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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

Morris Tenenbaum (right, in hat), 1970
(2012.201.B1279.0357, photo by Jim Argo, Oklahoma Publishing Company Photography Collection, OHS).

TENENBAUM, MORRIS (1897–1977).

Popularly denoted as the University of Oklahoma (OU) Sooners football team's volunteer gatekeeper, Morris Tenenbaum was also an "outsider artist" whose talents were revealed only after his death. Born in Poland on January 15, 1897, Tenenbaum immigrated to the United States, served in World War I, and settled in Oklahoma. He operated a used clothing and tailor shop in Norman for several decades. A rabid OU football fan, from 1935 Tenenbaum began helping the coaching staff guard the entrance to the team's dressing room during practice and games. A stubborn and often irascible sentinel, he even once refused to admit the Galloping Ghost, Red Grange, to the players' area during half-time.

After Tenenbaum's death, when the contents of his home were made available in an estate sale, his creative pursuits came to light. He was a fairly typical outsider artist. An outsider artist is a self-taught, nontraditional artist who creates because of an inner drive or compulsion, without needing an audience, without trying to sell his work, and often using materials not intended for artwork. These individuals generally do not intend for their work to be seen and appreciated; it serves a strictly personal purpose and often falls far outside the cultural norms for color, shape, proportion, and other criteria for both mainstream art and folk art. The 1977 Tenenbaum estate sale included large, colorful patchwork quilts with unexpected, non-traditional patterns, a hat made of an automobile hubcap, a conical hat decorated with buttons and other bright objects, a pair of athletic shorts decorated with men's neckties, and various embroidery. Private collectors snapped up the pieces. New York's Hunter Gallery mounted an exhibition of his work in 1979.

A member of the Masonic fraternity and the Shrine as well as the American Legion, Morris Tenenbaum died July 12, 1977, in Norman and is buried in Emanuel Hebrew Cemetery in Oklahoma City.

Dianna Everett


John Brandenburg, "Morris Tenenbaum, Public and Private: From Athletic 'Gatekeeper' to Folk Artist," Folk Art in Oklahoma: Oklahoma: An Exhibition Presented by the Oklahoma Museums Association (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Museums Association, 1981).

Colin Rhodes, Outsider Art: Spontaneous Alternatives (New York: Thames & Hudson, 2000).

Jim Weeks, "Tenenbaum Will Be Missed," Norman (Oklahoma) Transcript, 15 July 1977.

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The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Dianna Everett, “Tenenbaum, Morris,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=TE010.

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