Phillips Family Leaves Lasting Tulsa Legacy

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HISTORICALLY SPEAKING: Thomas Young, librarian at the Philbrook Museum of Art, pauses in front of the veranda in the garden for a photo.


The Philbrook Museum of Art has become one of the most respected showcases of art in the nation. Offering captivating exhibits, seasonal gardens and learning resources, the Philbrook Museum of Art will continue to grow under the legacy of the Phillips family.

Thomas Young has been the librarian of the Philbrook Museum since 1978. He has enjoyed learning about the history of the house and the family who lived there.

Originally from Iowa, Waite Phillips followed his two older brothers to Oklahoma in 1906 to begin their search for oil. Then, leases were gathered and funds were raised in order to begin drilling in the area. “Waite began to drill under various leases of his own which he merged together in 1920 to form the Waite Phillips Company,” says Young.

In 1925, he sold the company for $25 million and built the home that is still known as Philbrook in Tulsa. A second home was built on a ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico called the Philmont.

The family decided to donate the house to the City of Tulsa to be managed by the Southwestern Art Association in 1938 for the establishment of an art museum. Though it is not known for certain, their love of art is thought to have led the family to this decision. While the Phillips moved to downtown Tulsa, an architect redesigned the house to accommodate galleries.

The Philbrook Museum of Art was opened in the fall of 1939 with a number of galleries showcased throughout the house. Waite hoped that others would have the opportunity to learn about the cultures that influenced the area through art. “This led to galleries that featured art from the Native American and French cultures. The Native American exhibit grew so much that the entire lower level of the home was designated for the subject.”

In 1940, the library was created to hold documents about all of the art on display along with thousands of books about the artists and cultures that are reflected in all of the current and past exhibits.

With so many important events occurring throughout the nation, it was important for everyone involved with the Philbrook Museum of Art to reach out to the community in any way that was needed. “During the war, volunteers decided to form their own version of the . Soldiers were invited to attend tea dances that were held in the large lobby,” says Young.

In addition, lectures were often held in the museum to provide an educational resource for the community. The speakers were artists, teachers and even business owners. Concerts were also performed that brought an increase in interest to the museum.

Following the establishment of the Philbrook Museum of Art, a small budget was set into place for purchasing works of art. Over the years, however, the collection has primarily grown through donations from the around the world and even by the Phillips family.

Throughout the collections are very well known works of art. Young says that one painting in particular is noticed by visitors almost immediately. “In the Thomas Moore Gallery, there is a painting titled Hiawatha. The artist depicts a Native American standing on a cliff top overlooking a valley. In the scene there are a lot of greys with touches of orange. It is very well known and we are proud to have the painting on display.”

Acres of gardens surround the house and fill the property with character. Mature trees, winding creeks and ponds set the Philbrook Museum apart from others in the nation. The Philbrook family hoped to create the gardens for their children and guests to enjoy. The landscape architecture company Hare and Hare was commissioned to design the area, which remains much the same today.

The Philbrook Museum of Art is located at 2727 Rockford Rd. in the heart of Midtown. For more information, call 918-749-7941, or visit

Updated 01-24-2011

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