Published June 17, 2016
OKLAHOMA CITY – Mike Larsen’s eyes poured over two huge acrylic paintings he created 21 years ago.
“This painting of an Arapaho holy man and his people brings back many emotions,” Larsen explained. “It was painted right after the Oklahoma City bombing. Two of our children are included and the others are close friends; many of them now gone,” he said as he soaked in the brilliant colors and textures of his creation.
After 10 years in Kansas City, Larsen’s two-panel painting “Cloud People” is back in Oklahoma. It was relocated to Kansas City in 2006 when the Oklahoma City Federal Reserve branch moved into a new office without the capacity to properly display it.
“I’m glad it’s back home where it belongs,” said Larsen, a world renowned painter and sculpture who has been honored with induction into both the Chickasaw and Oklahoma halls of fame.
The Oklahoma City Federal Reserve branch commissioned the painting after the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was bombed.
The two 7X6-foot paintings were first envisioned as part of a project in 1994 by Larsen and his wife, Martha.
The Larsens were researching and capturing images of holy men – often called shamans – from each of Oklahoma’s 39 federally-recognized tribes. “A few of the tribes no longer had living holy men, so 36 paintings were completed,” the artist noted.
“Cloud People” is the largest painting in the series.
Larsen was approached by the Oklahoma City Federal Reserve branch in summer 1995. “They made it clear that, in some way, they wanted to pay tribute and honor people who had lost their lives on April 19 of that year,” Larsen told a gathering of Oklahoma City and Kansas City Federal Reserve staff and executives June 2. Additionally, officials wanted to honor “all of the families that were so affected.
“We had not yet painted a work on the Arapaho. When I presented the idea of an Arapaho holy man wrapping his cloak around an extended family in an act of comfort and protection, it proved to be exactly what the Federal Reserve wanted,” Larsen said. “This painting expresses what we all were looking for – a little piece of mind.”
The Larsens are a team.
While Mike Larsen’s work – paintings and sculptures – are located throughout the world, Martha Larsen plays an intimate role in the success of each project the couple launches.
The Larsens have two volumes of work honoring Chickasaw elders.
“We visited them. We got to know them. I took my sketch pad and Martha shot an average of 300 photographs per elder. We used two photographs to create each portrait,” Larsen said.
The culmination resulted in two books “They Know Who They Are” and “Proud to Be Chickasaw” featuring portraits of almost 50 Chickasaw elders painted by Larsen. Each is accompanied by a story written by Martha Larsen and award-winning artist Jeannie Barbour, Chickasaw Nation creative development director.
The portraits are displayed at Chickasaw Nation Headquarters in Ada and at the Chickasaw Nation Cultural Center in Sulphur. The books are available at Amazon and at the Chickasaw Press.
Larsen was commissioned by the state of Oklahoma to paint a 26-foot-long mural for the Capitol Rotunda of five internationally prominent Native American ballet dancers, all born in Oklahoma.
He has painted eight murals – four about teaching the arts and four about local Native American History – for the Oklahoma Art Institute and six murals for the University of Oklahoma Donald W. Reynolds Performing Art Center and School of Dance.
The next project for the Larsens is in the planning stage. Its focus is Oklahoma history.
“There’s been a lot of books and things like that on the history of Oklahoma, but we haven’t done them,” Larsen said turning to his wife for an affirmative response. “We think it will be extremely interesting to explore all the differing perspectives of the topic artistically,” he added.
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