purchased Jane Avril – Spindly legs flying in all directions for Gilcrease. Their generosity allowed Gilcrease to quickly add a small collection of Bartow’s work.
Tom and Judy have visited many museum collections in European countries, and their travels helped them appreciate the treasure they have in Tulsa.
“I never realized the collection sophistication of Thomas Gilcrease until we started traveling to Europe and seeing those museums,” Judy said. “There isn’t any museum that can top what Gilcrease has in its collection, especially with the archive.”
Tom and Judy have made Gilcrease a part of their lives, and their gifts to the museum will echo far into the future.