Commissioned by the Oklahoma State Legislature
Dedicated on November 17, 1991
In 1991, artist Mike Larsen reached a milestone in his career when he was commissioned to paint a permanent mural for the Oklahoma State Capitol. Named Flight of Spirit, the painting is a tribute to five world-renowned Native American ballet dancers from the state of Oklahoma. Larsen states, "This painting is about our heritage. It is a symbolic representation not only of the accomplishments of these ladies, but also of the essence of our lives conveyed through the arts." The dedication of the mural on November 17, 1991 brought together the five ballerinas for their first public appearance together.
Flight of Spirit merges the tragic history of Native Americans with the hope and renewal of modern accomplishments. Behind the illuminated ballerinas is Larson's depiction of the Trail of Tears. Five geese soar over the displaced Native Americans. The geese symbolize the grace and spirit of the five ballerinas. Larson reserves his customary enlargement of hands and feet for the traditionally dressed Native Americans who stand tall behind the ballerinas. His depiction of the ballerinas is strictly representations in that the painted figures have analogous facial features and proportions. The commission was managed by the Oklahoma Arts Council.
Mike Larsen, a student of history, immerses himself in the past events of the subjects he paints and sculpts. From an early age, Larsen knew what he wanted to do with his life. He has achieved his goal by being a professional fine artist for more than 40 years.
In his academic studies, Larsen focused on traditional art disciplines. He began his training at Amarillo Junior College, continued it at the University of Houston, and concluded his formal education at the prestigious Arts Student League in New York City.
Born in 1944 of Chickasaw heritage, Larsen grew up in farming communities in Oklahoma and Texas. He started his career doing street fairs, and rapidly progressed to nationally known festivals. Ending that particular phase of his career in the early 1990s, Larsen has since been represented by galleries throughout the United States for more than 20 years. He now spends most of his time creating paintings and sculpture commissioned by governments, corporations, and individuals.
Larsen’s love for painting and sculpting dancing figures began when he was commissioned by the State of Oklahoma to paint “Flight of Spirit,” a 26-foot-long mural for the State Capitol rotunda depicting Oklahoma’s five internationally recognized American Indian ballerinas. He has painted several series of murals for institutions through out the state of Oklahoma, portraying the history of the state he calls home. Among his accomplishments, Larsen was chosen by the United States Post Office to create the Oklahoma Centennial Stamp.
Larsen’s contributions to his Chickasaw heritage were honored by induction into the Chickasaw Nation Hall of Fame in 2000. His noted career as an Oklahoma artist earned him a Special Recognition Award during the 2012 Governor’s Arts Awards. In 2015, he was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.