One man aims to capture Tulsa’s history in an art deco museum.
Organizers for the DECOPOLIS Gatsby Picnic are, clockwise from lower left, Jesse Fettkether, Peggy Pianalto, William Franklin and Chris McDaniels.
Picture a museum dedicated solely to art deco. Envision exterior streetscapes with art deco-styled storefronts, a deco-era town square recreated inside and a fine arts gallery displaying rare art deco pieces. Now imagine this museum calling Tulsa home.
That’s William Franklin’s vision.
The idea for the museum came while Franklin, a local artist, was designing the 2009 Mayfest poster, which he did in an art deco style.
“I started imagining what such a museum could be like and became more and more excited about the idea,” Franklin says.
He says Tulsa is known for its art deco architecture and the museum could increase its tourism potential. Franklin says art deco is worth preserving because it connects Tulsa to a fascinating time in its history — an era of oil-boom wealth.
He says Tulsans also appreciate the art deco buildings left to them, such as the Philcade building with its intricately carved stone reliefs, polished marble walls and ceilings adorned with shimmering gold designs.
“How can you be in one of those buildings, hear the stories about the people who built them, and not be even more curious and intrigued about the way things must have been back then — how people lived, the cars they drove, clothes they wore, the music they enjoyed and so on?” Franklin says. “Art deco was the cutting-edge backdrop to all of those things.”
The museum will be named DECOPOLIS, which means “Deco City.” The grand vision for DECOPOLIS includes the Deco Tour, which will document the rise of art deco; describe the influence of the Works Progress Administration and 1920s and 1930s transportation and entertainment; and showcase two art deco-styled homes, one extravagant and one average.
The first step to turn his DECOPOLIS dream into a reality is for Franklin to gather a team of supporters and start hosting fundraising events, such as The Gatsby Picnic (see info below).
“Another small step will be to utilize some of the empty storefronts downtown to create entertaining window displays, and this next year we will have some art deco art and artifact shows at some of the local art galleries or in a small downtown space,” Franklin says.
Rex Ball, architect and urban designer and co-founder of the Tulsa Art Deco Society, says DECOPOLIS would put a much-needed focus back on historic preservation of vacant or under-utilized art deco buildings.
“Much of Tulsa’s art deco past has been lost over the span of 90 or so years,” he says. “This is particularly true of interiors, furniture and objects. A museum would help to stop this outflow and secure a home for donations of what remains or is offered.
“ ... At the same time, architectural tourism has become a major income generator for cities such as Tulsa. This museum would serve as a major stimulus for economic development.”
Within the next year, Franklin says that he hopes to secure DECOPOLIS’ first space in or near downtown before moving the museum into its own building in the same area. While the museum will start small, Franklin says the grand vision gives him and his team a direction to reach toward.
“This museum will not just be about learning but will also have a heavy focus on being exciting and entertaining,” Franklin says. “It will be another of those ‘something to do’ things that people always seem to want more of and that make a city a more interesting, attractive and vibrant place to live.”
The Gatsby Picnic
DECOPOLIS will host a fundraising picnic from 11 a.m.-3 p.m., Oct. 3, at Harwelden Mansion, 2210 S. Main St. Guests are encouraged to wear a deco-era costume, bring a picnic basket and enjoy a game of bocce ball, badminton or croquet. Artwork from local artists will also be on display. For more information, visit www.decopolis.net.