Oklahoma lost a treasure this week.
Renowned artist Charles Banks Wilson passed away May 2 at age 94 and was laid to rest Tuesday in Miami, Okla.
Wilson’s paintings permanently line the state Capitol dome and have been shown at the Smithsonian Institution, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and Library of Congress.
Photo Slideshow: Oklahoma's lost treasure
Wilson, who technically was born and died in Arkansas, considered himself an Oklahoman. He moved here with his parents as a child. In 1936, he graduated from Miami High School.
After studying at the Art Institute in Chicago and working as an illustrator in New York City, Wilson established a permanent studio in Miami dubbed his “catbird seat to Oklahoma.”
“When I came back to Oklahoma, I got all kinds of work from people who wanted their cowboys done by somebody out west,” Wilson said in a 2010 “Voices of Oklahoma” interview. “But when I lived in New York, nobody wanted me.”
The Oklahoma Hall of Fame inductee worked for the state Legislature from 1963 to 1968, painting life-size portraits of greats like Will Rogers, Sequoyah, Sen. Robert S. Kerr and Jim Thorpe.
In 1970, the Legislature commissioned Wilson to paint murals depicting Oklahoma history.
“Charles Banks Wilson, more than any other artist in Oklahoma, bridged art and history,” Bob Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society, told The Joplin Globe. “He was able to tell in paintings and drawings and sculpture of people and events and communities.”
As a swan song, Wilson painted a portrait of Okemah folksinger Woody Guthrie. Oklahoma Gazette, which sponsored the painting, spearheaded a populist fundraising drive to raise funds to cover the costs of the artist’s commission, framing and hanging of the portrait permanently in the Capitol rotunda.
Wilson, known for years as “Oklahoma’s Old Master,” was our state’s Michelangelo.
The artistic giant will be missed, but thank God we have his wonderful paintings of Oklahoma’s rich history.
Visit EnidNews.com to view a slideshow of paintings and hear an interview with Wilson.