Fred Beaver didn’t set out to be an artist. When he attended Bacone College in Muskogee, he took business courses. Then came World War II and he served in the U.S. Army Air Corps, stationed in Italy. Amongst the works of European masters, art crept into his life. Letters home to his wife, Juanita, were often decorated with sketches. She encouraged him to pursue his interest in art and he took a few private lessons.
After the war, Beaver went to work as an interpreter for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Okmulgee. For several years, his painting was a hobby, something he pursued in the evenings when he got home from work. In 1947, he entered his work in the annual Indian Exhibition at Tulsa’s Philbrook Art Center. Two years later, he walked away with the first of five consecutive first-place awards in his division.
Cultural identity outweighed personal acclaim for Beaver. “I wanted to change the non-Indian’s image of my people, and I wanted to help my own people understand themselves, especially the young. So I sketched and painted the scenes from my own childhood and the remembering of tales and legends told to me by my parents, and my grandparents. In this small way I can give all races a part of the true history of the Indian and I can give my own people an authentic record of the traditions and legends of their forefathers.”
Beaver was a member of the Creek tribe, but he depicted scenes from many tribes in his works. Images from the Seminole Tribe often appeared in his paintings and they selected him to complete a massive mural in the Okalee Seminole village in Florida in 1962. In 1965, Oklahoma Seminoles picked him to restore Acee Blue Eagle’s mural of Seminole life inside the Coalgate Post Office.
His work earned honors in competitions at the Denver Art Museum, the Heard Museum in Phoenix, and the Philbrook Museum in Tulsa. He also completed a number of notable commissions, including one from the Republican Committee for a painting that was presented to President Eisenhower. The Franklin Mint commissioned him to design medallions for the 1976 United States Bicentennial celebration. His work is included in collections across the country, including the University of Nebraska, the Museum of Northern Arizona, and the National Park Service Collection. This piece was purchased for the Oklahoma Judicial Center Collection.
Source: The Oklahoman, May 10, 1964, November 29, 1970; March 13, 1971.