Artists among us
Tulsans are pros at work and in their spare time.
Artists are virtually everywhere you go in Tulsa. The barista who makes your lattes in the morning might be writing a novel. The guy bagging your groceries might sketch portraits on his lunch break. The idea of the “working artist” has evolved into “working while being an artist” as individuals continue their prosaic careers, but never stray far from their artistic passions.
These five individuals represent the many painters, musicians, writers, actors, dancers and dreamers who reside in Tulsa. Take a closer look at the professionals around you, and you just might find others straddling economic and creative pursuits.
BY DAY: insurance agent
BY NIGHT: photographer
Mike Tedford is continuing the work his father started in 1978 at the Tedford Insurance Agency. But although he has been a part of the family business since childhood and now manages several locations in Oklahoma, he has always had one foot in the arts.
“When I was in junior high, I took a split class: one semester art, one semester music, where you learned how to play guitar,” Tedford says. “What seventh-grade boy doesn’t want to learn the guitar? It turned out I hated the music class, but I loved the art class.”
As a freshman in high school, he talked his parents into buying him a camera. Tedford has taken photos since, though he slowed down when he got married and later became a father of five.
It was his oldest daughter who got him back to his shutterbug roots. In 2008, daughter Christine received a digital camera and was allowed to enroll in a junior/senior-level photography class as a freshman. She couldn’t legally drive, which limited her ability to get to locations for assignments.
Tedford saw the opportunity for an activity he and his daughter could do together. The photography teacher allowed Tedford to take the class, too. He had to complete the same assignments and take the same tests as his daughter.
“We both got an A in the class,” Tedford says, “but she got an A on the final. I got a B.”
From there, the two took photography classes at Tulsa Community College, which got Tedford behind his camera even more. Now, he’s often invited to lend his expertise.
“A friend of mine asked me to go on a fishing trip to Alaska,” Tedford says. “I never even touched a pole.
“I was their ‘National Geographic’ photographer while I was there, and it was an amazing experience,” he says with a laugh.
Teford’s work will be presented in the RAW showcase, Holiday RAWk, Dec. 14 at the Oklahoma City Farmers’ Public Market.
Photography has grown into more than a hobby for Tedford, and he even uses his skills to promote his business. He’s remodeling an office in McAlester and plans to adorn the walls with photos of the town’s architecture. But at the end of the day, it’s still about creating art.
“I enjoy my profession, but in the insurance business, I see all the unlucky things that happen,” he says. “I feel like photography is my form of artistic expression where I get to do capture the bright, sunny side of things.”
BY DAY: advertising executive
BY NIGHT: jazz saxophonist
Grady Nichols has been leading two lives for as long as he can remember: one life in television, selling advertising and creating commercials; the other, as a renowned jazz saxophonist.
“It started in high school, where I would make goofy movies with my friends, which turned into a genuine interest in video production,” Nichols says. “I would work as a grip on shoots during the summers. But at the same time, I was always practicing the horn.”
Nichols received a degree in broadcasting with a minor in business from John Brown University. While in college, he worked at TV-4 in his hometown of Siloam Springs, Arkansas.
“I would sell the ads; I would write them, shoot them and edit them,” he says. “I also had a TV show where I would go and talk to people on the streets about different things happening in the community.”
But college-aged Nichols never lost sight of music. He took music courses along with his business classes.
“All during this time, I had a band, played around a lot and wrote music,” he says. “I’ve always been very, very busy.”
After moving to Tulsa, he realized his anchorman dream would interfere with being a musician. “When I’d be playing gigs is also the time I would need to be on the air,” he explains.
So, he made the decision. “Having had that television sales background early on, I realized I could do sales and still do music.”
Since 1994, Nichols has been part of Tulsa’s television landscape, and he has worked at KOTV since 2013.
“I’ve been blessed to do it the way I’ve been able to do it,” Nichols says. “When you’re a musician, it’s definitely a side business. But I think it’s a benefit the way both careers complement each other.”
Nichols’ knowledge of advertising and marketing has helped him as a professional artist.
“It’s given me a very well-rounded opportunity to be successful in both,” he says.
Nichols’ seventh album is a Christmas album. “There is something different going on with this record that I think is really wonderful,” he says. “We worked with some of the best musicians in Nashville on this record. It was really a fun and inspiring process.”
Paint by number
BY DAY: controller
BY NIGHT: painter
Pablo Picasso said, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” These are the words that fuel Dean Wyatt’s life as he balances his accounting career with being an avid supporter and contributor to the Tulsa arts scene.
Landscape artist Wyatt has always done art, but started painting seriously in the 1990s.
Over the years, he has shown in many galleries and has been accepted into competitive exhibitions, including a solo show at the Oklahoma Capitol. This month Wyatt’s work is on display at Circle Cinema and the TAC Gallery.
Wyatt was raised in the rugged territory of southwest Oklahoma, where “it’s more sky and earth, fewer trees and hills,” he says. That history is perceptible in the stark abstract landscapes he creates.
Also a cheerleader for others’ art, Wyatt serves as president of the Tulsa Arts Coalition, is on the board of the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition and has volunteered his time to numerous nonprofit arts organizations. “Getting involved as a volunteer in the arts community helps me stay engaged,” he says. “It has also kept me closer to opportunities.”
When Wyatt isn’t in front of a canvas or volunteering, he is the controller for a manufacturing facility in Pryor. The job allows him more free time and flexibility than he has enjoyed in the past.
Renting a studio at the Urban Art Lab in the Kendall Whittier district also has allowed him more time and motivation to paint. “I get to the studio at 6:30 in the morning, work for an hour or so, then head to work,” he says. “No one else comes into the studio that early, so I can turn up the music real loud.”
His advice to other artists struggling with the work/life/art balance is to make the time. “We all get wrapped up in the day job and family, and it’s easy to say you didn’t have the inspiration today,” he says. “But I fight the battle and go to the studio because even if I stare at a blank canvas for an hour, I know inspiration will find me.”
Practicing en pointe
Dr. Hillary Pane
BY DAY: physician
BY NIGHT: modern dancer
Dr. Hillary Pane has always been a dancer. Even when she relocated from her hometown of Houston, she immediately found a way to continue to follow her ballerina dreams.
Pane moved to Tulsa to acquire her residency in both family medicine and psychiatry, a rare combination.
“There were only six places in the nation that had the combined residency, so I moved here in 2008,” Pane says. “I soon fell in love with Tulsa, the dance community and, then, I actually fell in love and got married in 2014.”
When she first arrived, she took classes at Tulsa Ballet. Jen Alden, artistic director of Portico Dance Co., saw her and asked her to join the group. Compared to her upbringing in Houston, she was unsure of what to expect in Tulsa — but she jumped in. “I thought of Tulsa as more of a small town, but we have phenomenal talent here,” she says, “as far as dance, choreography, even singing and acting.”
During her residency, Pane worked up to 80 hours per week while still dancing. “I don’t know how many nights I spent in bed at the hospital going over choreography,” she says.
Although her training is primarily in ballet — which she learned from Tulsa Ballet, Houston Ballet, New Orleans’ Giacobbe Academy and Virginia School of the Arts — she had the opportunity to stretch her contemporary style in Portico. She also has performed in shows with Theater Tulsa: “A Chorus Line,” “The Will Rogers Follies” and “Oklahoma!”
More recently, she has taken on a new role, as mother to a son.
“Now I am part-time doctor, part-time dancer and full-time mommy,” Pane says of her 25-hours-a-week medical schedule. “I feel like I have a great work/home/dance balance.”
Next, she will perform in Portico’s summer production called “Animalia.” Featuring movement inspired by all kinds of animals, it’s a perfect show for families, according to Pane.
“Art is so important for a community, for our children,” she says. “So, go out and see as many shows as you can. And take your kids.”
BY DAY: kitchen designer
BY NIGHT: singer
“Do you want to be an opera singer or not?” This was the question posed to 16-year-old Jen Jones by the headmaster of the Baltimore Actors’ Theatre Conservatory. She had been in their demanding training program since she was 14.
“It was a really serious performing arts school, which became oppressive in a way,” she says. The students trained during the school year for trips abroad in the summer, when they would perform at huge venues all over the world.
“But I was this small-town girl who just wanted to go home,” Jones says. “So, when the headmaster asked me what I wanted to do if I didn’t want to be an opera singer, I told him I wanted to sound like Janis Joplin, and I moved back to Oklahoma.”
Jones landed in Tulsa, where she met kindred musicians who invited her to perform with them.
“I felt really secure with my training, but when I played these after-hours jam sessions, I sounded like Julie Andrews,” she says. “It was tough going from classical training to free-form rock-and-roll. But I got that training when I was 16. Now, I’m 40 and I’ve had life happen.”
Jones has been a member of the group Green Corn Rebellion since 2012. She can be seen on stages and at events all around Tulsa. Up next, the band has a New Year’s Eve gig at Soundpony.
But despite a full roster of engagements each month, you are most likely to see Jones living her other dream: designing kitchens at Lowe’s.
“I love that I get to speak with so many different people,” she says. “But the ones who really speak to my heart are the young couples. I love creating what they have in mind in an affordable way. I’m kind of a sap about it. They’re going to have Thanksgiving dinners and celebrate birthdays in that kitchen.” Even though she’s had several jobs over the years, she was always interested in the structural elements of room design and received certification in interior design at age 19.
Not every customer experience is heartwarming, and the rigors of retail life can take their toll. But as she clocks out from Lowe’s, it’s time to clock in with her band.
“Even after the worst day, I still have to go into rehearsal instead of curling up on the couch,” Jones says. “But I walk in, and there are 10 of my very best friends greeting me, hugging me, singing with me.
“And I know there is no place I’d rather be right then than making music with my best friends.”