So what do you know about Senator Elmer Thomas? If you're local, you might recognize there's a lake named for him. But are you aware that Thomas was instrumental in founding Medicine Park, with all its cobblestone charm? That he was an influential United States Senator for 24 years? Now through June 9, follow Thomas' career of public service in a temporary exhibit, Mr Thomas: The Life of a Senator, in the museum's Bell Gallery. Visitors can explore the Southwest Oklahoma icon through photos and objects ranging from a walking cane and a cocktail shaker to Thomas' actual United States Senate seat (literally the four-legged chair)!
So what do a leather football helmet, house blueprint, Camp Fire gown, VHS camera, saddle decorated with a lot (did I say a lot?) of German silver, wooden egg crate, “Virginia Dare” soda bottle, nurse’s wool cape, “Killer Bees” quilt, and more, have in common? Nothing really, except these are a few of the objects in our latest temporary exhibit, From the Collection: Recent donations to the Museum of the Great Plains.
Now through the end of 2018, visitors can see an eclectic sampling of the kinds of things, the wide range of things, that people have given the museum in just the last few years. All the photos and objects in the exhibit tell fascinating stories. Take the "Virginia Dare" soda bottle. Construction workers found it inside a wall of the museum during a renovation project in January 2017. Someone, we guess, placed it there about 1959, when the original portion of the museum was built.
That saddle? The one with all the silver? It’s front-and-center as you enter the Terry K Bell Gallery, and just happened (like we didn’t plan it this way) to belong to Cyrus Bell, Terry Bell’s father. Cyrus' business card reads, “World Traveler, International Lover, Teller of Tall Tales, Last of the Big Spenders, [and] Authority on Longhorns and Women.” Now you don’t see that on many business cards these days, right? Probably a story (or two) (or three) in there somewhere.
After a breather, Red Dirt Dinos: an Oklahoma Dinosaur Adventure, has returned to the Museum of the Great Plains. The traveling exhibit features animatronic versions of three dinosaurs that once roamed Oklahoma, and explores the science used by paleontologists to reveal their history. Acrocanthosaurus, Tenontosaurus, and Deinonychus (trying saying those three names with a mouthful of oatmeal) are able to detect the movement of people in the exhibit, and can distinguish between adults (tough and dry) and kids (tender and moist). Running shoes advised.
Beginning Saturday, June 9, In Citizen's Garb: Images of Native Americans on the Southern Plains, 1889 – 1891, opens in the museum's Terry K Bell Gallery. The current show features 33 pieces from the larger, original exhibit of 53 images, debuted by the Museum of the Great Plains in 2005, and subsequently toured by Exhibits USA. The portraits by photographers William J Lenney and William L Sawyers feature Comanche, Kiowa, Plains Apache, Apache, Wichita, Delaware, and Tonkawa subjects. The exhibit runs through September 23, 2018. More information about museum events here.
From May 5 though June 3, the museum is hosting Works by Robert Peterson, in the Terry K Bell Gallery. Peterson is a Lawton artist who has emerged recently on the state and national scene. Already a number of his works have been acquired by some high-profile collectors. But we don't mean to brag - we'll let his work do that for him! Have a look.
Lots going on during the next three months! Kid Inventor just opened in the Oklahoma Museum Network Gallery. This exhibit features Design, Build, and Test areas where you can (as you might have guessed already) design, build, and test your own inventions. It's a big mess and a lot of fun! In the Terry K Bell Gallery, beginning May 5, we'll feature approximately twenty works by the up-and-coming, nationally-recognized painter and Lawton native, Robert Peterson. Then in June, it's the annual Oklahoma Chautauqua. The morning and afternoon workshops, held in Louise D McMahon Hall, will explore five historical figures: Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Vanderbilt-Whitney, Josephine Baker, Acee Blue Eagle, and General John J Pershing. More information here.
We’ve got plaque! Not on our teeth, silly, but on our walls! In 1998, The McMahon Foundation funded an expansion of the Museum of the Great Plains that created a new main gallery, today’s “E P McMahon Exhibition Hall.” In 2012, The Foundation served as the lead donor to obtain a large grant that renovated the entire exhibit space in the main hall, creating what is now known as the “Donald W Reynolds Great Plains Discovery Center” at the museum, which debuted in November 2015.
In 2003, The McMahon Foundation paid for the renovation of what was once a temporary gallery in the old, original part of the building, which then became a meeting area and rental space at the museum, today’s “Louise D McMahon Hall.” After more than a decade of wear and tear—while serving as a much-needed revenue stream for the museum—The Foundation once again underwrote a renovation of the hall in 2017.
During the Louise D McMahon Hall renovation, we asked The McMahon Foundation to provide wording for plaques to be placed at the entrances to these areas. Visitors see “E P McMahon Exhibition Hall” and “Louise D McMahon Hall,” but many, most, probably don’t know the significance of those names, or the relation of The McMahon Foundation to the museum. So, we hope the plaques will provide our visitors with even more information about the Museum of the Great Plains, The McMahon Foundation, and Lawton, Oklahoma.
The Museum of the Great Plains routinely benefits from many other donations as well. For example, the Terry K Bell Charitable Trust, in 2014, paid for a complete remodel of the museum’s foyer and store, and remodeled a former classroom as the “Terry K Bell Gallery.” In September 2017, noticing a patio area adjoining Louise D McMahon Hall looked a little rough, George and Tresea Moses made a gift to the museum to renovate that space. It’s a popular stop for guests who visit the outdoor exhibits, and now the patio looks better than ever.
As always, we remind everyone of the importance of the City of Lawton to the continuing existence and well-being of the Museum of the Great Plains. Since 1961, the City of Lawton and The McMahon Foundation have, together, played vital roles in the maintenance and improvement of one of Lawton and Southwest Oklahoma’s chief educational and entertainment venues. Thank you, City of Lawton!
Oh, it’s a person? Who? A woman? Well, why would anyone ever name their child that! But then it was 1904….
Mignon, whose name is pronounced like “minion,” was born into an unusual family. Her father was a doctor, her mother a performer, and for a time they lived and traveled in a customized railroad car. The Lairds toured a circuit in Oklahoma, parking for a week or so in a community on a railway siding, where Dr Laird would receive patients. Mrs Laird performed dramatic readings and sang, while Mignon became known for playing the harp and dancing. The family business was similar to a “medicine show,” a type of mid-nineteenth to early twentieth century touring act that coupled entertainment with some kind of medical product or service.
From her childhood, it was almost a natural leap for Mignon to Vaudeville. The name “Vaudeville” applied to a certain type of live entertainment production, a variety show often hosted in local theaters and featuring traveling acts. Many singers, dancers, radio performers, stage and film actors from the 1890s to the 1930s began their careers in Vaudeville shows. Mignon also danced in the New York-based “Ziegfeld Follies,” a glamorous stage production of select chorus girls.
As the Follies, Vaudeville, and other types of live entertainment were supplanted by film and radio, Mignon Laird followed. Later she operated a studio for “stage dancing” and “dramatic art.” She died in New York City in 1984, and her ashes were spread at the Mignon Laird Municipal Airport in Cheyenne, Oklahoma, the site of her family’s former territorial homestead.
Join the Museum of the Great Plains on Saturday, December 23, from 2:00-4:00 for a visit by Santa Claus! He’s brought a sleigh, a couple of reindeer, and a Christmas tree, in case you want your want to take your picture (or see where you are on the naughty-or-nice list). While you’re here, the gallery is open from 10:00-5:00, and admission is only $1 for all ages (children younger than 3 are always free). Finally, check out our Santa-approved museum store for those last-minute gifts. Merry Christmas!
From time to time, we'll post info here about what's going-on at the museum.