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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

Osage Horse Catcher sculpture by John Free
(2012.201.B0146.0611, Oklahoma Publishing Company Photography Collection, OHS).

FREE, JOHN DALE (1929–2014).

An artist born on April 7, 1929, in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, to Ott and Marie Crowther Free, John Dale Free grew up on his grandfather's ranch near McAlester, Oklahoma. There he earned a lifelong admiration of cowboys and the ranching lifestyle. Upon graduating from high school he attended Oklahoma State University for a time with the intention of earning a degree in animal husbandry. He left college early to begin ranching and to compete on the rodeo circuit. He struggled financially for several years until a friend convinced him that he could make a living as an artist. In 1965 he went to Taos, New Mexico, and for the next four years studied art under the direction of Tommy Lewis. In 1969 Free returned to Pawhuska to begin his career as a professional artist. By 1971 he had his first one-man show at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame (now the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum) in Oklahoma City and was becoming recognized for his talent. He both painted and sculpted early in his career but gradually began to concentrate on sculpture. Many of his creations depicted American Indian subjects, reflecting his Osage/Cherokee heritage. In 1981 he founded the Bronze Horse, a fine arts bronze foundry, to provide himself and others a convenient facility for casting their sculptures. This successful enterprise continued into the twenty-first century as a family business under the management of John Dale Free, Jr.

John Free was a member of the Cowboy Artists of America and the National Academy of Western Artists and was a lifetime member of the Oklahoma Sculpture Society. His work is held by the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum of Oklahoma City, the Gilcrease Museum of Tulsa, the Woolaroc Museum of Bartlesville, and numerous private collections across the nation. He died on February 25, 2014, in Pawhuska.

Bobby D. Weaver


Edward Maddin Ainsworth, The Cowboy in Art (New York: World Publishing Co., 1968).

"Cowboy Artists of America Art Catalogs, 1972–1975," Vertical File, Donald C. and Elizabeth M. Dickinson Research Center, National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City.

Prix de West Invitational [Exhibition Catalogs, 1990–1999], National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City.

Peggy Samuels and Howard Samuels, Contemporary Western Artists (New York: Bonanza Books, 1985).

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The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Bobby D. Weaver, “Free, John Dale,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=FR015.

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