A.Y.’s Sled

by Jeff Briley, Assistant Director, Oklahoma Museum of History

ay-sled3.jpgThat we are dominantly visual animals is part of what makes the holidays so wonderful. No other season brings together so many visual sensate triggers to memory and emotion.

I should have expected that, sooner or later, one would emerge among the objects depicting a life well lived. Several months after the death of A.Y. Owen, the family had parceled, sorted, relegated, donated, and passed down enough of Owen’s things that they felt it made sense to have an estate sale to deal with the remaining bulk. As a family strategy of self-preservation it was a logical move.

With a childhood spent in depression era Oklahoma City, like many with such credentials, A.Y. Owen rarely got rid of anything. Three days into the estate sale the family was uncovering previously unseen material. I recall seeing a pair of sand-crusted canvas shoes A.Y. wore while exploring caves in the early 1950s.

As a teenager, A.Y. Owen took a photography class at the Oklahoma City YMCA. This interest sparked a remarkable career as one of the great photojournalists of the 20th Century. Owen’s credit line was seen on images in The Oklahoman, Sports Illustrated, The Smithsonian, Oklahoma Today, and many other publications but most notably his twenty-five year relationship with LIFE magazine provided rich experiences in world travel, interaction with an amazing assortment of individuals, and a tremendous venue for the exercise of his great talent as a photographer.

Yes, but what does this have to do with a sled? First two admissions:
1. With apologies to Citizen Kane, I have great sentimental memories about my own childhood sled.
2. Late in his life, A.Y. was a mentor and close friend.

Back to the estate sale: outside, leaning against the studio wall was his sled, well used and sporting the air of a long neglected attic resident. The sight of the sled instantly brought to mind photographs from A.Y. Owen’s childhood and snippets of letters he wrote to his well-loved parents mixed in part with my own recollection of the sounds of laughter and freshly waxed steel runners blazing down the hill on Cherokee Street.

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So, A.Y. Owen’s sled as a symbol of the holidays, youth, and joy is now preserved in the collections of the Oklahoma Museum of History. I hope that the season finds such evocative symbols in your life.

A.Y. Owen’s sled, artifact #1992.206.004, and other objects from his life and career are in the collections at the Oklahoma History Center Museum and Research Departments.

Best Regards,
Jeff Briley
Assistant Director
Oklahoma Museum of History

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