Walking through the state Capitol, visitors will find an array of portraits commemorating various Oklahomans who have made their mark on both the state and the nation. However some say one Oklahoman has been overlooked for too long.
A portrait of Oklahoma City native and author of the widely acclaimed novel “Invisible Man,” Ralph Ellison is long overdue, said Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City. Holt is leading an effort to change that.
“If you look around our floor, there are other portraits of obviously famous Oklahomans, including famous African Americans,” Holt said. “So, it's just kind of a mystery to me why Ralph Ellison got sort of overlooked.”
Holt took a class on Ellison's work while attending George Washington University in Washington, and he said that not only did he learn a lot about his hometown, but he also grew to appreciate Ellison's work and influence.
Holt said that most of the money for the portrait has been raised, and Tracy Harris, a local artist with portraits already hanging in the state Capitol, has been commissioned for the painting.
He added that the goal of the piece is to showcase to his fellow Oklahomans that anything is possible, no matter where you come from.
“Anytime I've been involved in namings, whether it's Flaming Lips Alley or Wanda Jackson Way or a portrait of Ralph Ellison, that's always my goal,” Holt said. “Honoring them is the secondary purpose. The primary purpose is to inspire everyone else to reach the heights that those people have.”
Michael Owens, manager of library operations at the Ralph Ellison Library in Oklahoma City, agrees that not only is the portrait overdue, Ellison's work has a very inspirational quality.
“Introducing the average person to the idea of discovering yourself and then being aware of others around you because you don't make yourself invisible, society makes you invisible,” Owens said. “That's really what Mr. Ellison was talking about, those that make you invisible, that desire for them to open up their eyes and see you, your talents and your gifts, (and) your contributions and validate you within your society.”
Thursday, the Capitol Preservation Commission voted unanimously to approve the portrait's addition to the Capitol. So far plans are to include it on the fourth floor alongside portraits of Jim Thorpe, Sequoyah, Woody Guthrie, and Will Rogers. Once the painting is finished, the commission will vote again on whether or not to approve the final product, which will likely take place early next year.