Garis Gallery of the American West
As soon as you step onto the Chisholm Trail walkway, you realize you are walking into history of the old west through the eyes of artists and visionaries.
The oval bronze and rock monument gives you a quick story of the Chisholm Trail, 1867-1875, and the artistic path leads you to the “On the Chisholm Trail” life size bronze, by Oklahoma artist Paul Moore. The Garis Gallery of the American West houses some of the finest western art created in the world – George Catlin, Frederic Remington, Charlie Russell and Allan Houser pieces have a permanent home.
You’ll also find more contemporary art, like that of Ramona Swift, a Canadian artist, who is also with the Artists for Conservation and continues to pursue her passion for art. The Garis Gallery is also home to two early works by John Coleman, who has been a member of the Cowboy Artists of America since 2001. A leading western artist and award-winning bronze sculptor, he lives and works in Arizona. Pictured above, right, is a resin, Song for the Spirit.
Once inside the facility, you can get a closer look at the “On the Chisholm Trail” tabletop bronze replica on display to the left entrance of the Garis Gallery of the American West.
Pick up one of the self-guided audio tours if you want to learn more about each of the pieces.
When the gallery first opened, Ken Davenport, owner of Arkansas Art Gallery in Little Rock, Arkansas, said it was the most concise snapshot of western art as seen from an Oklahoma perspective that exists anywhere.
“This should be the first stop of a student of western art in the exploration of the Chisholm Trail, Western and Native American Art. From Duncan, you can go on to Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Fort Worth, Denver and Santa Fe,” Ken Davenport said.
People in the background
Jim and Diane Garis shared a love of art and enjoyed seeing the success of the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center and its expanding programs. Jim’s idea for the Garis Gallery of the American West was in the planning stages for five years. He served as the Heritage Center’s board president before his death in January 2007.
“Firmly believing in Tom McCasland, Jr.’s original dream of a museum focusing on Duncan’s historic link to the Chisholm Trail, we are adding a new dimension … one that will allow people to see their heritage from a different perspective,” Jim said.
Both Jim and Diane were excited to share their art collection of more than 250 pieces with the museum for the community of Duncan and to promote tourism.
Now, in 2013, the facility attracts visitors from not only “here at home” but of international status.
When the Gallery opened, Jim Garis explained, “This collection gives us a reference to our history and heritage and the way the West molded the character of its inhabitants. It gives us a chance to put ourselves in another place and time. Most of all it allows us to see, feel, and enjoy the beauty, pain, sorrow, and happiness of the great American West.”
As for educational outreach, Leah Mulkey, Education Coordinator, says that “a goal of our education program for 3rd, 4th and 5th graders, is to stimulate interest in the visual arts and create motivation to visit other museums and galleries.”
For many of the students, several from rural areas throughout Oklahoma, the museum is the students’ first lesson in art and sometimes western history.
“We want to create lifelong learners,” Leah says.
The late Jim Garis’ vision for the gallery: “I believe that art tells stories that are open to interpretation by the viewer. The American West is the perfect subject matter since it is such an untamed and unique period. My family is proud to be able to share this experience with the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center, all of southwestern Oklahoma and the thousands of guests from around the world who visit here each year.”
Designed by Museum Arts of Dallas, Texas, the gallery portion of the museum is like a mini maze, with 2,300 square feet. Custom designed Solux lighting system adds drama to the bronzes staged within the small gallery and highlights the artwork upon its walls.