Icon search Icon hamburger
Icon close large
Pbrmural jhammer

Photo: “PBR Record Mural” by John Hammer

Guide to Public Artwork in Tulsa

BY Megan Shepherd

From murals to mosaics, statues to street art, Tulsa is no stranger to carefully curated public artwork. Thanks to the State of Oklahoma: Art in Public Places Act, 1.5 percent of all funding for public development in Oklahoma now goes toward creating public art on new or renovated state buildings. While it’d be nearly impossible to create a comprehensive list of all the public art enhancing the city, here are 15 pieces that paint a nice picture of Tulsa’s artsy side.

1.) Art in the Greenwood District - 321 N. Detroit

Memorializing the Tulsa Race Riot, Reconciliation Park features two main works: Hope Plaza and the Tower of Reconciliation, each depicting different aspects of African Americans’ struggle to gain recognition, equality and safety. The tower does an exceptional job of depicting the black community’s struggle in a way that is digestible for audiences of all ages, and the narratives surrounding the statue provide excellent educational storytelling. If you’ve got young art enthusiasts with you, use this stop for both inspiration and education.

A few steps away, Greenwood’s Juneteenth Murals are displayed across the side of a highway overpass. Each year, Tulsans come together to celebrate the Juneteenth Jubilee, a jazz and roots festival held annually in celebration of the national Juneteenth Independence Day, the day that slaves were emancipated in the confederate south. For many years, the celebrations were commemorated with a new mural panel, each depicting colorful images of hope, reconciliation and music in an array of styles. The works range from imaginative whimsy to urban street art, all anchored in Tulsa history.  

2.)Bertoia Sculpture” - Fourth and Main

Looking for world-class art in Tulsa? This city sculpture is perhaps—strike that, definitely— one of the most overlooked pieces of art in town. The piece was designed by the late and great Harry Bertoia, an artist whose sculptures, furniture designs and installations have been commissioned for such places as MIT and the U.S. Consulate in Norway. And yet, our own small piece of the artist’s catalog has been called the “Hidden Bertoia” on more than one occasion.

Completed in 1959, the piece was originally constructed to anchor a gleaming fountain outside Tulsa’s ultra-swanky First National Auto Bank, which was once the largest drive-thru bank in the world. Today, it sits tucked into a barren plaza at 4th and Main. The sculpture is a lanky work of midcentury modernism, featuring a bronze pole adorned with what looks like fluttering leaves or feathers fanning out around the center.

In 2017, it was announced that the sculpture would undergo restoration before rising once again at downtown's Central Library near Fifth Street and Denver Avenue.

3.) Linda Allen Mosaic Art - Third and Boston (and other various locations)

Local artist Linda Allen’s glass tile mosaics can be found all across Tulsa, most notably at Utica Place and scattered downtown. Two of her mosaics in the BOK Tower courtyard feature nods to Oklahoma history: “Centennial” depicts a vibrant Tulsa skyline dazzling with fireworks, and “Will” features Oklahoma cowboy king himself, Will Rogers. Allen uses vibrant-colored glass tiles to bring texture and motion to the otherwise two dimensional work. Plus, they’re downright pretty to look at.

4.) Indian Warrior” - Tulsa Rose Pawn Shop, 316 E. 2nd St.

The colorful mural on the side of the Tulsa Rose Pawn Shop is just one of 11 murals that will eventually dot Oklahoma’s stretch of Route 66. Artist Rick Sinnett’s “Indian Warrior” was inspired by an original print, but when friend and local Tulsa business owner Mary Beth Babcock purchased the piece, she thought it’d make for a nice mural, too.

“Indian Warrior” was co-created by Sinnett’s assistant, Jake Harmes, and was inspired by elements of nature found in Oklahoma: the scissor-tailed flycatcher, the state wildflower and a heck of a lot of locusts are all present in the mural. Additional murals in the collection can be found in cities like El Reno, Bristow, OKC and Norman.  

5.) Artificial Cloud” - Center of the Universe, Boston Avenue Pedestrian Bridge

The lore of the Center of the Universe has endured for years, and for good reason. But there’s more than echoes to be experienced at this Tulsa landmark. Look up and you’ll notice an eroding, eerily large steel statue towering more than 70 feet tall with a seemingly misplaced cloud at the top. This is the “Artificial Cloud,” an installation constructed by Native American artist, Robert Haozous.

The piece features a heavy hanging gong at the base of the structure and several tick-marked stick figures a bit higher up, some missing arms and legs. The austere piece lends itself to philosophical interpretations (some say the gong is for making wishes; others say ringing it is bad luck), but the artist has explained the piece as commentary on pollution, and how in the future we’ll have no choice but to create our own artificial environments.

6.) Second & Elgin Murals - Woody's Corner Bar

Expressions of jazz, funk and hip-hop come to life in the technicolor music mural on the side of Woody’s Corner Bar. Designed by local visual and tattoo artist Anthony Carrera (also known as Eratick), “The Tisdale Experience” honors famed Tulsa jazz artist and former NBA basketball player, Wayman Tisdale, who died of cancer in 2009. The mural, showing Tisdale on bass guitar, employs the same smooth fading and ornate coloring often found in Carrera's work at Pen & Ink Tattoo, 1530 S. Harvard Ave.

Two additional murals in the area include the annual Blue Dome Arts Fest Mural by Laura Thompson and a mural sponsored by Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer's national art contest, which invites artists all across the country to take the PBR logo and interpret it in their own style. Check out several other street-art style works around the corner and along the alleyway.

7.)PBR Record Mural” - The Rusty Crane, 109 N. Detroit Ave.

Post up on the Rusty Crane patio for a drink and you’ll have more than ONEOK Field within gaze. As part of Pabst Blue Ribbon’s annual PBRart campaign, artist John Hammer’s design was commissioned and funded by the beer empire and by The Rusty Crane to be displayed publicly in Tulsa.

His design—a classic record player punched up with the vintage PBR logo, hand-painted strokes and heavily saturated tones (in true Hammer Studio fashion)—is a nod to his love of vinyl and his signature pop-impressionist style.

8.) “This Land is Your Land” - Woody Guthrie Center, 102 E. Mathew B. Brady St.

Local artist Aaron Whisner’s rendering of Oklahoma troubadour Woody Guthrie is displayed loud and proud against the west-facing wall of the Woody Guthrie Center. The opening of the museum in the Brady Arts District needed to make a statement, and Whisner’s work does just that. Anyone unsure of what the message is need only look to the face of the guitar to see Guthrie’s famous words in all their glory: “This Machine Kills Fascists.” Today, Tulsans look to the mural as a reminder for inspired freethinking.

9.) JJ Cale Mural” - Studio Soul, 1621 E. 11th St.

Located along iconic Route 66, the “JJ Cale Mural” at Studio Soul gives passersby on the historic highway a taste of Tulsa’s musical history. The mural’s icon is none other than JJ Cale, one of rock ‘n roll’s most influential songwriters and a founding father of the Tulsa Sound. The mural features a sunglassed Cale with his guitar in curling, psychedelic colors painted by local graffiti artist, Joxen.

10.) “Pearl District Past, Present and Future” – Tulsa Beef and Provision Building, 1537 E. 7th St.

The recent rebirth of the Pearl District has inspired commerce, economic development and creativity—the last made most evident in Josh Butts’ larger-than-life mural on the side of the Tulsa Beef and Provision Building. The Iraq War veteran’s mural features elements of the Pearl District’s pre-revitalization days and musings on what the district could one day become. There’s a slight ‘where’s Waldo’ quality to the mural, in that elements of the area are hidden in plain sight. See if you can spot any local landmarks.

11.) Riverside Bridge & Graffiti Art, 21st and Riverside

For art with a side of adventure, grab some friends and head to 21st and Riverside down below the bridge. You’ll see large-scale graffiti works, but the real prize here is hidden just out of sight. Venture a bit further into the tunnel, and you’ll discover art all along the pathways, including a beautiful pair of eyes, hand drawn messages and other eerie scribbles. A few things to note... The tunnel eventually turns into three separate routes, with manhole exits along the way, and the longest route ends around Centennial Park at 6th and Peoria Ave. And while the tunnels are safe, best to explore with a flashlight, map and a group of friends.

12.) NatureWorks Sculptures – various locations, mostly along Riverside 

These heroic bronze statues around town are an initiative of the Tulsa nonprofit, NatureWorks, to join the conservation of precious native Oklahoma species with artwork. Natureworks is focused on promoting wildlife conservation in the area and does so through an annual wildlife art show and the annual dedication of wildlife statues. Every year a new animal is dedicated to an individual or organization whose conservation efforts have dramatically improved the quality of life for residents and animals of the region. 2016 marks the construction of the 27th statue, a Glacier Park Billy Goat near 57th and Riverside Drive. NatureWorks Statue Guide

13.) "Signs of Life" and "Get Your Kicks On" Photo Collages – Tulsa International Airport

Liz Ingersoll’s photo collages at the Tulsa International Airport give travelers a front row peek into the flavor of Tulsa before they even leave baggage claim. Local landmarks like the sloppy-faced Big Blue Whale, the neon-lit Skateland sign, the Braum’s milk bottle and more offer a preview of what’s to come along the roads of Tulsa (most represented being historic Route 66). The installation serves as a living advertisement, but in many ways doubles as a time machine.

The airport features several other works worth viewing, including murals, sculptures, photography and statues. The airport building itself, designed in midcentury modern style, is worth a closer look, too.

14.) Tulsa Penguins – various locations

Launched in 2002 as a marketing and fundraising engine for the Tulsa Zoo’s black-footed penguin exhibit, the tuxedoed animal installations caught on and can now be found all across town. Noteworthy penguins include: “Charity,” who stands outside the Tulsa Zoo and Living Museum, “Tulsy,” who greets bookish passersby outside Tulsa Central Library, “Girl from Patagonia” who shines at Don Carlton Acura, and “Haute Fun,” the gentleman penguin parked outside Terry Gartside Realtors. To see more of these festively adorned flightless birds, flock this way and see how many you can track down.

15.) Greetings from TULSA” - Ziegler’s Frame Shop, 6 N. Lewis Ave.

For a photo op fit for Instagram, head to Ziegler’s Frame Shop in the Kendall Whittier District and snap a shot in front of the “Greetings from TULSA” mural, painted by a set design class at the University of Tulsa in partnership with the neighborhood. Designed as a living postcard, the mural features past and present landmarks from the neighborhood inside the lettering and reflects the rebirth and revitalization of Kendall Whittier.

 

Megan Shepherd is a local writer who enjoys travel, live music, animals, adventures in food + wine, and anything outside. She’s a native Tulsan who, after wandering around the country for a few years, found herself right back in T-Town. Megan is a contributor for several local and national publications, is the former editor of Tulsafood.com, is on the board of the Art Directors Club of Tulsa and the Tulsa Ultimate Frisbee Federation.