In the first part of the 20th century, Tulsa, Oklahoma, held the nickname “Oil Capital of the World”. Because of this, it is not surprising one of the most beautiful buildings in the city – an Italian Renaissance villa – was commissioned in 1926 by Oklahoma oil pioneer Waite Phillips and his wife Genevieve. The Phillips family was known for their philanthropy and, in 1939, their 72-room mansion became The Philbrook Museum of Art. The beauty of the villa can only be compared to the breathtaking nature surrounding it. A visit to the museum and a trip through the gardens is fun for young and old alike. You can BREATHE, relax, enjoy nearly two dozen sculptures by acclaimed artists including Allan Houser and Barry Flanagan, and last, but not least, pet 3 friendly cats, living in the museum.
We talked to museum representatives Jeff Martin and Tricia Milford about the history of the place, the recent Garden Pokemon Go Sculpture Tour and so much more.
The gardens are mesmerizing, did they look the same, when the Philips family lived here?
Although the Gardens have grown and changed throughout the years, if the Phillips family traveled in time from the 1930s to present day and stepped out onto the terrace, it would still feel like home. The original garden designs were a collaborative effort between S. Herbert Hare of Hare & Hare, Landscape Architects & City Planners and Edward Buehler Delk, architect, both of Kansas City, Missouri. Working in tandem with Delk, Hare created a design for Villa Philbrook that combined Italian, English and French garden iconography and featured plants native to the area. The strict geometry of the triple-ramped, walled and gated garden stretches past the balustrade walk, grotto and mirror pond into an area of repose, where the gracefully scaled tempietto marks a point of termination. Beyond the special hierarchy of the formal garden lies the pastoral grove. In their scheme for Villa Philbrook, the architects were clearly inspired by Villa Lante, an Italian country estate north of Rome designed by Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola in 1566. In 2002, Howell & Vancuren completed plans for a major garden renovation with the approval and support of Elliot Phillips, son of Waite and Genevieve Phillips. This new era in the life of Philbrook's gardens was completed in 2004, creating a lush, fresh look for a botanical treasure and true work of art.
Their home seems to be the perfect place for a museum, how did it all begin back in 1930s?
Rooted in the beauty and architecture of an historic home gifted by the Waite Phillips family over 75 years ago, Philbrook Museum of Art has grown to become one of the preeminent art museums across the central United States. Highlights of the Museum’s permanent collection include Renaissance and Baroque paintings from the Kress Foundation, one of the greatest surveys of Native American art anywhere, an exceptional body of southwestern and American works, and a growing modern and contemporary collection. The Philbrook main campus spans 25 acres of grounds and formal gardens, and features an historic home displaying the museum’s permanent collection, as well as an architectural addition with auditorium, restaurant, library, and education studios. The satellite location in downtown Tulsa showcases highlights from the Philbrook modern and contemporary and Native American art collections, as well as the Eugene B. Adkins Collection and Study Center of Native American art.
We heard about your recent Garden Pokemon Go Sculpture Tour, what other events do you hold in the garden and in the museum?
The Philbrook Gardens are the setting for many public events, ranging from educational programming like Summer Art Camp and holiday lights to longstanding events like Shakespeare in the Park and the annual Films on the Lawn (since 1972). Pokemon Go Sculpture Tour was our first foray into the world of Pokemon and was quite a success. We look forward to exploring this more in the future. The monthly museum Second Saturday program is free and open to all. Thousands of people join us on this day each month for art, hands-on activities, and more. Second Saturdays often feature community partnerships like the one with the Animal Rescue Foundation of Tulsa (ARF). The theme of the day was “Animal.” A perfect fit.
It looks like your beautiful cat Acer is a member of the museum team! Does his owner work in the museum or was he adopted or bought to live in the museum?
We have not one, but three popular Garden Cats. Acer (male), Perilla (female), and Cleome (known as Cleo) (female). They do provide pest control and guests love them, both in person and online. The cats are owned by the Museum. They are provided shelter in our garden shed (heated in winter, cooled in summer), annual trips to the vet, and are generally treated like royalty.
Everyone feels like royalty in the beautiful Philbrook Museum of Art gardens thanks to friendly and warmly welcoming staff. Adding cats to the equation makes the experience even better! This family-home was created with so much love for art, nature and people that it is a great place to be all year round. Although when visiting on a holiday it can get a little crowded, so if you are staying in Tulsa over the week, we strongly suggest picking a weekday to make the visit extra special.