Former Tulsan’s art demonstrates the effects of the state’s weather.
Artist Leslie Martin and her finished Weathering Oklahoma Project
The mystery and power of severe weather has captivated Leslie Martin since she was a young girl in central Oklahoma. She remembers storms threatening her hometown of Paden only to veer off at the last minute and damage other communities.
“I think there’s always been this fascination with beauty and danger throughout history, and I’m hooked on that,” she says. “It’s the thrill of the adrenaline rush. Storms can be very beautiful, but so deadly.”
As a Master of Fine Arts student at the University of New Mexico, Martin was searching for a way her art could be a platform for nature. In 2015, her advisers suggested she visit home to immerse herself in a familiar environment. When she returned to Oklahoma, it was spring storm season.
“I had forgotten how much weather is embedded in our culture here,” Martin says. “I started exploring that and watching how people
reacted to weather.”
The visit was not only good for the soul, but also inspiring for her MFA thesis project. Martin fabricated metal replicas of Oklahoma’s 77 counties to be placed at outdoor locations around the state. The Weathering Oklahoma Project illustrates how the impact of Oklahoma weather runs deeper than highlighted counties on a TV weather map.
“It is interesting to me that this map of Oklahoma and its counties never change,” she says. “The political boundaries humans have created to serve as a sense of place remain constant and recognizable, when in reality trees can be uprooted, street signs blown away and the landscape changed dramatically.”
County contacts Martin established through social media helped her install the cutouts on stakes. In March, she and her husband, Daniel, set out on a two-week, 3,500-mile road trip to personally deliver the miniature metal counties. At each stop, Martin interviewed the contacts about their Oklahoma weather experiences, and Daniel, who has a background in film, shot over 70 hours of video.
“It became a socio-cultural type of project more than I ever could’ve imagined,” Martin says. “I see a strong parallel between people and the weather. You can anticipate their actions, sometimes even forecast what they will do, but they have a mind of their own and cannot be controlled.”
In June, each metal plate was mailed back to Martin to be assembled into one large sculpture of the state. The complete compilation weighs more than 300 pounds and stretches over 11 feet in length. Beaten by wind and rain and baked in the sun, each plate proudly bares the rust and scars of its county’s natural elements. One county even went missing for a few days after it was misplaced in a tornado.
Martin will graduate in December, and the finished project will debut in a solo thesis exhibition in November at an Albuquerque gallery. Afterward, the exhibit will be displayed at the National Weather Center in Norman.
Accompanying stories, photos and other information from each county are featured in the project, along with Martin’s related sketches and drawings reflecting her ideas and development along the way. She eventually hopes to use the video interviews and footage in a documentary that showcases the state’s landscape and culture.
An artistic depiction of raw science and nature, Martin’s work reflects Oklahoma’s wild and amazing weather, but the Weathering Oklahoma Project also represents its residents’ genuine hospitality.
“Oklahomans are beautiful,” she says. “Having this human element impacts each piece and makes this overall sculpture feel like a collaborative effort among Oklahomans across the entire state.”
Through Sept. 25 — “Savages and Princesses: the Persistence of Native American Stereotypes”
Curated by America Meredith, “Savages and Princesses” brings together 14 contemporary visual artists from Oklahoma to represent their identities as Native Americans. Images and styles are created from traditional, contemporary and mass culture forms. Noon-5 p.m., Wednesday-Thursday; noon-7 p.m., Friday-Sunday. 108 Contemporary, 108 E. M. B. Brady St. Free admission. Call 918-895-6302 or visit www.108contemporary.org.