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An Early Morning Visit to Philbrook in Tulsa

by Charlie McCabe

Window made of found glass in the cabin on the Philbrook grounds


I'm still catching up on sharing some of the parks and spaces I've visited while traveling in the past few months. My excuse is partly that many of my current projects had September and October due dates. Also a factor: another round of Omicron that wasn't too bad but kept me testing positive for nine days and upended two planned trips (Providence, Newark) and made me miss my cousin's wedding. On the positive side, I had more focused time to work in my office on those projects that were due.


During the Institute for Urban Parks trip to Tulsa, we got a chance for an early morning tour of the Philbrook Museum, neighbor to Gathering Place. Scott Stulen, Director/President of the Philbrook, walked us around the museum and grounds, sharing the transformation of the museum inside and out. An impressive amount of active placemaking, and the museum was also introducing new art among long-held works, such as the Equestrian Portrait of Philip IV by Kehinde Wiley (shown below).

But there were so many other cool exhibits that caught my eye.


First, let's acknowledge my favorite—the sandpit/mudpit where kids and adults can make mud pies or whatever earthly delights they may conjure. The sandbox was definitely my favorite place as a kid. More and more parks, including Gathering Place, have this combo of sand, water, and tools, but park managers tend not to like it because of the maintenance challenge. I'm sorry, no excuse, we need more, not fewer, things that focus on creative play in our parks.

The mud pit, or maybe mud garden? ;-)


One room in the Museum allowed museum visitors to ask questions of the curatorial staff and get responses. The staff are working to convert some of these questions and answers into a more permanent exhibit, but I love the interactivity and openness of this effort. See the next two photos for examples of the questions and answers . . .


One of the coolest exhibits was by artist Karl Unnasch, who used paper, books, and glass to reconstruct an old cabin that he acquired as part of a property he bought. Called “SLUMGULLION (The Venerate Outpost),” it was built from the skeleton of the original late-1800s home. The roof is colored, waxed paper, as is the filler between the log walls. Reworked glass is in the windows and lighting. The cabin is open as part of the museum during regular hours and is also available for private functions.




Finally, the grounds at the Philbrook are pretty amazing, and they are working to re-introduce a native, naturalized plant palette in the gardens and surrounding lawns and grounds.


Check out my previous post about Gathering Place in Tulsa or all of my writing about parks and public spaces.


© Copyright 2022, Charlie McCabe Consulting LLC

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