For Ken Fergeson, the Chairman of the NBC Oklahoma bank in Altus, a thriving arts community equals a thriving economy. Having traveled across the state through towns both large and small, he came to the conclusion that the arts are a community investment.
“I noticed that little towns with strong arts communities looked more alive, the ones that didn’t seemed like they were dying,” Fergeson said.
A longtime friend of the arts, Fergeson wanted to create a space in Altus, supported by the bank, that would serve the arts community. A few years earlier, a fire had destroyed the old Wigwam Theater next door to the bank. So, Fergeson bought up the lot and constructed an art gallery that pays homage to the former theatre, complete with ticket box. Through his efforts, he helped the bank establish the Wigwam Gallery.
“The bank was going to remodel its lobby and we were able to buy that burnt out lot. So I had an architect design something that looked like the old theatre and we made a little gallery out of it,” Fergeson said.
It was important for Fergeson, who has participated in the renovation of several downtown Altus buildings, to maintain the same aesthetic and feel of a “traditional” downtown square.
“The bank building was built in 1929, and the theatre was here before that,” Fergeson said.
The creation of an art gallery also meant the need for an art curator. In the five years that the gallery has been in operation, Fergeson has used the position as a way to give recent graduates an opportunity to gain experience curating a gallery, crating exhibits and running a venue.
“I think we will continue to do that. We are on our third curator right now. I hire someone straight out of college to be the curator and treat it kind of like an internship except they get paid and full benefits,” Fergeson said.
Currently, Matthew Davids is the Administrator of Art Collections at the Wigwam Gallery. He has been in the position for almost seven months. Currently, he is overseeing an exhibit by Native American artist Woodrow Wilson Crumbo.
“He (Crumbo) was a painter, but he also did many other things. He was a sculptor, a jeweler and even a flutist and dancer in the traditional Potawatomi style,” Davids said. “I would say what appealed to me the most is that he is an Oklahoma native, and yet his work is so prolific.”
Crumbo’s art can be found in many public and private collections, including The American Museum of Natural History in New York City, the National Museum of the American Indian and the private collections of Queen Elizabeth.
The Wigwam Gallery currently boasts 40 pieces from Crumbo in its collection. All 40 pieces are on display in its current exhibit, “Half a Lifetime.” The title of the show comes from a quote by Crumbo: “Half of my life passed in striving to complete the pictorial record of Indian history, religion, rituals, customs, way of life and philosophies … a graphic record that a million words could not begin to tell.”
“NBC Oklahoma is a big supporter of the arts and we just want to provide opportunities for the public to enjoy,” Davids said.
While physical tours of the exhibit are not currently available due to social distancing restrictions, free virtual tours are available online at nbcwigwam.art.