How did an oil painter specializing mostly in pet portraits find himself creating a 20-foot found object metal sculpture? Synchronicity, mostly.
Tulsan Matt Moffett was commissioned to create a (much) larger-than-life metal sculpture of the Oklahoma state bird, the scissor-tailed flycatcher, for the soon-to-open District retail and dining center in Pryor’s MidAmerica Industrial Park.
Moffett has created and taught art for two decades, but he has never tackled something quite like this.
Twenty-three years ago, Moffett was searching for a painter to do a portrait of his recently deceased dog. When the only artist he could find to do to the work was in Dallas and charging thousands, he promptly drove to Ziegler’s and asked for everything he needed to take up oil painting. Thus, his career as an artist was born. Moffett, a former Spanish and elementary art teacher, co-founded the local nonprofit Tulsa Girls Art School in 2007, where he worked for 10 years before becoming a full-time artist.
MidAmerica reached out to Moffett in 2019 to make art for an outdoor shopping mall, specifically requesting a scissor-tailed flycatcher out of metal, he says. He set to work, starting at a friend’s studio in Tulsa. But the project quickly outgrew the space and Moffett had to complete it in space provided by MidAmerica. The resulting piece is a bird with a 20-foot wingspan, stretching 21-feet tall from beak to tailfeather made of salvaged parts.
“I went out to tractor graveyards, ‘American Pickers’ type places, and listened to two hours of stories from old men who wouldn’t sell me something until I listened to their stories,” Moffett says.
Some of the found treasures in the sculpture include: a copper eagle weathervane over 100 years old, a railroad lantern, old Oklahoma license plates, wrought iron stripped from abandoned farmhouses. “The eye sockets are old Model-A Ford headlights,” he says. “I tried to find things that definitely tell a story about Oklahoma and put them together in a way that created a new story, a new sculpture.”
MidAmerica commissioned nine pieces from Moffett; the bird is one of three completed, he says. The other two are 20-feet tall rebar trees, hollow in the middle for wisteria, where it will flower out the top and hang down.
“The scissor-tailed flycatcher sculpture will certainly be a central point of interest at the District,” says David Stewart, chief operating officer of MidAmerica Industrial Park. “People will be amazed at the intricate detail of the art and will be able to spend several minutes just working their way around the sculpture pointing out the various parts and pieces. In fact, I bet they will notice something new each time they come back.”
MidAmerica Industrial Park broke ground on the District in September 2018. Construction is underway on the new 162-acre development that incorporates retail, residential, parks and trails, with 32,000 square feet of retail space.