Recently named one of the Best Places to Travel in 2020 by Travel & Leisure Magazine, Oklahoma City is holding its own due in large part to a healthy arts and culture scene that is exploding. In fact, many accomplished artists in the region call OKC home and have been contributing to the culture of art production for years. The award-winning collective of artists at 50 Penn Place Gallery (an OKC mainstay for the past 25 years) has benefited from working together for decades, showcasing their work at home while also exhibiting all over the US and the world. Every two months, the gallery hosts rotating shows highlighting guest artists, and gives away an original piece of art by the featured artist at the opening.
In 2019, the collective began engaging the public with artist demonstrations outside of the gallery walls, directly in front of their space. "It's a way to show the artistic process," collective member Connie Seabourn says, for those that may be intimidated to come into the gallery. Passersby can watch the artists work and ask them questions. The event is also an opportunity to match a face to a name of an artist they may have admired from afar. The next artist demonstration is February 8, 2020. The owners and collective members include John Brandon, Ron Brandon, Kathy Buttry, Carol Egger, Connie Seabourn, Ann Shannon, Cheryl J. Smith, Glen Thomas, Jo Woolery, and world-renowned expressionist Bert Seabourn.
At 88, Expressionist painter Bert Seabourn still wakes up early every morning to paint in his home studio in Warr Acres. A life long passion for art, he began drawing cartoons and delivering them door-to-door at five years old. Today Bert has a large body of work that spans five decades, multiple continents, and various genres. The artist, who is of Cherokee descent, has works in the permanent collections of many prestigious venues, including The Vatican, The George Bush Library Collection and Museum, and Oklahoma City Museum of Art.
On a brisk Sunday morning in December, Bert and his wife of 69 years, Bonnie, welcomed me into their sunny home to chat about his art career and life. The high school sweethearts lived apart for only one year when Bert was stationed at Pearl Harbor, the same year they were married in 1950. Bonnie joined shortly after and gave birth to their daughter Connie who would grow up to be an artist.
Together they have logged thousands of miles traveling across the United States to promote and exhibit Bert's art, working like a fine-tuned team. In fact, according to Bonnie they never needed to work with an agent. "By the time they came around, it was too late, she says. They had already figured out how to do the work themselves. These days they stay closer to home, with the majority of Bert's new work exhibited at 50 Penn Place Gallery, which he co-founded 25 years ago.
On my Sunday visit, I notice the work which was in process at that month's artist demo is finished and resting against the wall. Pictured is a lounging native man dressed in a contrasting grey and black tuxedo, with two feathers sticking out the side of his head, he is casually holding a martini. It's large and elegant. Bert, a soft-spoken man, says, it's called "Medicine Potion," and chuckles at his own joke. He tells me that often the titles come before the work and that he quickly writes them down, even in the middle of the night. Sometimes Bonnie jots them down. They both laugh at the title of an older work Bert created that featured a man, a dog, and a martini, titled, "Man's Best Friend." Before I leave, they give me a tour of their impressive art collection that fills the walls from the small Salvador Dali drawings to their grandaughter's art proudly displayed amongst the fine art. It's clear that they have created a meaningful artistic life together and celebrate creativity in all its stages.
Collective member Connie Seabourn is an accomplished artist who has exhibited at numerous prestigious galleries and museums, including the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC, the Festival of the Arts, and for 20 years at the Red Earth Festival. Seabourn's work is ethereal, dreamy, and narrative. She says that "dreams, studies, and explorations of love and motherhood, especially after the birth of her daughter and granddaughter, inspire her work." Her preferred medium is watercolor, but she is also an illustrator.
Connie is currently working on illustrating a children's book in collaboration with OKC folk artist Louise Goldberg of Miss Brown To You. The artists said she was brought to tears every time she listened to "Grandmother Lookout Tree," a song written by Goldberg, and now the two have collaborated on a new book that will be published by RoadRunner Press in May 2020. Connie is also a children's book author, says this will be the first time she is collaborating with another writer and enjoys the process of working across mediums.
Connie's work continues to evolve, finding inspiration in the natural and spiritual world.
You can see her work at the gallery ranging from dreamy birds in flight to a series of portraits of "crystal children" whose direct gaze and iconic religious hand gestures leave a lasting impression.
"Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work…" says Sculpture and painter Glen Thomas, using a quote from artist Chuck Quote as a response to the question "What inspires you?" He's right. There is a common misconception that artists wait around for something to inspire them. For the past 50 years, Glen has followed a regular routine of waking up, cleaning his studio, and "using his hands until something begins to form," he says. "I like to be challenged, and sculpture has never lost its luster," said the artist. Glen's work focuses on form, namely, the figure, landscapes & Southwestern culture.
The award-winning artist recently created a stately Cougar he fashioned out of a piece of black walnut he found on the side of the road. The gallery also features one of Glen's most striking and curious pieces, a cardboard bust of a man, titled "Plane Play." Glen says he was looking to make something without troublesome detail, the simplicity of the design is appealing, but you can also imagine the rigor in creating something perfectly geometric. He clearly let his hands do the work, but we most certainly can say the work is inspired.