Brrr! Ice Land in Galveston is the Coolest Exhibit of the Season

     What happens when a team of 25 professional ice carvers from China arrives on Galveston Island? Why, the chilliest fun to be found for the holiday season.

     While it may be a bit too early for most of us to start thinking about Christmas, it’s never too soon to plan fun outings.

     Today I was invited by Moody Gardens to get a sneak peek at the process of creating the annual, larger-than-life ice carving installation Ice Land. I can honestly say that even though I’ve seen every year of Ice Land, this one is the best yet.

     The theme is “Christmas Around the World” and incorporates ice sculptures of the Eiffel Tower, Russian Matryoshka (nesting) dolls, the Great Wall of China, a Dutch windmill and more…all carved from 300-pound blocks of colored ice.

 

     Experience has taught be to come prepared with gloves, and Moody Gardens provides long parkas to brace against the shocking nine degree temperature of the 28,000 square-foot tent where the exhibit is taking shape. Today’s tour also included hard hats since it’s a very active construction zone.

Shivers Bar under construction

     One of the attraction’s most popular annual features, an ice slide, will let guests slip and slide from the base of the Eiffel Tower to the ground floor this year. And the unique “Shivers Bar” (aptly named) will once again be serving beverages inside the venue…if you are brave enough to chill out counters and tables carved from ice!

     I’ll be back in two weeks to share their progress with you, and tips for how to save on family visits to Moody Gardens Ice Land and Festival of Lights.

     Mark your calendars: Ice Land will be open November 16 through January 12 – plenty of time to get your chill on!

     Right now, though, the artists need to get back to work…and I’m breaking out the hot chocolate!

 

For ticket information, visit Moody Gardens

Long, Tall Tex Randall Rides Again

     If you think you have trouble finding clothes to fit, just be thankful you aren’t a 47-foot tall cowboy!

     You’ve heard the saying that everything is “bigger in Texas,”

     “Tex Randall,” the 47-foot tall, seven ton statue in Canyon, Texas was designed and built in 1959 by Harry Wheeler (1914-1997) to draw Route 66 tourists to his Corral Curio Shop and six-room motel. Wheeler, an industrial arts teacher, spent ten months forming the lanky cowboy out of six-inch wire mesh, rebar and concrete.

     And here’s the really amazing part…

     Though his clothes are painted on today, they weren’t originally! Tex’s first Western-style shirt was made by Amarillo awning, using an impressive 1,440 square feet of material. Wheeler sewed it closed in back with sailboat thread, and created sheet aluminum snap buttons and a belt buckle the size of a television screen.

     Levi Strauss’ nearby plant made real jeans for him that had to be sewn onto the statue on site. The pants were lifted into place with a crane, and Wheeler stood below, adjusting the “fit” and sewing them together. How’s that for a tall tailor order?

     Tex’s boots and features were painted onto the surface of the statue, and he was crowned with a Stetson style hat.

     As far as relics from the Route 66 heyday, this tall Texan definitely fits the bill. He became one of the roadside attractions that people would drive miles to see and photograph.

     Due to reconstruction of the highway, business at his shop and motel declined. That and personal business caused Wheeler sold the property in 1963. He refused offers to buy Tex that came in from Las Vegas and businesses along Route 66, preferring that his labor of love remain in Canyon.

     The following decades of Panhandle winds and weather shredded the figure’s fabric clothes; a semi-truck crashed into his left boot and the original cigarette was shot out of his right hand. The elements sandblasted away large portions of his skin, and his concrete fingers began to crumble.

     An Amarillo area businessman purchased Tex with the intention of moving him to his business, but gave up when he learned it would cost $50,000.

     In 1987, local community leaders began a “Save the Cowboy” campaign and raised the money to restore Tex. The no longer socially acceptable cigarette in his hand was replaced with a spur, new clothes were painted on to replace the lost fabric set, and he was given an 80s-style moustache.

     By 2010, it became apparent that a more thorough restoration of the statue was needed, and the Canyon community and Canyon Main Street volunteers rallied to save the icon.

     The Texas Department of Transportation stepped in to help and set aside almost $300,000 to turn the land around Tex’s boots into a park.

    Tex’s cameo appearance in the 2015 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue provided the exposure to increase interest in the project. After six years of fundraising and work, the project was completed in December 2016, and Tex received his own Texas State Historical Marker in 2017.

     Tex’s appearance now more closely resembles his original 1950s appearance, and much to Wheeler’s daughter Judy’s delight the moustache is gone.

     Tex isn’t the state’s “biggest Texan” any more … he is outsized by the Sam Houston statue in Huntsville, but this lanky character holds a special place in generations of Panhandle residents’ hearts and tourists’ photos.

     If you plan to go by and say “Howdy” to Tex, swing into 1400 North 3rdAvenue, Canyon, Texas.


 

Hit the Brakes – It’s Cadillac Ranch!

     Chances are if you’ve seen any photos of Route 66, a shot of the infamous Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo was among them. The row of ten, graffiti-covered Cadillacs buried nose-first in the ground has become famous around the world.

     Their make and models are no longer discernible due to weathering and layers of paint, but everyone seems to know they’re Cadillacs.

     The public art installation gained immediate attention from its inception in 1974 by eccentric businessman-turned-artist Stanley Marsh 3 (he thought the III after his name was too pretentious).

     Marsh commissioned the Ant Farm, a radical art group consisting of Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez and Dough Michaels, to carry out his plan.

     The classic Caddies dating from 1948 to 1963 were purchased for about $200 apiece and were installed with their original paint jobs. Depending on their drivability they were either hoisted or driven into the holes that became their almost-final resting places in a wheat field just outside the city limits.

     The temptation to visitors to leave their mark on the unusual sight became a rite of Route 66 passage, and didn’t seem to bother Marsh who embraced the enthusiasm of the new tradition.

     In 1997 urban sprawl necessitated moving the interactive folk art attraction a couple of miles down the road to its current site in a former cow pasture on I-40. The cars were carefully moved and reset in their original order and angle. It’s said that even some of the surrounding debris was moved to the new location with them, but that seems more like a bit of a Texas Tall Tale in the making.

     The cars were repainted in their original colors in 2002, and in 2003 they were painted in flat black to mourn the passing of the founder of the Ant Farm.

     Other than those two efforts, the colors and patterns have constantly evolved thanks to the enthusiastic efforts of visitors. It will never look exactly the same, even if you visit two days in a row.

     The Cadillac Ranch was one of our most anticipated stops along our trek across the Texas section of Route 66, and it didn’t disappoint. It almost shouts, “Just enjoy and don’t take yourself so seriously.”

Brooks & Dunn video

     You may even recognize the Ranch from Brooks & Dunn’s “Honky Tonk” music video  or Pixar’s animated ‘Cars’ movie – where its silhouette was used as the design for a mountain range.

     But let me steer you in the right direction for your own Caddie Outing . . .

     First of all, it’s free…so there’s no excuse to pass up the opportunity to visit. Plan to bring at least one can of spray paint per person to join in the fun.

     Heading east on I-40, take Exit 60 (Arnot Road). Pass through the intersection with Love’s Truck Stop and keep an eye out for cars parked on the side of the road to your right. Yes, the Cadillac Ranch is open 24/7/365 so there are always cars.

     Don’t expect a big touristy, lighted sign shouting the location, though. What you’ll see first is a turnstile gate and parked cars before you spot the Caddies propped up in a pasture in the distance.

     Typical for a summer day in the Panhandle, it was hot and windy so hats, sunscreen and water are essentials.

     The day we visited there was a fellow selling key chains and other quirky mementoes made from paint that had chipped off the cars, by the gate out of the back of his truck. Enterprising, but we passed. You’ll see large pieces of this layered paint on the ground surrounding the cars, so you can pick up one to make your own creation if you like.

     Once you pass through the turnstile a wide dirt path leads out to the Cadillacs.


     Note: the turnstile gate was the only access I saw while I was there, so unless a visitor in a wheelchair has assistance to get through the tight gate and has their folded chair passed as well, I’m not entirely sure this would be accessible. I would advise calling the visitors’ bureau who might know of another way in.

     I’ve also heard that the site can turn into quite a mud pit after a rain, but our timing didn’t make that an issue.

     We purposely wore clothes that we didn’t mind getting speckled with a bit of paint, since the wind chose exactly where the spray went.

     Don’t hesitate to jump right in and leave your mark on any or all of the cars. It’ll last at least until the next “artist” comes along.  Be aware if you’re climbing on or inside them that though they’re remarkable sturdy…they are deteriorating and shouldn’t be 100% trusted to support you!

     Some people even spray-painted messages and patterns in the dirt surrounding the cars, which was so hard it made a pretty good canvas.

     Visitors are asked to carry out their empty spray cans to toss in the trash bins along the fence line, but of course not everyone does. Be a bit of a hero and pick an extra one up to throw out with yours!

     The only traffic jam these cars see any more are the crowds that surround them. We chatted with people from several states and different countries and of all ages, and everyone was having a ball.

     Off-beat? Yes. Fun? Absolutely! The Cadillac Ranch makes my list of must-stops along the road.

Route 66 Kitsch & Culture in Vega

 

   The next stop on our Texas Route 66 trip was the charming little town of Vega, the county seat of Oldham County. Locals, or “Vegans,” are some of the friendliest folks you’ll find along this trek. The people here and their love of the history of Route 66 are a perfect example of how the road and its travelers can become the fabric of a community.

     Walking around the courthouse square, it was easy to spot the show stopping mural of a white buffalo on the side of a building at the corner of South Main and West Main – just across from the Bee’s Knees Café (whose “Sweet Tea” sign would have tempted me into sitting on their bench for a spell if they’d only been open!).

     The massive painting screams Southwest pride and will capture the heart of anyone who loves the area’s history, wildlife and deserts. It is one of four murals painted by talented art partners Joshua Finley and Valerie Doshier in 2014. Tragically, Valerie died of a brain tumor just two years later. What a beautiful legacy of public art she left for passersby to enjoy for years to come.

     The children’s book character of Cheeky Maneeky whose stories she had outlined before her passing were later brought to life by her mother D’Ann Swain’s writing and Finley’s illustrations.

     Another of the duos’ murals appears on the side of a 100+-year old building at 1005 Coke Street that used to serve as the town’s lumberyard. Expanded a few years ago, it now houses the Milburn-Price Culture Museum that displays memorabilia from around Oldham County including a 1926 Model T affectionately named “Tin Lizzy.” (But I’ll say a bit more about her later.)

     The mural at this site depicts the famed XIT Ranch, whose history will be at least vaguely familiar to anyone raised in the state an subjected to local history books. The Panhandle ranch encompassed a mere three million acres (yes, really!) and was conceived in 1879 to fund a new state capital building. At its peak, it raised 150,000 head of cattle, represented by the large longhorn statue who,…ahem…has a “66” brand instead of an “XIT.” The last of the cattle were sold in 1912.

     What’s most likely to catch your eye as you approach the building is the world’s largest branding iron laying on the ground beside the parking area. The XIT iron, made by Greg Conn, was designed so that visitors who drove into the lot at night could cast an immense “XIT” shadow brand onto the side of the building with their headlights. It’s certainly impressive even if you only visit during the day.

 

There are countless vintage gas stations in every stage of repair and disrepair along the route, but the restoration on North Main Street (Coke Street) is sure to make visitors smile.

 

     Colonel James T. Owen opened the “Hi-Way” Magnolia station in 1924 on what was then the Ozark Trail, a partially bricked and partially dirt road. It was only the second service station built in Vega. Owen was an important figure among highway boosters rallying to have Vega as part of the upcoming Route 66.

     Edward and Cora Wilson leased the station from Owen just a couple of years after it was built. The Wilsons lived above the station until 1930, in two cozy rooms with one sink. They had to go downstairs to access the bathroom. Can you imagine? Right on Main Street.

    After the Wilsons, a string of businessmen leased the property including E. B. Cooke and A. B. Landrum. One operator, Kenneth R. Lloyd, claims to have actually married his wife at the small station before moving upstairs to live.

     The station went back under family control when Owen’s son Austin took over the operation in 1933, and entered into a lease with Phillips 66 Petroleum which charged him one cent per gallon of gas sold. The average price of gas was 18 cents per gallon, so that was a pretty good profit!

     By 1937, the year J. T. Owen passed away,  Route 66 was paved through Vega just south of the station.

     Vega’s Magnolia station shut down its pumps in 1953. From 1953 to 1965 the building was home to Slatz Barbershop.

Before restoration, 2002

     The service station remained vacant for decades, until Vegans rallied to restore it. The before and after photos are pretty impressive, don’t you think?

     Restoration was completed in August of 2004, and now the station contains mementos of its previous life. The museum is open on special days or by appointment, but you can glimpse many of its contents through the large windows. A glass-globed pump and blue oil pump sit out front.

 

 

 

     If you’re into the more “kitschy” finds along Route 66, it’s hard to beat Dot’s Mini Museum on North 12thStreet. Dot Leavitt’s family ran a refrigerated storage facility named the Vega Zero Lockers. For years they provided services to locals and travelers along the Mother Road, including “Jugs Iced Free.” Sounds like a pretty good deal, considering most cars didn’t have air conditioning! It was also the only place to buy ice on Route 66 between Amarillo and Tucumcari.

     Determined to share reminders of the era after the interstate passed Vega by, Dot began an informal collection of Route 66 artifacts and memorabilia, which turned into her “mini museum” in 1963.

     Known for her sweet and chatty nature, Dot became instant friends with all who stopped by to learn more about her unlikely treasures. She is said to be the inspiration (along with Lucille Hammons from Hydro, Oklahoma) for the character of “Tin Lizzie” in the Disney/Pixar movie ‘Cars.’ (See? I told you that “Tin Lizzie would come up again!) The character, voiced by Galveston native Katherine Helmond, owned the Radiator Springs Curio Shop and was the oldest auto in town.

“Tin Lizzie” from ‘Cars’

     Dot passed away in 2006 at the age of 89, and the collection is in the care of her daughter, Betty Carpenter.

     If you’re lucky enough to run into Betty on the property, she’ll show you around. There wasn’t a sole in sight on the hot afternoon of our arrival, so we satisfied ourselves by taking some photos of Dot’s whimsical outdoor collections.

     There’s quite a variety to see, including a gravestone for a newspaper that no longer exists, a waving cowboy made of reclaimed metal parts, signs with humorous bits of advice, and…my very favorite…the cowboy boot tree.

     The living tree, decorated with discarded boots of all shapes and styles, actually gets more fascinating the longer you look at it. Taking in the details, you’ll find “well-loved” boots weathering to the point of stitching unraveling, sole nails protruding and heels expanding like the “grow capsules” my daughter used to play with that expand into interesting shapes when you drop them into water. It’s definitely a no-place-but-Texas kind of thing.

     The yard of this diminutive museum alone is worth pulling into the town of Vega.

     If you’re into staying in “rooms with a past,” you’ll definitely want to check out the historic Vega Motel that opened as Vega Court in 1947. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it’s one of the last remaining tourist courts on the Texas stretch of 66. The Lucky Horseshoe “residence” at the Vega Motel recently opened as an accommodation option for road weary travelers, with enough room for the entire family. Here’s the link. (If you haven’t ever stayed in an Airbnb before, this code will get you $40 off your first booking!)

     There’s even a barber shop on the property, so if you’re in need of a trim after getting windblown on the road…you’re in luck. The rest of the motel is currently undergoing renovations, so I’m looking forward to heading back that way to check on the progress!

     The last thing I wanted to search for before we had to move on down the road was this wonderfully weathered Pepsi-Cola sign…and I feel lucky have have found it.! If you’re in the area and want to see this beauty for yourself, it’s on the original Route 66 between 14th and 15th Streets. And yes, those of you who know me well know that I’m a Dr. Pepper girl through and through, but who could resist this beautifully hand-painted relic?

The building also had “ghost signs” advertising “ice” (which would have been welcome in the heat!) and “Cafe.” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     Just in case you’re interested, Oldham Country has the longest stretch of Route 66 stencils painted on the roadbed, at ever other mile marker beginning east of Wildorado (don’t-cha just love that name?) all the way to the west of Adrian. And though I don’t advise sitting on the road for a photo opportunity, there are a surprising number of places on the original Route 66 alignment that you’d be hard-pressed to spot an on-coming car. I settled for snapping my shadow rather than taking a chance. Just sayin’.

Related stories:

Getting Our Kicks on Route 66

Glenrio Ghost Town: Exit 0

Stories Along the Road

A Hero on Route 66

Adrian – Midpoint of Route 66

The Bent Door Cafe’s Quirky Origin

 

Pearland’s Art Trail Is Ripe with Fun

     As a colorful nod to its namesake fruit, Pearland installed a public art sculpture trail affectionately dubbed Pear-scape.

     Pearland’s original pear groves were devastated by the 1900 hurricane, after which the city changed its focus to other types of agriculture. But thanks to the Pearland Alliance for Arts & Culture, a different variety of pears now decorates the local landscape.

     Four-foot tall, fiberglass cast pears hand painted by local artists have been installed in ten locations throughout the city. There are 20 pears in all, sometimes solitary and sometimes in groups, but you’ll need a car to visit them all as they aren’t within walking distance of each other.

     Whether you’re just visiting Pearland or doing a stay-cation, finding all the unique fruits can be a fun activity for families. Make the search more exciting by having a scavenger hunt for the pairs with clues to where to find them! Clues for either adults or a kid-friendly version can be found here.

     Or you can cut to the chase with addresses and a map in hand by printing this reference.

     Even with a map, some of the artwork is a bit more easily visible than others, but they are all worth the effort.

Let the hunt begin!

 

Remembrance Pear

by Sherri Harris

Hilton Garden Inn, 12101 Shadow Creek Parkway

Visible from street

A beautiful, sentimental tribute, this one should be on your to-see list even if you can’t make the rounds to see them all.

Because it’s located at a hotel, this stop also provides a restroom break opportunity (hello!). The restaurant is only open for breakfast and dinner, but if your hunt is taking place in the morning or evening…you’re in luck!

One World

by Emily Grygier

Reflection Bay Event Center, 12234 Shadow Creek Parkway

This one is not visible from the main road. The best way to find it is to go to the address, turn in by the Sherwin-Williams paint store and drive all the way to the back of the complex.

There is parking available at this one, but not much else to see while you’re there so it’s a quick one to check off your list.

 

Patched to Pear-fection

by Kathy Ericksen

and

Paint a Pear

and

Close Pear

by Joan Moody

Pearland Town Center, 11200 Broadway Street

Drive in and to the back of the center, and the pears are at the back of the shaded pavilion.

Plenty of parking since it’s a shopping district, and once you’ve marked these beauties off your list, you could easily spend the rest of the day here. Lots of shopping and dining options, and places to grab a quick cookie or pretzel as a reward for a successful pear hunt! For a list of restaurants and stores, click here.

I just love “Close Pear” with all of its brilliant circles!


Wildscape

by Robin Tatem

and

The Pollack Pear

by Hannah Levy

and

A Perfect Pair

by Suzette Schutze

This trio of sculptures is at Southdown Park, 2150 Smith Ranch Road

There’s plenty of parking and would make a great break spot for families. A nice playground and shade provide a great spot to enjoy a picnic or cold drink. If you haven’t prepared for ahead of time, you can grab to-go options from nearby Big Horn BBQ, Jack in the Box or Panda Express.

 

 

Whimsical Harmony

by Lee Ann Hillbrich

Pearland Golf Club, 3123 Flower Fields Lane

To see this one, you’ll go through a gated entrance, but the guard will wave you through when you tell him you’re on a pear hunt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pear Blossoms

by Celebration by Kathy Ericksen

and

Celebration

by Paulisa Winsong and Sandy Shiver

Zychlinski Park, 2243 N. Grand Blvd.

Though they’re all special and unique in design, I have to admit that Pear Blossoms is my favorite. Its neighbor Celebration is going to be a big hit with music lovers, too!

 

Pairing Together

by Kelly Kronfeld and Chris Garcia

and

Loving Life

by Josephine Eager

and

Peary, Peary Night

by Lisa Tenney

Independence Park, 3919 Liberty Drive

Van Gogh lovers are going to revel in this one. The Peary, Peary Night version of Starry, Starry Night is such fun. But be sure to take a closer look at its pear neighbors installed at the same spot to enjoy all of the details included by the artists. Can you find the Texas flag?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Infinite Diversity

by Roberto Barron

and

Pearsonified

by Kelly Kronfeld and Chris Garcia

and

Rose Pear

by Kermit Eisenhut

and

Swirls of Gold

by Claudia Zopoaragon

City Hall Gazebo, 3519 Liberty Drive

This one rewards scavenger hunters with four pairs in one location! It also has a fountain and antique train depot with a caboose on site that make great exploring and photo opps.

 

Dream Birds

by Pelhong  Endris

King’s Beirgarten & Restaurant, 1329 E. Broadway Street

In front of one of Pearland’s best restaurants, this one has plenty of parking and would make a great lunch stop on your route. To find out more about King’s Beirgarten and their amazing German food, click here.

 

Life in Color

by Umanga Liyanage

BAKFISH Brewery, 1231 Broadway Street

And because grown-up pear hunters deserve a reward, too… we’ll wrap up our pear gathering at a popular local brewery. If you want to quench your thirst, check for updated hours the brewery is open by clicking here.

PHEW! That’s a lot of fruit!

Which design is your favorite?

THE SAGA – LIGHTING UP THE NIGHT

IMG_5429

Absolutely stunning!

     I have been looking forward to seeing this since I first heard about it several months ago, but I wasn’t prepared for how beautiful and emotional it would be.

     “The Saga” is a video art installation in San Antonio created by French artist Xavier de Richemont. Projected on the facade of the imposing San Fernando Cathedral, the oldest operating sanctuary in North America, in the heart of downtown it definitely makes my “must see” list for the city.

     In the minutes before the show our trio slowly wandered into the plaza to join others who were deciding on their ideal viewing spot in anticipation of the show. A few brought folding chairs, children made their way to the front of the gathering to sit cross-legged on the pavers, but most just stood.

     A rumble of rain followed by crashes of thunder surged through the speakers to start the show, and all eyes were on the cathedral.

 

Click here to watch the first moments of “The Saga”

 

   Light, color and a collage of images burst onto the 7,000 square foot projection choreographed to music provided in surround sound speakers.

     The progression of images- drawings, photos and maps – took us on a historical journey through the discovery, early settlement, and development from this 300-year-old city.

     Pictures of landscapes, Native Americans, famous battles and finally skyscrapers filled the space, surrounded by wavy blue lines signifying the San Antonio River. A progression of timely music from Native American songs, German polkas, fiddle solos, and more kept our hearts pumping with excitement to see what would come next.

     Richemont worked with local scholars in the creation of the monumental show. He has produced similar projections on famous architecture throughout the world, including Chartres Cathedral in France.

     Totally mesmerized by the breathtaking display, I didn’t have any problem standing for its 24-minute length, even after walking all day…and I bet you won’t either.

   And one of the best parts about this $1 million monumental attraction? It’s absolutely free to the public! I guarantee that if I my schedule had allowed, I would have attended more than once.

     The multimedia work will be projected on the facade of the cathedral three times a night each Tuesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 9:00 p.m., 9:30 p.m., and 10:00 p.m. through 2024.





Church of the Osage

When you’re a history buff, visiting historical sites is just part of any well-rounded getaway!

My sister and I just got back from a trip to Oklahoma, where we spent part of every one of our childhood summers. My grandparents’ farm was built on my grandfather’s Indian land grant (he was a Cherokee, born in 1899…but I’ll share more about him later).

On our way to find the farm again, we decided to go to Pawhuska to visit the Pioneer Woman Mercantile and the ranch where Ree Drummond films her Food Network show.

In addition to that, I had heard of an amazing Catholic church in town built by the Osage Indians. The stunning stained glass windows are the feature that draws most visitors to this historic church.

Before we left on our trip, I called the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, and confirmed that we would be able to take a tour on the day we planned to be in town. The lovely lady who answered the phone assured me that she would be there. If you plan to go, you can also check their Facebook page for details.

 

 

 

 

 

Pulling into the parking lot, there is nothing particularly grand about the exterior appearance of the structure, but the moment we stepped inside it took our breath away.

 

The 22 windows in the sanctuary are considered to be among the most unusual stained glass of any church in the United States. Traditional Catholic windows feature biblical scenes, and twenty of those found in this church do as well.

The other two, however, depict images of people who were alive at the time the church was erected – which is strictly against Catholic guidelines. The Pope gave special dispensation for these to be created as an acknowledgement of the special relationship between the Osage and the Catholic missionaries.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First I’d like to share just a bit about the history of the church itself, which is as interesting as its details.

The church is known in the Pawhuska area as the Cathedral of the Osage.

Knowing that the Osage in the area may have been the richest people per capita in the world at the time may come as a surprise to many, but definitely explains the exquisite cathedral and its rich details.

In the beginning of the 20th century when oil was struck on Osage land, the tribe suddenly went from one of the poorest tribes to the richest.

Photo courtesy of the Osage Wedding Project website

 

 

The men are said to have driven the finest cars and simply replaced them if they broke down or got a flat tire. The women of the tribe walked the streets of town with diamonds on their shoes.

Their parish priest at the time was Father Edward Van Waesberghe, who laid out plans and designs for the church around 1910. The priest even did much of the brickwork himself, aided by Osage members.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inside the church, the ceiling is a series of cross-ribbed arches, painted with a pattern that mimics traditional Osage ribbon work.

Ribbon work patterns also appear as details in many of the stained glass windows.

The altar, draped with an Indian blanket, and statues were made by the same craftsmen who supplied them to the famous Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Osage oil money built the church, and enabled the tribe to afford exquisite stained glass ordered from the Bavarian Art Glass Company in Munich Germany.

 

 

 

 

Being created in a country in the midst of  World War I held dangers for such fragile masterpieces however, and for a while the German artisans buried the almost completed windows in a local sandy river bank in Munich to protect them from possible shelling.

The artisans themselves traveled to Oklahoma with the 36 foot tall windows, which were shipped in sections to Pawhuska and placed in the church prior to its completion in 1916.

Each of the windows is a stunning masterpiece, with the brilliant red panes achieved through the addition of gold dust.

The two most unique windows in the cathedral feature the images of Native Americans.

The ‘Columbus Window’ in the south transept depicts the Pentecost scene on the upper panels, and Christopher Columbus’ first encounter with Native Americans in the New World on the lower panels. It was donated by the William S. Mathews family.

Opposite this window, on the north side of the building though, is the exceptional work of art that many travel from around the country (and world) to see in person.

The ‘Osage Window’ portrays the scene of Jsesuit missionary Father John Shoenmakers, known as ‘Black Robe,’  bringing Catholicism to the Osage Nation, at a time when the tribe lived in Kansas before they were moved to Indian Territory. Shoenmakers was held in such high regard by members of the tribe that his name, as Sho-Mink-Ah, is now used as the Osage word for priest.

In addition to the clergyman, the window depicts the images of actual people in traditional Osage dress surrounding the priest, intently listening to the word of God. Many of the tribal members were still alive at the time it was created. They include Osage Chief Bacon Rind, his wife Julia, Chief Saucy Calf, and interpreter Arthur Bonnecastle and his wife. Photographs of those included were sent to Germany along with the order for the windows. This window was donated by Rose Hill, Angie Bonniecastle and T. J. Leahy.

 

 

Two adorable little girls stand out from the rest of those pictured, partly due to their stance of staring directly out from the window. They are actual portraits of two young girls who died tragically young from the devastating smallpox disease. They represent the eternal saving power of God’s words to their souls.

Father Shoenmakers worked for 36 years among the Osage until his death in 1883.

 

 

 

A very small room off the vestibule holds the original baptismal font, as well as a partial view of the ‘Expulsion’ window depicting the banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, and the ‘Revelation of St. John.’

 

 

 

Only the lower half of the Eden window is visible however, until one climbs to the organ loft to view the upper half, where musical instruments appear in the design.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The same can be said of the ‘Annunciation’ window in the vestibule on the opposite side, which is partially obscured by the tightly winding steps to the loft. The roses at the feet of Mary glow impressively in the late afternoon sun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My sister spotted the name ‘Juanita Scott’ on the donor section of one of the window, which made us smile because…although we knew it wasn’t the same person…it was our grandmother’s name.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The remaining windows at Immaculate Conception depict traditional Biblical scenes in a highly detailed and theologically symbolic manner, including ‘The Child Jesus Teaching in the Temple,’ ‘Wisdom, Age and Grace,’ ‘The Wedding Feast,’ and other classic biblical portrayals. Each one is beautifully detailed and worthy of study.

 

When we asked how many people attended mass there now, the guide responded about 80 to 100 people. For a cathedral of this size, that took us aback. But generations of families have been attending since the church was built, and about 80-90 percent of the parish remains a part of the Osage.

This treasure trove of glass masterworks is definitely worth a detour from any nearby trip route.