This building is a very good example of the Collegiate Gothic style of architecture and possesses numerous decorative details. It is a three-story building with a three-arched entryway separated by buttresses. The decorative mix of brick and limestone enhances the building, as seen for example in the limestone quoins, arches, and window surrounds. The building does not have towers, but second-story cantilevered windows topped with battlements give the building a Medieval robustness. Most of the windows also possess elaborate tracery, often in the shape of Gothic arches.
This building is significant for several reasons. For many years it housed the School of Art on the University of Oklahoma campus and is named for Oscar B. Jacobson, its long-time director. Jacobson played a major role in the mentoring of Indian artists in the state and he was a devoted advocate of Indian art. As a recognized leader in Oklahoma’s burgeoning art community, he was also closely associated with the implementation of the various New Deal art programs during the 1930s and 1940s. In 1934 one of his students, Derald Swineford, was awarded a Public Works of Art Project commission to carve oak panels for doors in this building. This project continued even after PW AP funding had ended, involved several art students in addition to Swineford, and resulted in the carving of a series of 30 oak panels. Swineford carved ten of the panels as part of the work for his master’s degree.
It is believed that sometime in the 1960s the door panels were removed and placed in storage in the art museum on the OU campus. In 1997 the panels were returned to their original location. They remain in excellent condition, and the possession of this art makes the building unique. These are the only known extant and in situ woodcarvings to have been created with PW AP sponsorship in Oklahoma.
Thirty Carved Oak Panels Illustrating Life and Art Styles from the Cave Man through the Steel Worker
by Derald Swineford, Anita Furray, Margaret Giles, and Paul McBride, 1934-45.
Derald T. Swineford is one of the few sculptors in Oklahoma to have been employed on New Deal art programs, and was one of four OU students who received PW AP funding in 1934 for the completion of a set of doors. Anita Furray, Margaret Giles, and Paul McBride assisted in the creation of the doors. The doors contain a total of sixty panels, thirty of which depict the cultural traditions of the world throughout history. These panels alternate with an additional thirty that imitate folded linen. Although the original PWAP called for a series of twenty narrative panels, Swineford later expanded the project by ten in fulfillment of his master’s thesis, which he completed between fall 1937 and December 1945.
The doors not only demonstrate knowledge of world art history but also suggest an interpretation of art history based largely on the evolution of aesthetics. For many modem artists and critics in the 1930s, the history of art was a gradual exploration and development of aesthetic issues throughout the centuries, and Swineford may have been influenced by Jacobson’s writings and lectures, which promoted that perspective. The panels include quotations of the traditional fine arts, such as painting, sculpture and ceramics, and references to other artistic traditions, such as textiles.
Swineford begins with Cave Man, in which the Neolithic hunter returns to the cave to draw the animals he has seen. His next three panels include three major nonWestern traditions and significant influences on modem Western art: Oceanic Art, which includes the wood carving of the Polynesians and a particular focus on the architectural sculpture of a council house; African Fetish Makers, which shows untaught carvers and the worship of a fetish figure; and Mayan or Aztec, which contains numerous hieroglyphs and a scene inspired by a Mayan vase in which a leader is visited by an “inferior.” The next three panels involve what Swineford considered nomadic cultures: The Mongolian, whom Swineford referred to as the “Asiatic Navajo,” a panel which focuses on the colorful dress, the shepherding skills of the people, and the potential transaction over a horse; Arabian Art which includes an array of ornamental designs from Muslim culture such as those found on dress, dwellings, saddles, and jewelry; and finally The Mexican, who “prefers to dwell along the highways” according to the artist, a panel which depicts a genre scene of Mexican life including a restaurant, cathedral, a woman who transports produce by burro, a man with a serape passing by, and a man in back taking a siesta after drinking in the pulqueria.
The following five panels depict the development of art and culture under religion and empire beginning with Russia, which is set in the Volga region before the nineteenth century when the Orthodox Church represented the highest seat of power, wealth, and art in society next to the Czar. Swineford has also included the fearless and heroic Cossack at right. Ming Potter, by contrast, features a court scene in which a ceramicist presents his latest creation for the approval of the Ming emperor. Japanese also presents a court scene with two women from the Yoshiwara district clad in decorated kimonos. Swineford found inspiration for the scene in both the work of the Japanese artist Utamaro (1753- 1806), and in Jacobson’s prints. The following scene, Buddha of Tibet, is also based on non-Western sources, namely Tibetan paintings. The arts flourished under Kar-ma-pa Buddhism, which appeared in Tibet in the tenth century with the teaching of Atisha, the learned saint. Just as Buddhism led to a flowering of the arts in Asia, Christianity produced a similar aesthetic tradition which Swineford depicts in Illuminated Manuscript Writers. Finally, Armor Maker or the Armorer features the development of armor and metalsmithing, specifically the refined Maximilian armor named for Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian.
Panels fourteen through sixteen focus on forms of choreography and dance, beginning with The Bull Fight, which depicts the ornately dressed matador preparing to bring the ritual to a climax. The next two panels, Eagle Dance Number I and Eagle Dance Number 2, show two variations on the Kiowa dance, and Swineford focuses on the most dramatic moment when two eagle dancers prepare to strike.
The remaining panels possess less of the thematic cohesion found in the first sixteen. Panel seventeen, Indian Weavers, depicts Navajo weavers from c. 1540. Swineford included the hogan dwelling in the background to create a setting, and the log structure creates a transition to the next scene, The Great American Migration. American pioneers build log cabins in the scene, and their garments, particularly the moccasins, betray Native American influence. The outdoor setting of panels sixteen and seventeen provide a subtle entrance to The Landscape Painters – Corot. Jean Baptiste Camille Corot promoted plein air painting, or painting outdoors, and Swineford shows the French artist painting on the ground near the Barbizon area. As a counterpoint, Sculpture presents the other major aesthetic tradition in the West. The sculptor studies from the nude, and Swineford includes primitivist masks in background as both a stylistic influence on the modem artists and as a reference to the earlier panels of non-Western artistic traditions.
Although the remaining ten panels were not created under the direction of the PW AP, Swineford continued the basic theme of the first twenty. The concluding panels are Egyptian, a depiction of mummification and the Egyptian deities in sculpted form; Assyria, a depiction of the military culture of the ancient empire with a focus on the lion hunting reliefs characteristic of their architecture; Greek Pottery, a depiction of an Ancient Greek potter surrounded by a hydria, crater, and Francois vase; Viking Age, a depiction of the implements of the Viking warriors with particular focus on their seafaring vessels; The Gothic Period, a depiction of the guilds constructing a Gothic cathedral with a reference to the Crusades; The Italian Renaissance, a depiction of Leonardo da Vinci painting the Mona Lisa; Eskimo, a depiction of the material and technological developments of the culture, such as the kayak and igloo; Scotch Highlanders, a depiction of Scot dress and music; Totem Pole Carvers, a depiction of Northwest coast Native American material culture, such as house posts, carved boxes, and masks; and The Modem American Builder, a depiction of the science, technology and industry that makes up modem life.
- Thematic Survey of New Deal Era Public Art in Oklahoma 2003-2004, Project Number: 03-401 (Department of Geography, Oklahoma State University).