The Norman Transcript

October 24, 2011

Years of labor put into new art wing

By James S. Tyree
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — The Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art director blended with museum visitors Sunday as they sat in fascination and watched Tony Abeyta create a painting from scratch.

Ghislain d’Humieres was impressed by Abeyta’s artistic skill and audience interaction, but it wasn’t the reason why the museum director looked so happy.

Sunday marked the culmination of the museum’s opening of the 18,000-square-foot Stuart Wing. Groups, families and individuals arrived in droves to see the new and renovated areas.

“This is the epitome of the whole weekend, Community and Family Day, seeing so many families come and take ownership of this institution,” d’Humieres said.

“We worked hard for four years for today,” he said, “and I hope to see a lot more people come for the educational programs and everything else the museum has to offer.”

Museum spokesman Michael Bendure estimated that at least 2,000 people had visited Saturday and Sunday, when the museum offered free admission to celebrate the new wing.

The Stuart Wing was built atop the museum’s original building for $13 million.

Bendure said about 8,000 square feet houses a large part of the Eugene B. Adkins Collection of Taos, N.M., and American Indian artists, about 4,000 square feet is dedicated to a photographic exhibit, and the rest is for administrative offices and storage space for museum items that currently are not on display. Visitors can see many of those items through a window wall.

Architect Rand Elliott designed a “lot of visual cues and metaphors” throughout the new wing and renovation that add even more artistry to the museum, Bendure said.

Norman resident Faith Prout would agree.

“The space itself is very lifting; it has a lifting effect, and the artwork is displayed beautifully,” she said while strolling through the new wing. “It’s finally open, and Norman has really shown up for it.”

Monica Bread has lived in Norman for nearly 40 years, but she never visited the Fred Jones Jr. museum until Sunday.

“I came for the paintings but stayed for the jewelry and the pottery,” said Bread, who brought her daughters Taylor and Tristan. “I never knew, never realized, that this was all here.”

Taylor Bread was surprised to see the number of tribes represented in the jewelry and the different types of works on display.

The Rev. Jim Kee-Rees is a Norman resident who leads an Episcopal church in Watonga. After learning about the new wing and free admission, he knew the family had to visit the museum Sunday after the long drive back from work. Jobeth Kee-Rees and their children Sophia, 7, and Luke were drawn to vivid, colorful paintings in the Adkins Collection.

“Luke is 4 and he really likes the ‘Hopi Snake Dance,’” Jim Kee-Rees said, referring to an 1897 painting of Hopi men with black and white coloring on their faces and holding snakes.

Docents were everywhere in the museum, guiding visitors and answering questions while also intrigued by the new wing and collection.

Docen Sue McAlister gladly explained, at length, the black pottery developed by Navajo artist Maria Martinez, as described earlier Sunday at the museum by Martinez’s great-granddaughter, Barbara Gonzalez, herself a noted San Ildefonso potter.

The handmade process involves clay, polishing stones, a yucca brush, an open firing pit — not kiln — and prolonged oxidation from smoke from cedar and dung that causes the black coloration.

“And during the painting stage, (Gonzalez) said you don’t talk; you pray, because you don’t want to make a mistake,” McAlister said. “It has to be perfect.

“The pottery making,” she said, “is just so fascinating to me.”

More information on the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, 555 S. Elm Ave., can be found at www.ou.edu/fjjma or by calling 325-3272.

James S. Tyree 366-3541 jtyree@normantranscript.com