Artist Charles Banks Wilson: Indians, America, and Oklahoma

Artist Charles Banks Wilson: Indians, America, and Oklahoma

Brian Daffron

Arkansas-born artist Charles Banks Wilson spent a large portion of his 94 years either illustrating or painting Native subjects. Growing up in Miami, Oklahoma—the home of nine federally recognized tribes--one of his early sketches as a teenager was of Cherokee entertainer Will Rogers, who came to Miami to perform.

“He just painted what was around him,” said Wilson’s daughter, Carrie V. Wilson.

After studying at the Art Institute of Chicago, Wilson married Edna McKibben, an enrolled member of the Quapaw Tribe, in 1941. For two years, Wilson worked in New York City and then moved back to Miami, where he would continue his artistic career and found the art department of Northeast Oklahoma A&M College.

His body of work includes the illustration of over 22 books and over 50 illustrations for a textbook on Oklahoma history. From 1963-1968, Wilson created four life-size portraits for the State Capitol Rotunda in Oklahoma City—Cherokee linguist Sequoyah; Sac & Fox athlete Jim Thorpe; U.S. Senator Robert S. Kerr; and his childhood subject, Will Rogers.

In 1982, he published a book entitled Search for the Purebloods, a collection of illustrations in which the subject matter included full-blood (4/4) members of a particular tribe. The impetus for this work began while conducting research for a mural series on Oklahoma history for the State Capitol. While working on a mural depicting Spanish conquistador Francisco Coronado’s encounter with the Wichita people, Carrie Wilson said that the Wichita Tribe assisted her father in finding a tribal member they wanted to represent them.

“I think he took [Native people] out of the scenery, out of being a storybook figure,” said Carrie Wilson about her father’s artwork.

Accolades during Wilson’s lifetime include the Oklahoma Governor’s Art Award, induction into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, and being named an “Oklahoma Treasure.”

On August 9-10, Miami, Oklahoma, will host “Celebration for an Oklahoma Treasure—A Tribute to Charles Banks Wilson” at its Coleman Theatre on what would have been his 95th birthday. The event includes a Friday night screening of two documentaries featuring Wilson, including “Names We Never Knew” by NBC reporter Bob Dotson.

Saturday night’s event will feature performances by actress Helen Russell; fiddler Kyle Dillingham; the Big Shiny Brass Quartet; dancer Maggie Boyett; singer/songwriter Linda Allen; trick roper Kowboy Kal; and singer Susan Wright Mogilka. The MC will be Michael Wallis, author of Route 66: The Mother Road and the voice of Sheriff in the Pixar animated franchise Cars.

For more information about Wilson and the August 9-10 event, call 918-540-2425 or visit

Images in this story are copyright Charles Banks Wilson. Source: University of Arkansas Libraries

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