Thomas Gilcrease learned to love the American West as a boy growing up in the Oklahoma Territory during the early 1900s, but it took a trip to Europe to ignite his passion for preserving and sharing the region's distinctive culture and history. Inspired by the vast displays of Old World artwork he viewed during his overseas travels, he used the wealth he amassed in Oklahoma's oil fields to assemble an immense collection of art and artifacts. This collection found its current home in 1949 when Gilcrease founded what would become the Gilcrease Museum.
The museum's exhibit halls, library shelves, and refrigerator doors brim with historically and culturally significant pieces, including more than 10,000 Western American artworks by nationally renowned painters and sculptors, 100,000 rare books, maps, and manuscripts, and 250,000 Native American artifacts. Although exhibits change throughout the year, they tend to explore the impact of westward expansion while also celebrating the region's natural beauty and honoring its roots in Native American culture.
Beyond its walls, the Gilcrease Museum features 23 acres of themed gardens, which embrace landscaping design and agricultural practices from the pre-Columbian, Colonial, and Victorian eras, among others. These gardens allow visitors to interact with displays that are simultaneously historical and alive, serving as a symbolic reminder of western America's cultural growth and development.
Aesthetes and anthropologists can devour an eyeful of wide-ranging cultural artifacts and extensive fine art collections at the Mabee-Gerrer. The permanent collection of Egyptian art claims Oklahoma's only mummy that's not living, and the antiquities section features sculpture and pottery from ancient Greece, China, and Mesopotamia. Visitors can also set their sights on a broad sweep of American works, including timeworn Aztec textiles housed in the Arts of Ancient America collection, present-day paintings by Oklahoma artists in the Contemporary Art section, and the unpainted canvases hanging in the museum's 23rd-century collection.
The Tulsa Zoo, which rarely closes, shuts its doors on the third Friday in June. On that day, the staff prepares for its annual “WALTZ on the Wild Side” fundraiser. During the rest of the year, guests can take advantage of exhibits that have been made possible by the money raised during that event, including the Chimpanzee Connection, Elephant Encounter, Penguin Exhibit, Children’s Zoo and the Helmerich Sea Lion Cove.
The Tulsa Zoo has committed itself to enlightening guests and protecting species from around the globe. The zoo cares for African animals such as the Aldabra tortoises, Asian animals including snow leopards, and animals native to the tropical rainforest of Central and South America. In addition to the “WALTZ on the Wild Side” fundraiser, the Tulsa Zoo also hosts events including the 5K and 10K Zoo Run, and the “HallowZOOeen” celebration, in which animals get to dress up and ask each other for candy.
As a basket drifts against the twilight, the only sound one can hear is a burner whispering to invisible gas, commanding it to push the carriage higher into the evening sky. At Go Hot Air Ballooning, flights stay close enough to the ground to witness deer wandering the earth, and each excursion—from private rides to tethered convoys—takes off with passengers' well-being in mind. An FAA-licensed pilot with more than 20 years of ballooning experience—and a perfect safety record—takes the helm of each flight, personally confirming each reservation and watching up-to-date weather reports to ensure safe flight conditions. Though the in-air portion lasts only an hour, most journeys take up to four hours in all, allowing passengers to witness such behind-the-scenes action as the pilot inflating the entire balloon with his lungs.
Tom's Bicycles equips scenery hunters with the cycling essentials they need to explore Tulsa’s outdoors from the comfort of a two-wheeled road raft. Mountain and hybrid fitness bikes ($30/day) as well as tandem bikes built for two people ($45/day) offer a convenient way to get around while velocipedalists take to the nearby park’s paved trails or wheelie over to off-road trails. A helmet is included with the rental, ensuring that the vast collection of Oscar Wilde quips stored in each customer’s brain is well protected. Though children’s bikes are not available, kids trailers ($15/day) allow tikes to ride along.
Everyone should have a way to express themselves. That’s why the instructors at Tulsa Art Center are passionate about guiding visitors through a wide variety of art classes, ranging from watercolor to clay sculptures. The instructors firmly believe that artistic talent can be learned or easily purchased from a palm reader, and classes for all ages and skill levels welcome both burgeoning artists and established experts. Students can learn to illustrate comic books and build a foundation in storytelling during book-illustration classes, or pick up a pencil at the learn-to-draw class.
What began in 1965 as a traveling exhibit from the Jewish Museum in New York transformed into a permanent space for art pieces that encompass various aspects of Jewish life. The museum now bears the name of its first curator, Tulsa native Sherwin Miller, whose dedication to Judaism and art embodies the museum’s mission to "preserve and share the legacy of Jewish art, history and culture."
To cultivate its educational environment, The Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art maintains permanent collections such as the Jewish History and Culture exhibition, in which visitors can peruse fine art in the form of brilliantly colored tapestries by Israeli artist Reuven Rubin and archeological artifacts from the Middle Bronze Age through the Iron Age. Other displays include the Kaiser Holocaust Exhibition on the first floor and the Oklahoma Jewish Experience, which tells the stories of immigrants and showcases memorabilia from Oklahoma synagogues and families. In addition to its collections, the museum also showcases rotating exhibits of visiting works of art and seasonal educational displays with craft projects geared toward specific holidays.