Charles Banks Wilson’s Sketches of Woogee and Eva – In Search of the Purebloods

Charles Banks Wilson

Charles Banks Wilson is a well-known Oklahoma artist known for his contribution to the Indian art world. Growing up with a blind grandmother, Wilson learned to interpret the details of life both verbally and artistically. Wilson has sought out the last of the “pure bloods” and captured them ‘forever’ in his lithographs and paintings.

This is the sketch of Eva that Charles Banks Wilson did, as published in his book, “In Search of the Purebloods” where he says of her, “I found her Comanche face reflecting a delightful personality. Of her it is said: She sings the old song.” She “did indeed” sing the old songs! He did an incredible job capturing her personality, I think. She was delightful and I will write more later about Eva.

Of Woogee, he said: “Rainmaker” was in his trailer, near Elgin, Okla. and 14 or more dogs were in the yard. A fine artist and Indian dancer. However, it often rains when he is at a powwow – and when it does people are apt to say, Woogie, go home!” I have written previously about how Woogee would be brought in to places suffering from drought… but rain and powwows don’t always go very good together and they would sure give Woogee a hard time when he showed up at a powwow with the rain!

The thing that I think Mr. Wilson best captured about Woogee was his inner strength and powerful pride. He was small in stature, but he resonated with such strong pride. He was a true warrior. Charles Banks Wilson portrays this well in his sketch of Woogee, perhaps more so than any other portrait I have ever seen of him.




I had the great pleasure of meeting Charles Banks Wilson at the QuaPaw Powwow one beautiful summer night. He was very gracious to me. He was accompanied by his family and a woman who is well known due to a portrait he painted of her. He is one of my favorite artists, and I have great respect for both him and his work. Mr. Wilson attended the Chicago Art Institute, a dream I had when I was young, but which “unfortunately” was never fulfilled. I was able to visit it though… for a day, with my “primitive” portfolio in hand… and with great hopes that one day “perhaps I could find a way to become an artist like those I saw that day! My journey did not include going to the great Chicago Art Institute for professional training, but “fortunately,” I did find another path... another way to achieve those dreams. Or maybe… perhaps it was the path that “chose me.”

The Quapaw Powwow is held on July 4th and it is the oldest Indian Powwow in the United States. For more than 130 years the celebration has been taking place and is well worth attending. It is one of my favorite powwows. It is at Beaver Springs State Park which is located about 3 miles from the Kansas state line.

Charles Banks Wilson – Biography

Few other artists have become so identified with their state as Oklahoma’s Charles Banks Wilson. He was a painter, printmaker, teacher, lecturer, historian, magazine and book illustrator. His work has been shown in over 200 exhibitions in this country and throughout the world. The permanent collections of major museums and galleries that contain his paintings and prints of Oklahoma life are some of the most renown in the world. These include New York’s Metropolitan Museum, Washington’s Library of Congress, The Corcoran Gallery, Oklahoma State Capital, and the Smithsonian.

When Charles Banks Wilson was born in 1918, his father was overseas fighting in World War I and his mother was visiting her parents in Arkansas. Despite the events surrounding his birth, Wilson grew up in Miami, Oklahoma, and today considers himself an Oklahoma native. Wilson’s thirst for art was reflected at an early age when he began drawing on virtually any flat and/or empty space including on the bottom of drawers, backs of pictures, and even under tables. In grade school, Wilson appeared in nine school plays and expressed his desire to be an actor. This notion changed however, under the influence of his father Charles B. Wilson – a professional trombone player. In the fifth grade Wilson began playing the trumpet, a hobby he would continue throughout high school. At this point in his education, Wilson took up drawing again. He started decorating various notebooks and blackboards in an attempt to improve his grades. His strategy proved successful, as after graduation Wilson was able to enroll at the Art Institute of Chicago. At the Art Institute, Wilson began a project whereupon he sketched portraits of numerous members of Oklahoma Indian tribes – a project that would soon become a lifelong artistic journey. While in Chicago, Wilson was also given an award from the Chicago Society of Lithographers and Etchers, and his work was added to the Art Institute collection as well.

In 1941, Wilson completed his education at the Art Institute. Afterwards during his return to Oklahoma, he attended a stomp dance fire at a Quapaw pow wow. Here he met Quapaw Indian Princess, Edna McKibben, the very woman Wilson would later marry the following year. Next, Wilson was called to New York City with a commission from the Associated American Artists. Here he illustrated his first book, The Hill, exhibited a portrait of his wife in a National Academy show, and had his “Freedom’s Warrior” lithograph shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

During the late 1940s, Wilson was kept busy with three one-man shows which took place at the Oklahoma City Art Center, the Amarillo Tri State Fair, and the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. Wilson also continued illustrating; working on over five books including Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, and completing a series of Will Rogers national calendars. Perhaps one of his greatest achievements came when the United States Senate selected four of Wilson’s paintings to be shown in 20 world capitals.

Commissioned by the Oklahoma State Legislature, Wilson completed life-size portraits of Will Rogers, Sequoyah, and Senator Robert S. Kerr in 1963 for the state capitol rotunda. These portraits were so successful that they led to a second commission in 1966 for a similar style portrait of Indian athlete, Jim Thorpe. The portrait was unveiled one year later by Elmer Manatwa, Chief of the Sac and Fox Indians, and celebrated with a large Indian pow wow on capitol grounds. Merely three years after, Wilson was commissioned yet again by the Oklahoma Legislature to complete four major murals depicting Oklahoma history for the state capitol – thus cementing his legacy as an Oklahoma Art treasure. Wilson has since been awarded with the Governor’s Art Award and inclusion into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.

Published in: on June 10, 2007 at 12:28 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hello-

    I know that this does not pertain to the above but, I do need to find a painting that Mr. Banks did probably in the early 80’s. To my knowledge the painting is called “The Yound Chief”. But I am not sure. The only one that I have seen is my aunt’s and she will not let go of it. I was wondering if it would be possible to attain one of thes paintings? My father is the person sitting still in time. If you could possibly help in this matter, I would be very thankful.
    Thank you for your time. Brenda Panther

  2. Hi Ms Davis,

    I was reading your post regarding Charles Banks Wilson and I was hoping you could provide me some info. My Father gave me a lithograph of Mr. Wilson’s and I can’t tell if it’s a print or an original. The only info my Father provided was to “hang on to this because it’s worth something”. It is a portrait of what appears to be a Chief with feathers in his hands and there are men and a child with head dresses on and appear to be dancing. The caption at the bottom appears to be “Ben ga ni” or “Tsu ga ni”. Please let me know if I can provide additional information.

    Pat Schuessler

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