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Current Exhibits

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!: The Birth of Modern Musical Theatre and a New Image for the State

The Oklahoma History Center’s exhibit, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!: The Birth of Modern Musical Theatre and a New Image for the State celebrates the 75th anniversary of the Broadway production’s debut. 

Based on the 1931 play Green Grow the Lilacs by Claremore native Lynn Riggs, Oklahoma! was the first musical written by the legendary team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! began a new era in American musical theatre. It also began the most successful songwriting partnership that Broadway has ever seen.

Oklahoma! premiered on Broadway at the St. James Theatre on March 31, 1943, and closed after 2,212 performances. Set in Indian Territory just after the turn of the twentieth century, the spirited rivalry between the local farmers and cowboys provides the backdrop for the love story between Curly, a handsome cowboy, and Laurey, a beautiful farm girl.

The title of the History Center exhibit makes reference to a “New Image for the State.” In 1939 John Steinbeck published his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Grapes of Wrath, a fictional account of the mass migration of thousands of “Okies” from Oklahoma to California in search of jobs, land, dignity and a future in the shadow of the Great Depression. The novel cast an image of hopelessness, bank foreclosures and economic hardship on Oklahoma. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! counteracted this image with its lively musical comedy that, despite a few fight scenes that include an accidental death, portrayed romance, laughter and a spirit of joy in direct contrast to the storyline of The Grapes of Wrath.

A Sense of Time and Place: Work by Greg Burns

The Oklahoma History Center is honored to present a selection of works by famed Oklahoma artist Greg Burns. The exhibit A Sense of Time and Place: Work by Greg Burns features ten drawings and paintings, which have been chosen by the artist specifically for display at the Oklahoma History Center. The exhibit will be located on the third floor of the History Center in an area of the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation Gallery known as Curators’ Corner. The exhibit will be on display from June 21 to September 29, 2018.

Burns, although not native to Oklahoma, was moved there as an infant to be treated for arthrogryposis, a muscle and joint disorder that severely limits or prevents movement of the extremities. A graduate in fine arts from the University of Oklahoma, his intricate pen-and-ink drawings and watercolors have received international recognition. Realizing his gift at a very early age, Burns said, “I can’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t drawing. I won several art competitions beginning in high school and then, in 1978, was honored to receive the Governor’s Art Award for the state of Oklahoma from David Boren.” Among the driving forces in his career was a desire to refute the advice of an uncle who told him not to waste his time being an artist. Undaunted by his uncle’s words, he made $50,000 his first year as a professional artist. “If the truth be told, my first sale was to my grandmother. She bought a painting for $50,” said Burns.

His method is anything but conventional. Burns draws with a permanent ink roller ball cradled in his right hand and then colors his drawings with watercolor washes. The watercolors are applied with a brush held in his teeth so that his hand and arm will not drag over the wet paint. Typically his art pieces take a few days to a couple of weeks to complete, depending on size and subject matter. To learn more about Greg Burns, visit www.gregburns-fineart.com.

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!: Musical Theatre at 75

The Oklahoma History Center’s pictorial exhibit Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!: Musical Theatre at 75 features twenty-one images, mostly black-and-white with some full-color posters included. The photos range from the Broadway production of the play Green Grow the Lilacs by Lynn Riggs, which was the inspiration for Oklahoma!, through the original production of the musical in 1943 and images from the movie. The most recent picture is from a Discoveryland production in Sand Springs, Oklahoma, designated “the National Home of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!

This exhibit is on display in the Chesapeake Events Center on the first floor of the Oklahoma History Center. However, since the Chesapeake Events Center also is utilized for banquets, meetings, and performances, it is advised that patrons call ahead to assure that it is open to the public at the time of your visit.

Left: Oklahoma! poster art for the original Broadway production, 1943 (image courtesy of Rodgers & Hammerstein: A Concord Music Company). Right: A chorale performs before the premiere of the film adaptation of Oklahoma! in Oklahoma City, August 14, 1956 (2012.201.B0957.0567, Oklahoma Publishing Company Photography Collection, OHS).

Welcome Home: Oklahomans and the War in Vietnam

Welcome Home: Oklahomans and the War in Vietnam exhibit looks at more than the historic events that occurred during the war. It explores the impact of the war on Oklahoma families, as told through the stories of the young men and women who served their country in the armed services and the immigrant families who fled Vietnam and came to Oklahoma seeking freedom and opportunity.

The story begins with a look at the family histories of Oklahomans who served in Vietnam. This opening section concludes with the stories of young people from those families who volunteered to serve their country in the armed services during the war.

The second section explores the roots of Vietnamese families that eventually relocated to Oklahoma. It also follows American military personnel and Vietnamese families onto the stage of war during the 1960s and 1970s. This includes stories of those in uniform, both American and Vietnamese, as well as stories of civilians whose lives were changed forever.

The next section tells the Vietnamese refugees’ harrowing stories of escape as they left all they had known in their homeland to obtain safety, security, and opportunity in the United States. While they left under varying circumstances, they shared the common goal of a new life. The fourth and final section of the exhibit brings Oklahoma-born military personnel and immigrants back to Oklahoma, where their stories continue as they deal with challenges and seize opportunities. The exhibit provides a contemporary portrait of Oklahoma’s diversity set against the backdrop of historic events.

In preparation for Welcome Home: Oklahomans and the War in Vietnam, the Oklahoma History Center transported a newly acquired Huey helicopter to Oklahoma City. This addition to the exhibit honors those who stepped up and served in the War in Vietnam and was donated by native Oklahoman Bob Ford, who said, “Any Army pilot or crew member who had the privilege to fly the Huey in combat loves it; it never let us down.”

The aircraft came from Weatherford, Texas, escorted by the Oklahoma Patriot Guard Riders. The Huey was installed the following day and is suspended from the History Center atrium.

NewsOK.com shared more info about the exhibit in a recent article: Wall That Heals and new exhibit explore Vietnam War's impact on local families.

Pictured above, left: First Lieutenant Bob Ford in Hue, South Vietnam, January 1968. Right: Ban Nguyen with his father and sister in South Vietnam. Ban is an operating partner of Jimmy’s Egg restaurants, which is owned by his father-in-law Loc Le.