Stillwater News Press

Local News

March 5, 2010

Scholar and activist Angie Debo to be commemorated in sculpture

STILLWATER, Okla. — Angie Debo dedicated her life to researching, sharing and fighting for Oklahoma’s history and culture.

Now, Stillwater residents are dedicating time, money and talent to honor Debo with a bronze sculpture at the Stillwater Public Library.

“Angie Debo’s work was focused on Oklahoma. She became world famous and honored by writing about Oklahoma, her towns and roads, her Native American tribes, her people and her history,” sculpture committee chairman Bob Darcy said. ”Angie Debo tells young persons, especially Oklahoma and Stillwater young persons, that they themselves are important, and their work can be important.”

Debo was born in 1890 and grew up in Oklahoma. She died in 1988. She researched and wrote about Native Americans in Oklahoma and their fight for civil rights – a subject she actively participated in.

She received the American Historical Association’s Award for Scholarly Distinction in 1987 and bequeathed her papers, books and literary rights to Oklahoma State University where she was a history professor occasionally from 1947 to 1955.

The Angie Debo Memorial Sculpture Project began in fall 2007 when a committee was formed. A former Stillwater Public Library librarian, Della Bennett, had provided a $10,000 bequest to the Friends of the Stillwater Public Library, and it was decided to spend the gift on outdoor art.

The total project budget is $65,000, and about $50,000 has been raised in Stillwater from individuals and organizations, and the rest from outside Stillwater, Darcy said.

Eventually, the idea of focusing on Debo as a subject was decided, and Stillwater artist Phyllis Mantik was selected to create the statue. Mantik decided to portray Debo as a young woman.

“She is already pictured in the state records with her portrait as an older woman, but when I read through her life, at that a very young age, Angie chose a life of a scholar, writer and really, she was an activist at a time when women didn’t choose those things. They chose home or family or kids, but she chose this. This is what she wanted to do with her life,” Mantik said. “She went against the grain, and she was a pretty amazing woman, not only as an example of a very strong woman, but she had a lot to say as an activist. She really spoke up and had something to say for the Native Americans in Oklahoma.”

The Stillwater City Council approved the statue in May, and Mantik has been working on the project since October.

The statue shows Debo in a sitting position with an open book beside her. During research, Mantik said she read about Debo’s life in Chicago when Debo would often sit on a pier to read and write.

 “To me, I think she was such a strong woman, she needed those times to reflect on what she wanted to do with her life,” Mantik said. “... I saw her as a person in that Oklahoma sitting, reading and thinking of writing and getting out by herself, reflecting, and that’s really how I came to this pose. She could not have known at this point what her life would be about.”

“The statue reminds patrons that someone in our community used a library to accomplish wonderful things and that our community honors, remembers and respects such a person,” Darcy said. ”Our statue is an inspiration to those who study, read, and ultimately, write.”

The sculpture will sit on a beveled, oval platform with 37 tribal seals embedded on the edge and the Great Seal of the State of Oklahoma on the top surface of the platform.

The sculpture itself will be about four feet tall, three and half feet wide and about three feet deep, and weigh about 750 pounds, Mantik said.

The Stillwater Public Library is partnering with the OSU Library, Sheerar Museum, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, and Payne County Historical Society to present a “One Book, One Community, Stillwater Reads Angie Debo’s Prairie City” for fall 2010, Library Director Lynda Reynolds said.

“This communitywide reading event will kickoff in September with a showing of the documentary ‘Indians, Outlaws and Angie Debo’ and distribution of free copies of ‘Prairie City’ to those who sign up for book discussion,” Reynolds said. “Events will continue in October and November and include several programs about Angie Debo, and an exhibit on Angie Debo at Sheerar Museum.”

The events will culminate in a dedication ceremony for the sculpture this fall.

“One person can make a difference; a quiet person who reads, studies and writes can accomplish more than a wildly public person who is continually before the public,” Darcy said.

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