STILLWATER, Okla. —
When Charles Ford became a member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives in 1966, there were few embellishments to the Oklahoma State Capitol. Early Oklahoma history and some leading people were featured in photographs and inexpensive prints hung on the walls. There were some paintings funded by oilman Frank Phillips in the 1920s and the Oklahoma Arts and Humanities Council had added a few murals and portraits.
Ford found little interest in fine art among the legislators but eventually renovations were needed to the building itself. After serving 14 years as a representative, Ford was elected to the Oklahoma State Senate in 1980. There was momentum to change the look of the capitol and significant changes occurred in 1994 when the Senate Chamber and Lounge and the House Lounge were restored. Ford, an art and antique collector for most of his life, initiated a program in 1997 to replace the prints in the Senate Lounge.
“I commissioned Oklahoma artist Wayne Cooper to paint Washington Irving’s historic meeting with the Osage in 1832,” he said. “When the painting was dedicated the idea of adding original art by Oklahoma artists to the capitol caught on.”
Ford created the Oklahoma State Senate Historical Preservation Fund. As the new century dawned, more works of art were commissioned each year as legislators saw what an important difference they created. Due to term limits, Ford retired from the legislature in 2004 but he still continues in his mission to beautify the capitol with the collection growing to 160 pieces.
“This is the people’s house. It is far more than our seat of government - it represents the unique history of this land and the people who made it their home,” Ford said. “It’s important for us to ensure it is a source of pride for all Oklahomans.”
Ford, along with Oklahoma State University Art Museum Postal Plaza Gallery Director Victoria Rowe Berry, has selected works from the Senate Collection for a new exhibit opening Monday in Stillwater. “Framing History: Highlights from the Oklahoma State Capitol Senate Collection” celebrates artists and their process for capturing the narrative. After the borrowed exhibit leaves the Postal Plaza Gallery, the Oklahoma Senate Collection will be officially transferred into the state’s records and will no longer travel. Many pieces will return to some restricted locations which can only be seen on private tours of the capitol.