Originally published in Tulsa World | OKMULGEE — In the eyes of Yatika Starr Fields, the east-facing wall on the old Western Union building in downtown Okmulgee waited nearly 100 years to fulfill its true purpose.
“This mural, I think it was supposed to happen,” Fields said. “This wall knew this mural was going to be here. It was destiny.”
Fields, a Stillwater native who is of Osage and Creek descent, is painting a mural on the building, located at the corner of Seventh Street and Morton Avenue.
The Muscogee Nation Cultural Center and Archives Department commissioned the mural, which incorporates the essence and history of Okmulgee while paying homage to Muscogee (Creek) culture through imagery such as ceremonial fire, stickball and ribbon dresses.
Fields began work on the mural Monday and will continue through Saturday.
“I’ve taken aspects that have moved our culture in positive ways,” Fields said. “These symbols carry all the elements in harmony.
“The mural is about continuing the things that have carried us and moving into the future. I want people to be proud of their culture, and this is a good way to do that visually.”
Chris Azbell, special projects manager with the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Museum and Cultural Center, said the project fits both with the cultural center’s mission of education and promoting the arts and the revitalization of downtown Okmulgee.
“We want to bring an artistic approach to revitalizing downtown,” Azbell said. “This town died when the industries left, but we won’t bring the town back by bringing back the industries. You have to reinvent yourself. We want to bring in tourism, arts, culture and education.”
The mural is in conjunction with OrangeFest, a two-day community celebration hosted by the Main Street Association and Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology.
On Friday the festival will be centered on downtown, and Saturday the action will be on the OSUIT campus.
Traditionally a one-day event, the festival this year features a first-time partnership between the college and main street organizations as they all focus on expanding city revitalization efforts.
“We’re really trying to encourage people to support the community as a university town, and what better way to do that than by doing a two-day festival that brings all that together,” said Heather Sumner, director of Okmulgee Main Street.
Anita Gordy-Watkins, OSU Institute of Technology’s executive vice president, said the outpouring of support and collaboration from the community is amazing.
“OrangeFest has really allowed the OSUIT campus, the Okmulgee community and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation to come together like never before and really synergize to bring the event to a new level,” she said. “There’s an excitement and eagerness surrounding this year’s OrangeFest that’s unprecedented, and the mural is a big part of defining this collaborative spirit on Friday night.”
Mike Averill 918-581-8489