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Woody Guthrie

by Charles Banks Wilson

Commissioned by the Oklahoma State Senate Historical Preservation Fund, Inc.
Dimensions: 20 x 28
Dedicated July 15, 2004

Woody Guthrie  by Charles Banks Wilson

The Artwork

Singer, songwriter, author and social activist, Woody Guthrie was exposed to music and politics at an early age. He would combine the two in his career to become America’s first true folk hero. Guthrie wrote hundreds of songs, including such classics as This Land is Your Land; So Long, It’s Been Good to Know You; and Oklahoma Hills, the official Oklahoma State Folksong. The colorful life he led became as legendary as the songs he wrote.

Born July 14, 1912 in Okemah, Oklahoma, his father was a real-estate broker and politician who fell on hard times and his mother suffered from Huntington's Disease, a genetic nerve disorder that led to her death. Guthrie learned how to play guitar, mandolin, fiddle, and harmonica in his adolescence. He also read and wrote voraciously, drew cartoons, and painted.

During the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, Guthrie traveled and slept among migrant workers, accumulating the life experiences that fed his songs, stories, and autobiography,
Bound for Glory.

Moving to New York in 1940, Guthrie continued to record music and perform on radio, and he also played at worker strikes and rallies. All the while, the self-taught folksinger studied politics, economics, science, and religion. By mid-decade, Guthrie began experiencing bouts of depression and disorientation that signaled the onset of Huntington's. His health slowly deteriorated, and he was eventually confined to hospitals.

When he died on October 3rd, 1967, Guthrie left behind eight children and about a thousand songs.

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.