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Oklahoma Arts CouncilOklahoma Arts Council

Creek Council Oak Tree

by Mike Larsen

Oil
Dimensions:
Commissioned by the Oklahoma State Senate Historical Preservation Fund, Inc.
Dedicated on March 6, 2002
Fourth Floor

Creek Council Oak Tree by Mike Larsen

The Artwork

The traditional "ceremonial ground" under this mature post oak tree was chosen by the Lochapoka clan of the Creek Indians as the place to begin a new life. The clan was forced to make a a slow and painful trek from Alabama by the U.S. Government. More than 160 people died enroute to Oklahoma Territory out of the original group of 630 who began the involuntary migration in 1834.

In 1836, at a point just before the Arkansas River made its great bend to the west, they stopped. Leading men of the group climbed a slight hill that rose from river's sandy banks. At its crest, they gathered beneath a large oak tree that towered mightily above the other trees nearby. With the oak defining a southeastern corner, the people of Lochapoka proceeded to lay out a square for their new home. When it was complete, they marked their arrival with a solemn ceremony depositing ashes brought over the trail from their last fires in Alabama and established their first "town."

The oak that provided them their first council site would survive. Now much older and even more stately, it stands between Seventeenth and Eighteenth Streets and Cheyenne and Denver Avenues in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The Artist

Mike Larsen
Mike Larsen
Born in Dallas, artist Mike Larsen divided his childhood between Texas and Oklahoma. His schooling was accomplished primarily in Texas where he attended both junior high and high school, and it was during high school that Larsen had his first pivotal art moment. He describes his art teacher as "[knowing] less about art than bingo". The classroom atmosphere was thus extremely relaxed; an attitude that only increased Larsen's love of art and strongly stimulated his sense of self-motivation. He further pursued art at Amarillo Junior College where his technique was practiced and polished. Forced to paint only in black and white for the duration of his freshman year, Larsen gained an invaluable experience that he describes as "great training in drawing and form."

Larsen continued his art education at the University of Houston where he enrolled almost entirely in art classes to the exclusion of other required classes. He dropped out of college when he was notified that his senior year would consist entirely of mandatory academic requirements.

From this point on, Larsen attempted to make a career for himself but was initially unsuccessful. He took odd jobs mainly in restaurants so that he could afford to paint each day. During this time, Larsen showed his work at street venues and various galleries although he felt as though something was missing in his work. At the age of 36, Larsen decided to return to school and set his sights on the prestigious Art Students League of New York.

There he studied primarily under famed David Leffel who he described as a "really fine, old master-style painter." While in New York, Larsen encountered three major influences on his career. First of all, was the talent of the instructors he was learned from as a student. Secondly, he was influenced by the retrospective exhibit of the work of Vincent Van Gogh at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Lastly, the experience of New York City alone influenced Larsen a great deal and propelled his career into a new realm of artistic exploration. Larsen's new style integrated more of his Native American heritage into his work, as he began to experiment with Indian figures.