Metamorphosis

Mike Larsen

Artist Mike Larsen’s studio is nestled in the rolling oak hills of rural Payne county. Cooper’s hawks frequently glide and soar in the skies around his home. The hawks are native to North America, with a range stretching from southern Canada to northern Mexico. They were named after William Cooper, one of the founders of the New York Lyceum of Natural History. Cooper’s hawks capture their prey while flying quickly through dense vegetation, often at very high speeds. Even for the successful hawk that catches a smaller bird in flight, this high-risk hunting style can result in broken chest bones when the prey is snatched mid-air.

The spirit the birds possess: majesty, power, and bravery, are qualities that have always fascinated Larsen. “In some traditions, the Navajo and the Apache, they have stories of shapeshifters.” Those stories do not appear among the Eastern or Plains tribes or Larsen’s own Chickasaw tribe, but the idea appealed to him. “The metamorphosis of the spirit into the warrior is a very intriguing idea.” Using that idea, Larsen created the drawing that would become Metamorphosis, reflecting the theme for the 25th anniversary of the Sovereignty Symposium in 2011. It was reproduced on posters, t-shirts, tote bags, programs and other promotional items. Larsen donated his original drawing to the Oklahoma Judicial Center collection. Other Larsen pieces in the collection include the Sovereignty Symposium posters, Seeds of Sovereignty, and the Kiowa Six. See pages 37 and 140, respectively.

Growing up, Mike Larsen’s time was divided between his parents’ home in Texas and his maternal grandparents’ family farm in Wynnewood. In Amarillo, Texas, he took a high school art class that captured his imagination and prompted him to continue art studies in college. He attended Amarillo Junior College, the University of Houston and West Texas A&M University, but the powers that be were not always impressed. One advisor even suggested he pursue another field of study. Fortunately for Oklahoma and the world, Larsen didn’t take that advice.

Instead, he committed himself to art wholeheartedly. During the 1970s and 1980s, Larsen worked in his studio every weekday and then traveled to street festivals and art shows on the weekend. His big break came in 1987 when one of his paintings was selected as the grand-prize winner at the first Red Earth Festival. In 1991, he was commissioned by the Oklahoma Legislature to paint Flight of Spirit, a mural of Oklahoma’s five world-renowned Native American ballerinas for the State Capitol rotunda. Larsen’s painting of Rosella Hightower, Yvonne Chouteau, Moscelyn Larkin, Maria Tallchief and Marjorie Tallchief garnered national attention, allowing him to shift his focus from producing pieces for street fairs to devoting himself to larger projects. Over time, a signature style blending historical accuracy with a romantic spirit emerged.

Source: Personal interviews, October 2010 and April 2013.

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