World-Class Gilcrease Enhanced by Helmerich Gift

Editor at Large

BENEVOLENT CITIZENS: Foundation representatives and donors to The Helmerich Center for American Research were recognized recently by former University of Tulsa President Steadman Upham during a construction celebration at Gilcrease Museum. Donors recognized included the names Chapman, Stephenson, Zarrow, Helmerich, Hardesty, Graves and Foutch. Peggy Helmerich is center stage under the Helmerich banner.

GTR Newspapers photo

Walter Helmerich has left a great legacy to the region, and Tulsans can look forward to another gift from him: The Helmerich Center for American Research, which will be built on the Gilcrease Museum grounds. It will make available, for scholars from Skiatook to Scandinavia, a host of American historical treasures.

Helmerich didn’t fund the entire project, but his donation is credited with getting the project going.

The facility to be added to the Gilcrease grounds will house the archives and library, making available, for the first time in decades, some of the most remarkable documents in any museum collection. Rare books, maps, photographs manuscripts and documents will, in time, be digitized so they will be accessible via the Internet.

What will be included? Consider the Spanish conquest: the Cortez Decree of 1521 will be made available as will letters from Diego Columbus dated 1512 and 1520. Gilcrease also has a copy of the Doctrina Christiana, one of the first books ever printed in the New World.

A Spanish document collection containing over 200 items will be available. The history of the colonies and the American Revolution will be well represented. Gilcrease already has the only certified copy of the Declaration of Independence sent to the King of Prussia in an attempt to drum up support for the war effort. There is a copy of the Articles of Confederation. The note telling Paul Revere to have his horse ready is included. There is even a book on gardening once owned by a certain George Washington.

Letters from Andrew Jackson and George Armstrong Custer will be on the list, the latter particularly fascinating as Custer ruminates about meeting Sitting Bull, whom he finally did meet at Little Big Horn.

This is just a tiny sampling of the things that will be made available at the new center.

All of this thrills Walter Helmerich’s widow, Peggy. “Walt thought this facility was necessary because it was sort of sinful to have so much precious material hidden away in a basement,” she says. “The whole point of a museum is to display and share fabulous things. This is going to be not only beautiful but also useful and practical.”

The new center will cost roughly $15 million to complete and will have 25,000 square feet in which to store the roughly 100,000 items. The center will assist guests from around the world with lecture halls, meeting places and reading rooms both for professional scholars and the general public. There will be a conservation area, conference centers, exhibition space, classrooms, a processing laboratory for electronic cataloging and digitization of the collection.

Peggy Helmerich could not be happier. “The University of Tulsa is such a treasure for this community as is Gilcrease Museum. The combination with TU running Gilcrease is a marriage made in heaven,” she says.

For years, the philanthropic gifts of the Helmerichs have dotted the area to Tulsa’s enormous benefit.

This final gift may be one of the best.

Updated 08-10-2012

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