Shortly after noon today, I was walking through the cold in west Tulsa. I’d stopped at Howard Park on Southwest Boulevard, a place I’ve driven by dozens of times but had never stopped. It was empty on this blustery winter afternoon and the overcast sky made the empty tree branches look even more desolate. Traffic zipped by on the boulevard, also known as Route 66, and occasionally slowed to look at the same thing I’d ventured out to see: a trio of beautifully carved stone sculptures depicting Tulsa’s transportation history.
I’d first heard about the project to create this limestone trinity back in September. The City of Tulsa (along with the Arts Commission of Tulsa) commissioned the stone markers to be carved for permanent display along the Mother Road in the southwest part of the city. Considering my passions, the project piqued my interest.
Around the same time, I was tapped to be an advisory member of the Tulsa Route 66 Commission as a part of the city’s new focus on getting more out of the historic highway that came through town. Working with the Preservation & Design Committee, I stayed engaged with the various initiatives to help boost 66 within town limits…which included the sculptures. Through my involvement with the Commission, I found myself shaking the hand of the artist himself on November 12th. Patrick Sullivan was celebrating his birthday and the folks at the Red Fork Art Gallery hosted him and a handful of other local artists to celebrate. It was then I realized that I’d actually met Patrick before.
Art Show at the Red Fork Art Gallery
Well, “met” him is probably too strong of a word. I watched him work at the Guthrie Green downtown back in the summer of 2014 and marveled at his artistic skill. He was using the public space to chisel away at a ten ton block of limestone destined for installation at a business in North Tulsa. The sculpture Patrick was working on then was a tribute to three figures important to the modern highway system: Cyrus Avery (the father of Route 66), President Eisenhower (for creating the Interstate Highway System in 1956), and Clinton Riggs (the Tulsa police officer that invented the Yield sign in 1950). It was a novelty to see something like that being created in front of my own eyes and I thought it was cool that we even had such a thing happening in the city. Of course, I had no idea that our paths would intersect again, let alone on something so near and dear to my heart.
As I was leaving the Red Fork Art Gallery in November, Patrick encouraged me to stop by the Waterworks Art Studio in west Tulsa to check out his progress. Three days later, I did. The blocks of Indiana Limestone were in various stages of completion but they already looked spectacular. So much was represented in the stone carvings: Route 66, the Tulsa Trolley, the city’s Native American heritage, aviation, even the Blue Dome! I was highly impressed, both with Patrick’s craftsmanship and our easy rapport. He was proud of his work and how Tulsa had embraced this part of our history.
Last week, Patrick emailed me and told me the sculptures were nearly completed and would be moved to their permanent home at Howard Park on Friday, December 9th. Yesterday morning, I bundled up, rearranged my work schedule, and arrived at the Waterworks studio early to watch a giant crane carefully load the limestone blocks onto a transport trailer. It was seventeen degrees out and the breeze had teeth, but none of us complained. I followed the caravan to Cyrus Avery Plaza on Route 66 before returning to the office. Today, I ventured down Southwest Boulevard to see the monuments in place alongside the famous road they were carved for.
I could write more about these beautiful carvings, but pictures say so much more. Here are a few from today’s visit to the park. There’s a link at the bottom with more photos to see if you’re interested.
Check out a few more photos at my website. I am tremendously thankful to the city and Patrick Sullivan for creating these lasting monuments; they will appeal to locals and travelers alike. A formal ceremony to mark their installation is set for early January. Good job, Tulsa!