Pickens Learning Commons Opens at NOC Tonkawa

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Native Artist Yatika Starr Fields.

Transformational expansion underway for NOC Tonkawa library

The Vineyard Library at Northern Oklahoma College Tonkawa is undergoing a transformation into a contemporary NOC Student Learning Commons.

The library remodel is the first significant project emerging from the Building a Better NOC initiative. NOC President Dr. Clark Harris explained the plan for the transformation of the library at the April 27th Board of Regents meeting in Tonkawa.

Harris added, “This will all happen from the efforts of the NOC Foundation and a generous donation from a NOC supporter as well as funding from a government grant.” In regard to the donation, the NOC board of regents approved naming the space the Pickens Learning Commons in recognition of the substantial gift and continued collaborative partnership of Hugh and Dr. S. J. Pickens. Work began in May in the hopes of the remodel completion for the fall semester.

“The library at NOC Tonkawa is at a pivotal crossroads with rows and rows of outdated books not being used by today’s students and the need for individual and small group study areas in a dynamic environment,” said Dr. Clark Harris. “The library could greatly benefit from a fresh look. This project is a perfect example of connecting NOC’s core values of personalized education, continuous improvement and community and civic engagement into one transforming project.”

“The new NOC Student Learning Commons will improve the student and employee quality of life by bringing more access to current technology and increase distributed study areas. The Student Learning Commons will possess the “Wow” factor in student recruitment as well as prospective students and families tour the campus, while the new access to learning spaces will aid in retention and improved graduation rates. The Cultural Engagement Center (CEC) and current library will be blended into one space while retaining the glass dividing walls,” he added.

The project will include new technology, study tables and chairs, soft loveseats and chairs, new reception area, shelving, and carpet.

It will also include the addition of two new permanent murals totaling 100’x20’ by artist Yatika Starr Fields along with a constant collection of various art works from the Doctor Pickens Museum, Inc. to be on long-term display. Fields has already created two existing murals in the Cultural Engagement Center, commissioned by the Doctor Pickens Museum in November 2020 and completed in June 2021.

“We are so excited to continue to partner with Hugh Pickens and the Doctor Pickens Museum, said NOC Vice President for Development and Executive Director to the NOC Foundation Sheri Snyder. “We are grateful for friends such as the Pickens who have chosen to share their gifts with us.”

When completed, the Pickens Learning Commons will include the Cultural Engagement Center, Testing Center, career and transfer services, library services, enhanced technology, tutoring services, and an art gallery.

NOC holds grand opening of the Pickens Learning Commons

NOC holds grand opening of the Pickens Learning Commons.

The grand opening of the Pickens Learning Commons was held at the Vineyard Library-Administration Building at Northern Oklahoma College’s (NOC) Tonkawa location. The Tonkawa Chamber of Commerce was on hand to hold a ribbon cutting for the commons as well. Cutting the ribbon together are Hugh Pickens (holding the scissors) and NOC President Dr. Clark Harris (to the left of Pickens).

A grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony was held for the Pickens Learning Commons located in the Vineyard Library-Administration Building at Northern Oklahoma College’s (NOC) Tonkawa location at 1220 East Grand Avenue on Wednesday, Oct. 12 at 3:30 pm.

The Pickens Learning Commons includes library services, the Cultural Engagement Center (CEC), testing center, tutoring services, career and transfer services, enhanced technology resources, distributed study space, as well as murals by artist Yatika Starr Fields and an art collection from the Hugh and Dr. S. J. Pickens Museum.

This partnership with Pickens and NOC began in 2020 when Hugh Pickens commissioned the 50 foot murals by Yatika Starr Fields in the Cultural Engagement Center at NOC. In April of this year, NOC President Dr. Clark Harris shared the vision of the Tonkawa library and a new contemporary student learning commons with the NOC Board of Regents.

“In doing research on libraries, we found that academic libraries are at a pivotal crossroads at this time. New technologies with the idea that digital resources are the way students now access, changing study habits, and the cost of maintaining a traditional library have just made a major influence on colleges and they had to make this kind of change,” said NOC President Dr. Clark Harris. “With this project, NOC has transformed the library into this amazing student experience.”

The Board of Regents approved the project as well as the naming of the facility. In June, the contract between NOC and the Pickens Museum was renewed, and Pickens commissioned two murals that total 100 foot by 20 foot, once again created by Yatika Starr Fields.

There are over 80 pieces of artwork on display in the Pickens Learning Commons, making it one of the most significant art collections on display at NOC. The day of the grand opening also coincided with Hugh Pickens’ 73rd birthday with the NOC Roustabouts singing Pickens happy birthday and his favorite dessert: a crème brûlée cake. “Art can broaden our knowledge, give us enjoyment, and challenge our assumptions. Art can also help soothe, calm, enlighten, and uplift our minds and spirits. Even art that leaves us uncomfortable can still help us to think differently and give us new perspectives,” said Hugh Pickens. “Art gives meaning to our lives and helps us understand our world. Art is an essential part of our culture because it allows us to have a deeper understanding of our emotions. It increases our self-awareness and allows us to be open to new ideas and experiences. Art continues to open our minds and our hearts, and shows us what can be possible in our world. Art can open our eyes to a bigger world out there, art can change your life.”

The Tonkawa Chamber of Commerce was on hand to hold a ribbon cutting for the commons to close out the event.

Hugh Pickens says Art can inspire us

Art can inspire us. Art can teach us. Art can broaden our knowledge, give us enjoyment, and challenge our assumptions.

Art can also help soothe, calm, enlighten, and uplift our minds and spirits. Even art that leaves us uncomfortable can still help us to think differently and give us new perspectives.

Art gives meaning to our lives and helps us understand our world. Art is an essential part of our culture because it allows us to have a deeper understanding of our emotions; it increases our self-awareness, and allows us to be open to new ideas and experiences. Art continues to open our minds and our hearts and shows us what could be possible in our world.

Art can open our eyes to the bigger world out there.

Art can change your life.

I know this is true because it changed my life.

I was born and raised in Ponca City, Oklahoma.

I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s and it was a different world then.

We didn't have streaming we didn't have the internet.

We didn't even have cable.

We had three TV channels and the Ponca City News to tell us about the world.

I was 17 years old, about the age of many of the students here today when I discovered art.

It was 56 years ago but I remember it like it was yesterday.

I was a member of our church's youth fellowship group and we had a youth director named Charles Clapp who had come back to Ponca City after studying at Duke University.

Our youth group visited Reverend Clapp in his apartment and I saw a painting hanging on his wall and asked about it. I remember what that painting looked like even today.

He told us it was original art and he said that it was a painting by a friend of his and I was astonished.

Until then I thought that art was something that only hung on the walls of museums.

I didn't realize that anyone could own a piece of art and I resolved that someday I would own art and hang it on my walls.

In 1970 I was serving in the Peace Corps in South America and I met a young artist named Josue Sanchez Cerro Josue was so poor that he couldn't afford paint or canvas.

Josue would mix his own paint from house paint, he would build his own frames and he would stretch old curtains over the frames and paint on them.

He used to sell his paintings in the market for 10 or $15.

Now look up Josue that's J OSUE. Sanchez on Wikipedia because is now one of the best known and respected artists in Peru and I still have a dozen of his paintings, which I will soon be exhibiting in a one man show at Woolaroc next year and bringing Josue to the United States for the show.

In 1984 I met my wife Dr. Sj Pickens. She was also an art collector when I met her and we combined our two collections and during the 33 years of our marriage, we continued to collect beautiful art.

My wife and I used to sit on the sofa in our studio and look at all the art we had acquired over the years. Whenever we would purchase a new piece, we would try to meet the artist, visit his studio, and learn about his or her techniques and inspirations.

We would spend hours in our studio looking at our paintings and telling each other the stories behind the artwork. We had a saying: Our lives are up on those walls.

Two years ago, Cheryl Evans gave us the opportunity to display art by Yatika Starr Fields in the Cultural Engagement Center and we commissioned a mural by Yatika in the CEC.

When Clark Harris came on board as the new President of NOC he encouraged us to expand our presence at NOC and the result is what you see today: Another mural 100 feet by 20 feet and over 80 works of original art on display here in the Pickens Learning Center.

Because while a collection of art is a pleasure to enjoy, it is even more powerful when it is shared. That is why I have looked for opportunities to display the art that my wife and I acquired over the past 50 years. I am putting this art on display in honor of my late wife’s memory.

We also have art on display at City Central in Ponca City and will soon open a gallery at Woolaroc. Later in October we will be exhibiting the monumental bronze “Osage Warrior in the Enemy Camp” in Pawhuska to help the Osage Nation celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Osage Reservation in Oklahoma in 1872. My hope is that just as I was inspired 56 years ago by the original art I saw on someone’s wall, maybe a student here today will be inspired by what they see and will decide to pursue a life in the arts or become a patron of the arts.

People often ask me if I am an artist myself and I wish I could tell them yes but that it not a talent I have .

I tell them no - that I am not an artist, but I'm the next best thing.

I am a patron and a collector.

It is my privilege to encourage artists like Jose Sanchez, Yatika Starr Fields, and John Free to create their work.

And I've been blessed because my own son is a working artist and you can see several of his works hanging here in the Learning Center.

Before closing there are a couple of people I want to recognize for their contribution to this learning center. I already mentioned Cheryl Evans and Clarke Harris but I want to add Sheri Snyder and the librarians and students who helped reconfigure this library into a learning center.

I would also like to recognize Deloris Pickens, Veronica Aggers and Shayla Dumas for their advice and assistance and encouragement.

In addition I want to recognize Rick McMillen, the master carpenter who put up the dry wall, mudded it, put on the primer and the base coats of paint the Yatika painted his mural on top of.

Thank you again for the opportunity to share the art that my wife and I have acquired over the past 50 years.

So I would encourage students here to enjoy the art and to be inspired by it and realize that there is a bigger world out there that you can become a part of. You can become a creator or a patron of art.

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About Pickens Museum

Osage Warrior in the Enemy Camp by Sculptor John Free. Seeking to attain his tribe's highest war honor by touching his enemy. This action among indigenous peoples is called "Counting Coup".
Osage Warrior in the Enemy Camp by Sculptor John Free. “Osage Warrior in the Enemy Camp” is a bronze created by Osage Artist John Free. The bronze, eight feet high and twelve feet long) was enlarged to 1-1/4 life size through the efforts of John Free of the Bronze Horse foundry in Pawhuska and Hugh Pickens. Pictured (L-R): Hugh Pickens, Executive Director of Pickens Museum and Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear of the Osage Nation.
Three Faces of the Pioneer Woman by Artist Daniel Pickens. “Three Faces of the Pioneer Woman” is a mural painted by fine artist Daniel Pickens. Daniel was born in Lima, Peru in 1974 and is currently living in Stockholm, Sweden. This mural is at our Ponca City location.
“"War Club" by Native Artist Yatika Starr Fields was recently acquired from Garth Greenam Gallery to Pickens Museum. Personal and social struggle have long been integral to the artist’s practice. After joining the Water Protectors at the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016, Fields increasingly centered the Indigenous history of hope and struggle in his work, particularly in his studio practice. In his 2017 series, Tent Metaphor Standing Rock, Field recovered tents after the infamous February 22, 2017 police raid on the protesters. The artist recombined the vivid tenting material—the mainstay of middle-class camping holidays that has become an icon of homelessness and protest movements—into traditional Indigenous patterns, anti-pipeline slogans, and into dynamic, compelling abstract compositions. As in his graffiti works, Fields blurs the line between abstraction and representation, creating stylistic compositions out of recognizable elements, and setting them against dynamic, swirling fields of color and twisting forms. The works blur the boundaries between political polemic and abstraction, between distress, resistance and hope.
Three Faces of the Pioneer Woman by Artist Daniel Pickens. Our mural "The Three Faces of the Pioneer Woman" is located in City Central at our Ponca City location.
Doctor Pickens Museum of Turquoise Jewelry and Art. Pickens Museum displays art works at NOC Tonkawa campus. Pictured (L-R): Dr. Cheryl Evans, NOC President, Hugh Pickens, Executive Director of Pickens Museum, and Sheri Snyder, NOC Vice President for Development and Community Relations. (photo by John Pickard/Northern Oklahoma College) This art is at our Tonkawa location
Native American Artist Yatika Starr Fields Completes Mural for Pickens Museum.
The World's Largest Naja. Future location of Pickens Museum on Route 60 and "U" Street West of Ponca City
Architectural Renderings of Pickens Museum.
Aerial View from East of Future location of Pickens Museum along Route 60 at "U" Street West of Ponca City
Display of Turquoise Jewelry.
Drum player by Allan Houser. This stone carving is part of the collection at Pickens Museum.
"Red Man" by Native American Artist Fritz Scholder. Pickens Museum Director Hugh Pickens on right.
Osage Warrior in the Enemy Camp.
Native American Jewelry Artist Tonya Rafael with a silver frame she created to honor my wife Sr. S.J. Pickens. My wife and Tonya worked together over the years creating new jewelry art pieces. My wife had an eye for color and would often design a spectacular piece and ask Tonya to execute it for her. A skilled silversmith, Tonya would sometimes stay in our guest house, set up a workshop, and work for days at a time on a Squash Blossom, Bolo, or Bracelet my wife commissioned. The piece is a silver picture frame that Tonya cut out of thick silver plate. Around the edge of the picture frame are 95 small turquoise stones. In the top is a large spiny oyster stone in the shape of a heart. The frame contains a photo that Tonya took of my wife a few years ago. Dr. Pickens is wearing one of her favorite outfits and if you look closely you can see a special squash blossom and necklace that Tonya created for my wife. In the bottom of the frame is an inscription.
Native American Artist Jolene Bird. Jolene Bird is an accomplished artist who learned her craft from her grandfather over 20 years ago. Jolene makes her jewelry in the tradition of the Santo Domingo Pueblo in New Mexico. This is a Fender Stratocaster guitar onto which Jolene has attached pieces of Kingman and Sonoran Turquoise highlighted with Jet. The stars are in Abalone, Mother of Pearl, Pipestone, Yellow Serpentine, and Spiny Oyster. The artistry in this piece is simply breathtaking and has to be seen to be believed. Consider that this is a three dimensional mosaic, a three dimensional jigsaw puzzle if you will. Jolene told me that each individual piece of turquoise had to be cut, shaped, and ground down to fit perfectly with the other pieces. Each individual piece probably took six to eight hours to produce and there are literally hundreds of pieces covering the guitar.
American Indian by Paul Manship This piece at Pickens Museum is the only known existing copy of this sculpture.
Painting by Peruvian Artist Josue Sanchez. Photo Credit: Hugh Pickens Pickens Museum

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