Skip navigation

Discovery and Exploration, 1541 - 1820

by Charles Banks Wilson

Commissioned by the Oklahoma Legislature in 1970
Dimensions: 156 x 324
Dedicated November 16, 1976

Discovery and Exploration, 1541 - 1820 by Charles Banks Wilson

The Artwork

The abounding interest in the portraits of Robert S. Kerr, Sequoyah, Jim Thorpe, and Will Rogers painted by Charles Banks Wilson sparked the 1970 legislature to commission Wilson to create four murals depicting the history of Oklahoma from 1541 to 1906. Wilson spent four years researching his subject matter. Each person depicted was illustrated from life and Wilson utilized clay models before painting each scene. The 13 by 27 foot linen canvases were woven in Belgium. The murals were mounted on Fiberglas with hot wax resin adhesive and then placed 36 feet above the floor. On Statehood Day in 1976, Carl Clark and Betty Price co-chaired the dedication committee. During the ceremony, historian Dr. A.M. Gibson spoke about the historic murals.

The first of the historic murals,
Discovery and Exploration depicts famed Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado atop his armored horse. From 1541 to 1820, Coronado and French explorers sought gold while exploring a land considered essential for control of the region. Wilson depicts the Wichita Indians as calm and seemingly unaffected by the visitors. The Antelope Hills are included as an important landmark that travelers followed through the land that would one day become Oklahoma.

The Artist

Charles Banks Wilson
Charles Banks Wilson

Charles Banks Wilson was born in 1918 in Arkansas and grew up in Miami, Oklahoma. Educated at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1936-1940, he was given an award from the Chicago Society of Lithographers and Etchers, and his work was added to the Art Institute collection. While at the Art Institute, he also began a project whereupon he sketched portraits of numerous members of Oklahoma's American Indian tribes – a project that would soon become a lifelong artistic journey.

Wilson completed his education in Chicago and later returned to Oklahoma in 1943, where he established a permanent studio in Miami. Two years later, he began teaching night classes in drawing at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College. Eventually he became head of the art department, a position he held until 1960. During this period he continued to illustrate books and produce lithographs from his own press.

In 1957, he completed his first portrait commission for Tulsa oil man and collector Thomas Gilcrease. Perhaps one of Wilson's greatest achievements came when the U.S. Senate selected four of his paintings to be shown in 20 world capitals. In 2001, he was named an Oklahoma Cultural Treasure and is a member of the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.