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The West Depicted in Oklahoma

Art and cultural heritage often go hand-in-hand in Oklahoma. The Sooner State serves as headquarters to 39 Native American tribes. Most tribes have a geographic area, community building or museum that features an art or traditional craft component. The Cherokee Heritage Center in Tahlequah and the Chickasaw Cultural Center in Sulphur keep their cultures alive through interactive and informative experiences tailored to all who visit.

In Tulsa, Western and Native American art shines at the Gilcrease Museum. And Oklahoma City’s National Cowboy Western and Heritage Museum tells America’s story through its superb collection of classic and contemporary art and artifacts.

For a different perspective, the Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art’s encyclopedic collection spans ancient to contemporary works, some once used by the missionary monks to teach the students of white settlers and Native American families.


Cherokee Heritage Center


Re-creating Native American life 60 miles east of Tulsa, the Cherokee Heritage Center sits on the former site of the Cherokee Female Seminary, built in 1851 at the official end of the Trail of Tears. The museum’s comprehensive “Trail of Tears” exhibit tells the Cherokees’ story in English and their native dialogue. Groups can schedule a storytelling session or a class in Cherokee-style basket weaving or pottery. Temporary galleries rotate five times annually and include three nationally recognized art shows, each featuring approximately 50 artists and 200 pieces of artwork.

“Our spring show is open to Native American artists nationwide, while our other two shows are Cherokee specific,” said the museum’s curator, Mickel Yantz. “There’s quite a range of artwork, from traditional pieces and affordable miniature artwork to large, digital sculptures.”

Two outdoor villages offer a glimpse into Cherokee life. Diligwa, a 1710 Cherokee Village that opened in 2013, delivers an authentic Cherokee experience. According to Yantz, this pivotal time frame was chosen to showcase “Cherokee history prior to the European trading and during trade so that visitors get a taste of pre- and post-contact.”

Guided tours by costumed interpreters highlight eight residential sites, a primary council house and a summer council pavilion. Villagers demonstrate traditional Cherokee crafts, and the marble field and stickball fields host current Cherokee games.

Adams Corner Rural Village offers seven buildings representing Cherokee life in the 1890s before Oklahoma statehood.


Chickasaw Cultural Center


The Chickasaw Cultural Center tells the story of the unconquered Chickasaw nation from the past to the present day. The center, located on 109 pristine acres of rolling hills and woodlands, showcases exhibits where groups can tour the Spirit Forest or take part in a stomp-dance demonstration. Daily activities offer firsthand experiences, and artisans engage with the visitors.

The traditional village depicts how the tribe lived during the early 1800s. Cultural teachers demonstrate crafts such as beadwork, basketry and pottery, hide-tanning, bow-making and flute-making. An 18th-century beadwork exhibit on display through this fall features 200-year-old artifacts as well as Chickasaw and Southeasterners’ tribal work from pre-European contact through today.

“We have the world’s largest center showcasing the culture and history of one tribe,” said director of tourism for the Chickasaw Nation, Paige Williams. “We don’t want individuals to come and simply read about the Chickasaw heritage. We want them to experience and taste and learn about our culture.”

Elizabeth Hey

Elizabeth Hey is a member of Midwest Travel Journalists Association and has received numerous awards for her writing and photography. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @travelbyfork.