Sparked by their creativity, curiosity and seemingly endless energy, children have a unique way of seeing beauty. They find it sometimes in the most unexpected places. Fan your child’s artistic flames and learn about history with a visit to one of these two world-class Oklahoma destinations.
Museum of the Red River
Tucked in the southeast corner of Oklahoma, the Museum of the Red River in Idabel (about 4 hours from the metro) is a hidden treasure. The ethnographic cultural institution was built to preserve the history being uncovered during archaeological research in the 1970s. Since the area did not have a place to store and preserve the artifacts as they were unearthed, recovered materials were sent out of state.
“The local people weren’t being given the opportunity to appreciate the early history of this region because all of the materials were being sent away,” shared Henry Moy, The Quintus H. Herron director for the museum. “The founders of our museum started the museum with their own collection.”
Today the museum is home to art and archeology from around the world. With a collection of about 35,000 pieces, visitors can explore Caddoan pottery, Amazonian featherwork, contemporary sculptures and art from all over the Americas, East Asia, West Africa, Europe and the Pacific Islands. The museum also displays a fossil cast of our state dinosaur.
Acrocanthosaurus atokensis — or Acro — was first discovered in Atoka, but the most complete skeleton was discovered less than 20 miles from the museum. The cast is a copy of that skeleton and the museum’s dino exhibit was made possible by a group of third and fourth graders who raised $150,000 in a 2-year, county-wide effort.
“It’s a pretty spectacular skeleton and a highlight of our permanent collection,” said Moy.
Moy adds the Museum of the Red River is a traditional museum that focuses on aesthetic quality while celebrating artistic heritage and emphasizing contributions made by Native groups.
About half of the complex is dedicated to public spaces and offers families an interactive learning center that connects the arts, history and natural sciences. Some of the programming has been modified to incorporate safety precautions during the pandemic but museum staff still organizes monthly drop-in art activities and classes that dive deeper into varied artistic styles.
“Our facility is big enough that social distancing is fairly easy to do,” said Moy. “We have hand sanitizer stations throughout and masks are provided for free, if needed.”
Throughout December, local organizations and businesses will add a festive touch to the museum during the annual Festival of Trees. Decorated trees by community groups vie for coveted prizes like best school, best business and the People’s Choice Award.
Enjoy workshops in January, including one on Jan. 16, where visitors learn to make their own dream catchers from household items while learning about traditional dream catchers and their place in Native American cultures. A local soap maker will lead a class on Jan. 30 exploring soap-making processes used by homesteaders for decades, creating soaps for a variety of household jobs.
Plan your visit
Admission is free and the museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays. Plan your visit at museumoftheredriver.org.
In a unique partnership, the Gilcrease Museum (located about an hour and a half from the metro) is owned by the City of Tulsa and cared for by the University of Tulsa. As a result, the Gilcrease owns the largest public holdings of American West art as well as hundreds of pieces representing Indigenous cultures from across North and South America.
But it might surprise you to know the museum also houses a collection of manuscripts, photographs, maps and rare books related to the history of North America from the 15th to the 20th centuries. The diverse archive includes a certified copy of the Declaration of Independence signed by Benjamin Franklin and an authorized edition of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln as well as beautifully illustrated personal letters.
The Gilcrease possesses more than 350,000 objects in its permanent collection, many of which have been digitized for families to interact with online. Museum staff has crafted a fun way for kids to explore art virtually, which is a great way to get your kids excited about an upcoming visit.
“Our Seek and Find activities encourage kids to look closer,” explained Alison Rossi, director of learning and community engagement.
A “Where’s Waldo” type hunt sets the focus on the often-overlooked details, and is a great way for parents to engage kids while inside the museum, too! Rather than racing through the collections, families can slow down and search for the treasures tucked away by the artist.
“The educational goal is to get people to look closer, to imagine and wonder,” said Rossi. “Kids are really great at that.”
Another fun feature at the Gilcrease is scavenger hunts that lead families on self-guided adventures both inside and outside the museum. The Gilcrease sits on 460 acres with curated gardens that complement the museum’s collections by mirroring styles and techniques from the American West. The scavenger hunts change seasonally and often coordinate with monthly themes and exhibitions.
“We have wonderful grounds for children and families to explore,” said Rossi. “Our upper grounds gardens have picnic tables and lots of places to hang out and run around. Adjacent to the museum is Stuart Park, and it’s a great place to see wildlife and enjoy nature. I’ve seen lots of deer, a blue heron and many turtles and frogs. You can see a beautiful view of the Osage Hills from Stuart Park.”
On display until late February, Landscapes on Fire: Paintings by Michael Scotthighlights elemental forces of nature and the fragile beauty of the land. An ongoing rotating exhibition called Americans All! showcases paintings and sculptures by first-generation immigrant artists, including those from the Tulsa area.
Plan your visit
The Gilcrease is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and noon to 8 p.m. on Thursday. Admission is $8 for adults and children under 18 are free. The museum is open with limited capacity and visitors are encouraged to make reservations in advance at gilcrease.org. The gardens and park areas are free and open to the public from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.