Portrait sponsors Howard and Billie Barnett and Charles Banks Wilson unveil Wilson's
portrait on the Senate floor Wednesday.
Artist Charles Banks Wilson was honored at the state Capitol Wednesday with the dedication
of his portrait. Pictured L-R: Billie Barnett, artist Mike Wimmer, Charles Wilson,
preservation fund president Charles Ford and Howard Barnett.
Artist Charles Banks Wilson thanks the Senate for their recognition and commends artist
Mike Wimmer for his good work on the portrait.
Artist Charles Banks Wilson commends artist Mike Wimmer for his good work.
Artist Charles Banks Wilson admires his portrait.
Portrait artist Mike Wimmer explains how he first learned about his mentor Charles Banks Wilson
on a high school field trip to the state Capitol.
Senate Dedicates Portrait of Artist Charles Banks Wilson
Over the years, Charles Banks Wilson has painted many pieces for the Oklahoma Legislature and he was honored Wednesday when his portrait was added to the Capitol’s historic collection. The portrait, by fellow Oklahoma artist Mike Wimmer, was sponsored by Howard and Billie Barnett and commissioned by the State Senate Historical Preservation Fund, Inc.
“The state Capitol would not be the beautiful tourist attraction it is without Charles’ many extraordinary pieces of art. His work transformed the Capitol and essentially started the trend towards beautifying the building,” said Charles Ford, president of the fund. “As a painter, printmaker, teacher, lecturer, historian, and magazine and book illustrator, his accomplishments are many and we were so pleased to be able to honor him and his contributions to our state.”
Wilson has spent much of his career painting documentary portraits of Oklahomans. Born in Arkansas in 1918 and raised in Miami, Oklahoma, Wilson was accepted at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1936 to study painting, water color, and lithography.
He served as an illustrator apprentice at the Chicago Tribune, and contributed to a folio for the American Art Association. During WWII, he returned to Oklahoma and began teaching classes at Northeastern A&M College, where he established the art department and served as its head for 15 years.
From 1963 to 1968, Wilson worked for the Oklahoma Legislature producing life-size portraits for the Capitol rotunda of Cherokee linguist Sequoyah, humorist Will Rogers, athlete Jim Thorpe, and Senator Robert S. Kerr. Since then he has completed a number of other works at the Capitol including a portrait of folk singer Woody Guthrie.
Fellow artist Mike Wimmer said he first learned about Wilson on a high school field trip to the state Capitol nearly 40 years ago. Wilson was the only realist artist in the state at the time, and his work had a major impact on the young budding artist who later mirrored his art after Wilson’s and even pursued a career as an illustrator like him.
“Charles Wilson is one of the state’s masters of art, and I was extremely honored to be asked to do his portrait,” said Wimmer. “My career has come full circle. If someone would have told me on that field trip that I’d have art in the Capitol some day and, even more, that I’d be asked to paint my mentor’s portrait, I wouldn’t have believed it. This is truly the biggest honor of my life.”
Wilson’s works have been shown in over 200 exhibitions in the U.S. and around the world. His works are housed in some of the most renowned museums and art galleries in the world including New York’s Metropolitan Museum, Washington’s Library of Congress, the Corcoran Gallery, and the Smithsonian. The Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa owns the largest collection of his work.
The 92-year-old artist, accompanied by his daughter Carrie, said he greatly appreciated the portrait and recognition by the Legislature, and praised Wimmer for his work.
“I appreciate this and I think you did a good job,” said Wilson. “I’m quite a critical person, and when I say it’s a good job, it’s damn-well a good job.”
The artist has been honored by the U.S. State Department and the International Institute of Arts and Letters in Geneva. In 1970, he received the Governor’s Arts Award and a Distinguished Service Citation from the University of Oklahoma, and then was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1977.
Portrait sponsor Howard Barnett is the President of Oklahoma State University-Tulsa as well as the President of the OSU Center for Health Sciences. A life-long Tulsan, Barnett served as chief of staff for Gov. Frank Keating and as the Oklahoma Secretary of Commerce. He is also a former chairman of the Tulsa Metro Chamber and past president of Leadership Oklahoma.
“We’re very proud to be a part of this. I can’t think of a painting that’s more appropriate to hang in the Capitol than the portrait of Charles Banks Wilson who basically had the only paintings in this place for so long,” said Barnett. “I would like to thank Senator Ford, who everyone knows has made it his life’s work to beautify the Capitol; and now we’ve got a place that we can all be incredibly proud of and we’re very happy to see this painting join the collection.”
Billie Barnett was honored in 2005 by Gov. Brad Henry with the Marilyn Douglass Memorial Award at the Governor’s Arts Awards. She has served on the Oklahoma Arts Council and has served on the Council’s Executive and
Government Affairs Committees. She built bipartisan support for arts funding and the passage of the Oklahoma Art in Public Places Act.
The Barnett’s are involved in many local and state civic charitable organizations, including among others, the Tulsa Ballet, the Salvation Army, The Oklahoma Academy, and the Arts and Humanities Council of Tulsa.