Tulsa’s Art Deco is Celebrated Various Ways
By CHARLES CANTRELL
JAZZ, GIN AND ZIGZAG: The magnificent former ONG lobby shown here of one of the city’s most chariest Art Deco treasures will be the site of Decopolis, a fund raising, roaring 20s themed party to celebrate a shining decade in Tulsa’s storied past.
Courtesy William A. Franklin
Two happenings in February in Tulsa will focus on iconic images and items from an illustrious period of Tulsa’s and America’s past. The early 20th century, in particular the 1920s and 1930s, marks an era when the U.S. was emerging on the world stage as an industrial powerhouse of innovation and manufacturing know-how.
The industrial revolution was shifting into a higher gear and America held the post position. Machines were moving humans at unprecedented speeds and taking them where they had never gone before. In the thick of it all was old Tulsey Town pumping vast amounts of black gold from the prairie substrata, helping in no small way to fuel this breathtaking moment is American history.
Saturday, Feb. 26 is the second annual Deco Ball put on by the Tulsa Art Deco Museum with help from the Arts and Humanities Council of Tulsa. It’s called Decopolis, meaning “deco city,” a very appropriate name for a Tulsa party and for a roaring 1920s themed bash complete with Charleston dancing, flapper attired patrons, jazz music and bathtub gin – in name only of course. Even more appropriate is the setting for the event; the stunning Zigzag Art Deco style lobby of the old Building at 624 S. Boston Ave., one of the city’s most beautiful architectural treasures.
The Tulsa Art Deco Museum is an initiative effort by local Art Deco aficionados committed to raising the necessary funding to create, as their website claims, “the world’s greatest Art Deco museum” right here in Greater Tulsa. It is the brainchild of William A. Franklin, a local artist and long time Tulsan who has spent the last two years putting together fundraising events to further the cause. In addition to the annual Decopolis ball, the organization puts on the Gatsby Picnic, tours of downtown Art Deco buildings and other fundraising efforts to future their goal of building on and expanding the city’s treasure of Art Deco attractions. For more information, see www.decopolis.net.
On Feb. 13 a new show opened at Philbrook Museum of Art titled, American Streamline Design. By showcasing products from the 1920s up through the 1950s, the show celebrates the evolving and enduring American design idiom known simply as Streamline. It seems the collective conscience of America in the early part of the 20th century became increasingly aware of the speed machines were providing to everyday living. The design of product encasements reflected this awareness back to consumers using aerodynamic motifs emphasizing horizontal lines and rounded shapes. Architecture design too was influenced by cultural expectations that even stationery structures project a sense of motion and movement. Thus the earlier Art Deco styles known as “Zigzag and PWA” began discarding their static floral and fauna embellishments and adopting the more simple, linear Streamline design elements.
The Philbrook show takes visitors through this transformative design movement wherein art and manufactured products are irrevocably meshed. It is a fascinating journey through pure Americana. It is not to be missed for its relevance to the country and the city’s history. But the show speaks to an even bigger picture when it comes to Tulsa’s history.
Early in the 20th century, by virtue of its energy base economy, the city was plugged into the mainstream of American cultural and industrial movements. It was a go-to city and a major player in the emergence of many industrial sectors, the most obvious being aviation and aerospace.
Consequently, these two events compliment each other in many ways regarding the city’s history. Tulsa came into its own in the early twentieth century in much the same way the American industrial evolution came of age. The once “Oil Capital of the World” would provide the lion’s share of petroleum to fuel that evolution along with two world wars and in doing so would accumulate much wealth for its many oil barons. They would in turn invest that wealth back into the city to create a beautiful skyline on the plains. They would employ the services of the most distinguished architects, designers and artisans of the times to build structures that unequivocally stated the city’s prowess as a center of commerce. They would insist the buildings reflect the modern design idiom of the times that spoke of success and that was often Art Deco in all its manifestations.
And so this is Tulsa’s legacy, an unmatched collection of architectural structures and artifacts that remain testaments to the city’s and America’s prevailing energy, innovation, pride and commitment to the future. In many ways Art Deco design and its offshoot, Streamlining represent the spirit of Greater Tulsa.