Cover Story: Historic Guthrie and its offbeat art and architecture renaissance

(Megan Nance / Oklahoma Gazette)

(Megan Nance / Oklahoma Gazette)

Many cities and towns in Oklahoma host annual festivals with live music, creative cuisine and art exhibitors. Rush Springs Watermelon Festival, Downtown Edmond Arts Festival, Norman’s May Fair Arts Festival, Moore’s Fine Arts Festival, Tulsa Oktoberfest, Apache Rattlesnake Festival and Stilwell’s Strawberry Festival are examples.

Many Guthrie creatives, however, take arts, culture and architecture worship a step further by working hard to make every weekend a time to celebrate the arts as a whole.

“One of the most striking things about Guthrie in general and the arts district in particular is the fact that we have art in almost every diverse sense of the word,” said Lucy Swanson, founder and executive director of The Arts in Guthrie (TAG), a community organization with a mission to promote community arts involvement and education inside and outside the town of just over 11,000 residents located 15 minutes north of Edmond. “From our architecture that we have in our downtown all the way [to] glassblowers and jewelry designers. We have world-famous musicians like Byron Berline. We have The Pollard Theatre. We have music events constantly, year-round, all over town. The fact that music, the arts and culture are just a part of our everyday existence around here makes it special.”

From folk to rock, Guthrie celebrates music, culture and art year-round as it builds its reputation into a destination city in addition to its reputation for being one of the largest Historic Preservation Districts in the nation. (Shelton’s Photography & Design / provided)

From folk to rock, Guthrie celebrates music, culture and art year-round as it builds its reputation into a destination city in addition to its reputation for being one of the largest Historic Preservation Districts in the nation. (Shelton’s Photography & Design / provided)

Festival city

The list of artisans, artists and events in Guthrie is staggering. World-famous session and touring fiddler Byron Berline calls it home.

He also owns his Double Stop Fiddle Shop and Music Hall bearing his name. Visitors to the city can experience the monthly Red Brick Nights art, food and music festival; Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival each October; Guthrie Escape fine arts, wine, food and music fest each fall; runs; walks; tours; art galleries and studios; bed and breakfasts; world-class bootmakers; eateries and bars; shops; museums; an art center; and even a beloved drive-in movie theater.

“The arts are what bring people out at night,” Swanson said of TAG. “When we’re going to do something in Guthrie, it’s going to be something art-related.”

Lee Kessinger rolls colored glass pieces onto hot glass at G Gallery & Glass Studio in Guthrie. (Cara Johnson)

Lee Kessinger rolls colored glass pieces onto hot glass at G Gallery & Glass Studio in Guthrie. (Cara Johnson)

Growing history

Guthrie’s creative hub revolves around its historic downtown area, which spans more than 30 acres, includes more than 100 structures and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1999.

It’s touted as one of the largest Historic Preservation Districts in the nation. Woven into its borders is Guthrie Arts District, which earned Oklahoma Arts Council Certified Culture District designation in 2015.

One of the district businesses is Shelton’s Photography & Design. The past 14 of the 20 years they’ve operated it, co-owners Traci and Heath Shelton have called the arts district home.

“It’s a good environment for the whole family. It’s a good place for a date night. It’s nice just to relax, get away and enjoy the beauty of art in whatever form or fashion it appeals to you,” Traci Shelton said. “It’s conveniently located close to everything that we need. … We do a lot of location type of photography; it has the architecture and the environment.”

The area features seemingly endless subjects and looks, she explained — antiques and historical architecture styles spanning Late Victorian, Beaux-Arts, Romanesque Revival, Italianate, American Eclectic Movement, Neoclassical eras and more.

“But there’s also very contemporary types of structures that we can use,” she said. “You get a different look everywhere you go. … I think the growth has changed over time somewhat because of technology and tourism. Guthrie has definitely grown. It certainly has more of a variety of artists now than it did before. That’s for sure.”

The Pollard Theatre in Guthrie celebrates performing arts in Guthrie’s growing arts district, located in historic downtown. (Shelton’s Photography & Design / provided)

The Pollard Theatre in Guthrie celebrates performing arts in Guthrie’s growing arts district, located in historic downtown. (Shelton’s Photography & Design / provided)

Inclusive boundaries

The plan to make downtown Guthrie an arts and cultural destination began taking shape more than 10 years ago as Swanson worked with the Guthrie Chamber of Commerce.

She also learned a lot as part of Oklahoma Arts Council’s 2013 Leadership Arts class.

“Going through that program really let me see our community through fresh eyes and see the tremendous amount of assets that we have in the arts in our community,” Swanson said.

Previously, efforts were made by city civic and business leaders to promote Guthrie largely for its historic value. After Swanson went through the Leadership Arts program, she said she recognized Guthrie had a lot more to offer, especially through the creative arts talents of its own residents.

“One of the best ways to [promote Guthrie arts] is to create a legitimate district that would be identifiable, that would be a destination,” Swanson explained.

TAG Arts District’s borders follow the general area of the city’s historical district. Swanson recognizes the following streets and landmarks as TAG’s area of influence: the railroad to the west, Noble Avenue to the north, Broad Street to the east and Vilas Avenue to the south.

However, with Guthrie Scottish Rite Masonic Center several blocks away, Swanson said she doesn’t like to define TAG’s borders by geographical areas.

Future plans for TAG include the creation of a nearby nature park with bike trails; a spoken-word and open-mic poetry event; a Guthrie walking tour; an artistic mentorship program; and a fund-raising album featuring Guthrie musicians, available through both digital and vinyl formats.

Additional plans will be based on a cultural impact study still in progress as well as the district’s participation in Creative Oklahoma’s Oklahoma Creative Communities pilot program.

“Guthrie’s so full of history that we’re really trying to find ways to incorporate all of the aspects that we have into something that’s really going to be beneficial and help people grow,” Swanson said. “It’s so easy to spend a whole weekend here in Guthrie and enjoy yourself every minute of it. There’s just tons of stuff to do. Plan it out and do it.”


The Arts in Guthrie

theartsinguthrie.org

facebook.com/guthriearts

405-534-4278


Experience Guthrie

Events

Red Brick Nights

5-11 p.m. June 3

Food, shopping and music from K.C. Clifford, Brad Fielder and Jarvix (first Saturdays through September)

Historic Downtown Guthrie, Wentz Street between Oklahoma and Harrison avenues

facebook.com/redbricknights

Free

Oklahoma Hot Rod Association Car Show

7 a.m.-4 p.m. June 24

Mineral Wells Park

901 S. Division St., Guthrie

http://www.ohra.us

Byron Berline Band

7:30-10 p.m. June 10 and 24

Double Stop Fiddle Shop & Music Hall

121 E. Oklahoma Ave., Guthrie

doublestop.com

$10

Bring It On: The Musical

June 9-July 1

The Pollard Theatre

120 W. Harrison Avenue, Guthrie

thepollard.org

405-282-2800

$15-$30

The See Spot Run

Pet-friendly 5K, 10K and kids fun run

6:45 p.m. June 3

Downtown Guthrie

theseespotrun.com

$15-$30

National Little Britches Rodeo Association 2017 National Finals Rodeo

July 4-9

Lazy E Arena

9600 Lazy E Drive, Guthrie

nlbra.com

405-282-3004

Guthrie Escape

Fine art, wine, food and music festival

10 a.m.-7 p.m. Sept. 30 and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Oct. 1

Historic Downtown Guthrie

guthrieescape.com

405-260-2345

Free

Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival

Oct. 5-7, campgrounds open noon Sept. 30

Cottonwood Creek Flats, 702 S. Warner Ave., Guthrie

oibf.com

405-282-4446

$20-$80

Territorial Christmas

Launches 6 p.m. Nov. 25 with parade, territorial governor inauguration and tree lighting and related events run through December

Historic Downtown Guthrie

guthriesterritorialchristmas.com

405-412-4132

Attractions

Beacon Drive-In Theatre

The Fate of the Furious

Dusk June 2-8

Guardians of the Galaxy 2

Dusk June 9-22

2404 S. Division St., Guthrie

beacondrive-in.com

405-282-4512

$4-$7

Oklahoma Territorial Museum & Historic Carnegie Library

9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday

406 E. Oklahoma Ave., Guthrie

okterritorialmuseum.org

405-282-1889

Free-$10

Guthrie Scottish Rite Masonic Center

10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Monday-Friday

900 E. Oklahoma Ave., Guthrie

guthriescottishrite.org

405-282-1281

Free-$5

Note: Please call ahead to reserve tours.

Guthrie Farmers Market

8 a.m.-noon Saturdays

E. Harrison Avenue and S. Davidson Street, Guthrie

facebook.com/guthriefarmersmarket

405-282-1947

— By Gazette staff


 

Print Headline: Modern arts, TAG leadership ushers historic Guthrie into an artistic renaissance.  

Brian Daffron

This article was written by an Oklahoma Gazette contributor. To reach an editor, please email jchancellor@okgazette.com with this story's headline in your subject line.

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