A Day at the Philbrook is Exactly What You Need

8 minutes

When I was twenty years old, I lived in the house on the left in this photo:

Photo by Nathan Gunter

Photo by Nathan Gunter

This house, known as Casa Artom and owned by Wake Forest University, my alma mater, is where my love affair with art began. That was due in large part to the fact that the building on the right of this photo is the Collezione di Peggy Guggenheim, with which my house shared a small rooftop terrace and to which we had unlimited free passes.

I was a junior in college and spending the fall semester of 2000 in Venice, Italy. While most of my fellow Demon Deacons took the opportunity of a fantastic location and three-day weekends to traipse all over the Continent, I preferred to remain mostly in town, wandering down calle after calle and getting lost in that art-on-the-water maze of a city. But I also spent many an afternoon sitting in front of the works of Picasso, Pollock, and (my favorite) Miró, staring into abstract artworks and writing in my journal. In our classes that semester, we learned all about Venetian Renaissance Art from Agnese Chiari and her mentor, Terisio Pignatti, both world-renowned authorities on the subject.

Flash forward nearly two decades, to when Jeff Martin, communications manager at the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, asked me if I'd like to participate in the Me Time Monday program, in which one person gets the entire museum to him- or herself for a day. The Philbrook is closed to visitors on Mondays and Tuesdays and, though the staff is working, there is almost no one there.

I immediately cried out, "YES!" and we scheduled a day for me to come to Tulsa. Jeff laid out a few rules (no food in the galleries, for example) and then turned me loose to enjoy the day.

I started in the villa's Italian Room, where I took some time for quiet meditation in front of one of the Philbrook's newest acquisitions, Equestrian Portrait of King Phillip IV by the amazing Kehinde Wiley:

*Equestrian Potrait of King Phillip IV*, 2017 oil on canvas by Kehinde Wiley. Photo by Nathan Gunter

*Equestrian Potrait of King Phillip IV*, 2017 oil on canvas by Kehinde Wiley. Photo by Nathan Gunter

In honor of my raisin', so to speak, I moved along to the gallery holding the Italian Renaissance works, including several pieces with Venetian provenance:

Photo by Nathan Gunter

Photo by Nathan Gunter

*Madonna and Child ca. 1410* by Taddeo di Bartolo. Photo by Nathan Gunter

*Madonna and Child ca. 1410* by Taddeo di Bartolo. Photo by Nathan Gunter

And then upstairs to visit some of my favorite works in the museum, including this tiny Picasso:

The Apples, 1947 oil on canvas by Pablo Picasso. Photo by Nathan Gunter

The Apples, 1947 oil on canvas by Pablo Picasso. Photo by Nathan Gunter

And some truly beautiful black-and-white photographs by Lusha Nelson, including this one of Mary Taylor (later Mary Zimbalist):

Mary Taylor, circa 1935, photograph by Lusha Nelson

Mary Taylor, circa 1935, photograph by Lusha Nelson

There's something so deeply satisfying about staring into a piece of art for minutes at a time. It's at once meditative and inspiring, a truly transcendent experience, and I got to do it again and again throughout these galleries with no one else coming through and making me feel like I should move along so they could take a turn. I gazed into gorgeous landscapes by Thomas Moran, works of African tribal art, and Native American pieces all morning.

But as anyone who's visited knows, the inside of the Philbrook is only a part of the story. So with the day halfway over already, I ordered a sandwich from Trencher's Delicatessen and made my way down to the Philbrook's unbelievable gardens:

The 25-acre gardens at the Philbrook Museum of Art recently were named the most beautiful place in Oklahoma by *House Beautiful* magazine. Photo by Nathan Gunter

The 25-acre gardens at the Philbrook Museum of Art recently were named the most beautiful place in Oklahoma by *House Beautiful* magazine. Photo by Nathan Gunter

With my sandwich, drink, and laptop, I posted up in the gorgeous Slumgullion (The Venerate Outpost) cabin by artist Karl Unnasch:

*Slumgullion (The Venerate Outpost)* is a 19th-century log cabin restored and reimagined by artist Karl Unnasch. Photo by Nathan Gunter

*Slumgullion (The Venerate Outpost)* is a 19th-century log cabin restored and reimagined by artist Karl Unnasch. Photo by Nathan Gunter

There, I answered emails and Facebook messages, did some work, and listened to music while eating my Dutch Crunch sandwich from Trencher's. The light in the cabin is mysterious and gorgeous, created by the cabin's roof, which is made of resin-treated textiles that allow light—but not the elements—to come through. Between that and the enthusiastic air conditioner in the cabin, it was a gorgeous and temperate way to spend a productive two hours.

But soon, the elements started calling. I packed up my stuff, stashed it away, and took off for a walk through the gardens, where I made many a friend.

Philbrook's gardens are known for frequent sightings of animal denizens, including this rabbit. Photo by Nathan Gunter

Philbrook's gardens are known for frequent sightings of animal denizens, including this rabbit. Photo by Nathan Gunter

Someone once told me this white koi is the "mayor" of the pond behind the Philbrook Museum. I let him gnaw on my finger for a little while. Photo by Nathan Gunter

Someone once told me this white koi is the "mayor" of the pond behind the Philbrook Museum. I let him gnaw on my finger for a little while. Photo by Nathan Gunter

Soon, however, I sat down at one end of the pond and just stared up at the Italianate villa that is Philbrook. I sat, I stared, I thought, I breathed, I took it all in. Because this place, too, is its own work of art, with its own story to tell.

Photo by Nathan Gunter

Photo by Nathan Gunter

You may never have this entire place to yourself. Certainly, I never will again; this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for which I'm unbelievably grateful. But you'd be remiss not to visit Philbrook for yourself this summer. Roam the gardens, hang out in the cabin, be inspired by this Oklahoma treasure. You'll get in the car to drive home feeling lighter, like someone has finally opened the windows and let the fresh air in.

Get There:
Philbrook Museum of Art 2727 S Rockford Rd Tulsa, OK 74114 or TravelOK.com
Written By
Nathan Gunter

Nate is an enthusiastic runner and cyclist and frequently can be seen making his way by foot or pedal through Oklahoma City streets. When not working, Nate is reading, writing, watching movies, playing video games, working in his garden, attending concerts, or taking off on road trips.

Nathan Gunter
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