Last Updated on May 31, 2023

Visiting Tulsa for the first time in spring of 2023, I was curious about what types of art I could find within the city known for its Art Deco architecture and performance art scene. I have been interested in art since I was a child, so whenever I travel, I find myself gravitating toward art museums or chasing down fascinating street art.

The diversity of art in Tulsa is readily apparent from its colorful murals to its fascinating museums. Nowhere is it more evident than while exploring the Philbrook Museum of Art and the Woody Guthrie Center. 

Philbrook Museum of Art

Philbrook Museum of Art Great Hall.
Philbrook Museum of Art Great Hall. Photo by Heather Raulerson

An immense, three-level art museum, the Philbrook Museum of Art resides in a stunning Italian Renaissance villa housing masterpieces from five continents spanning 5,000 years.

Wandering through the galleries on the main level, you get the impression you’re intruding in some millionaire’s home where the dining, living, library, and music rooms still have the furnishings accented with priceless works of art on the walls, soft music playing in the background. Exploring further, it feels more and more like an art museum, statues and paintings on view from some of the most important names in art history. 

Check out the intricate, colorful stained-glass window in the Great Hall as you head up or down the staircase to other floors housing the collections and special exhibitions, including the cornerstone collection focusing on Native American art.

Among those in the permanent collection on display during my visit were Wassily Kandinsky, Salvador Dali, Monet, and Picasso. However, I especially enjoyed the surprise of admiring works from artists I was not familiar with and contemporary pieces commenting on current events.

Guaranteed, there will be something to make you stop, think, question, admire, and wonder ‘just how they came up with that.’ 

Art offers a way to step outside ourselves and our everyday lives, and the Philbrook offers visitors the opportunity to see the world from a different perspective. This goes beyond the galleries to include the massive gardens behind the museum.

These artful gardens were based upon Salvador Dali’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ sketches that were on view inside the museum when I visited. Plan to spend a few hours roaming the Philbrook inside and out to absorb every aspect of this fabulous museum.

Woody Guthrie Center

Portrait of Woody Guthrie.
Portrait of Woody Guthrie. Photo by Heather Raulerson

Many people may know that Tulsa’s most renowned musical artist is country singer Garth Brooks. Another musical icon has roots in the area that I wasn’t aware of: Woody Guthrie. He was born in nearby Okemah, OK in 1912.

Guthrie is one of America’s most influential songwriters, and the Woody Guthrie Center showcases his legacy of diversity, equality, and social justice through his music. Woody Guthrie was more than a songwriter, he is widely considered the godfather of the American Protest Song. 

Did you know Woody Guthrie wrote, “This Land is Your Land?”

He didn’t stop there.

Guthrie also wrote novels, short stories, poetry, plays, letters, and articles on the world around him. These included things he read about in the newspapers or books, stories of people he met in his travels, and about the life and struggles of America that he observed along the way.

Guthrie also created intriguing artwork using watercolors, charcoal, pastels, and inks to capture and document the world he saw.

The Woody Guthrie Center displays a considerable amount of his poignant words and artwork offering visitors an intimate glimpse into the soul of this incredible songwriter and artist.

His work inspired some of the biggest artists in history like Emmylou Harris, John Lennon, Joan Baez, John Mellencamp, and Tom Morello. Though the Woody Guthrie Center is a smaller museum, visitors should still schedule an hour or two to truly take in all its interactive exhibits and memorabilia.

Instead of driving by Tulsa on your next road trip, consider stopping in for a bit and exploring one of its magnificent museums. 

Edgar Degas once said, “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”

When visiting the Philbrook Museum of Art and the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa, discover for yourself what it is you might truly see.   

Author

  • Heather Raulerson

    Heather is a freelance writer for traditional and online publications in travel, human interest, food and drink, and photography. She loves SLOW travel, getting to know the local culture, and always exploring with her camera. She has been published in several publications.