Online Portal for Oklahoma Native Art of the Oklahoma Oral History Research Program, Oklahoma State University Library

Online Portal for Oklahoma Native Art of the Oklahoma Oral History Research Program, Oklahoma State University Library

Sarah Milligan, Head, Oklahoma Oral History Research Program and Associate Professor, Oklahoma State University Library

The Oklahoma Native Artist oral history project, a project of the Oklahoma Oral History Research Program (OOHRP) at the Oklahoma State University Library since 2010, is uniquely stand-alone. It is not tied to a particular art project, exhibition, or collection of paintings, but independently documents the achievements of Oklahoma Native artists in various media across the state, and tracks the impact of festivals, collectors, gallery owners and art dealers on the state’s Native art scene. 

We have conducted just over 100 interviews in this series to date, continuing to branch out to artists in traditional and non-traditional mediums and broadening the collection's scope and content to match the community's identity.

Throughout the life of this oral history project, the OOHRP, through the work of the project director Julie Pearson-Little Thunder, have worked hard to be present and visible at gallery shows featuring Oklahoma Native Artists; we have reached out to gallery owners, curators, and artists to feel for ways to share content from this series of interviews to help contextualize artists and their work. Working with an advisory board of Native artists and curators, we annually gauge our direction and check back in regularly to make sure we still have a need for this project -- and clearly- defined goals.

From all of these conversations, it has become clear that the project, and to some degree artists and scholars, could benefit from a companion website to help contextualize the multiple angles of representation of Oklahoma Native Artists. In 2016, we began developing a website in order to give greater visibility to the oral history work for this collection and the research we use to prepare for our interviews.  Another goal of the website is to highlight gallery images from exhibitions featuring Oklahoma Native Art, and YouTube and Vimeo content that publicly features Oklahoma Native Artists. In essence, we wanted to try to wrangle as much of the information out there on the web about Oklahoma Native Artists into a single point of entry.

Some of the challenges for this project have been:

  • working with little web development experience on staff
  • resisting scope creep
  • being inviting to the general public with little topical knowledge while fulfilling expectations of scholars
  • getting bogged down in technology options
  • evaluating whether the effort to create this online component is equal to the benefits of additional public exposure
  • defining a realistic expectation for updates and additions moving forward

The goals of the project include:

  • working with a project intern to intentionally document Oklahoma Native art events and artists through images and video to complement the oral history interviews in our archival collections
  • creating a comprehensive list of online (and print) material related to Oklahoma Native Artists
  • communicating with stakeholders (including artists, gallery owners and curators) in a meaningful way on a regular basis
  • adding value to our archival collections and enhancing facilitated classroom engagement
  • continuing outreach and engagement with artists, curators, collectors, students and scholars

The website is an experiment for us to see if this is a model we can use for other community- and topic- intensive projects. We hope to strengthen several engagement points with artists, educators, and scholars, further moving our oral history project in a positive direction. Please give it a tour, and if you have related material in your collection, let us know so we can help promote it!


Fashion Designer, Leslie Deer (Mvskoke),  with an original design

Artist, Bunky Echo-Hawk (Pawnee), after completing a live painting demonstration at Oklahoma State University