The Glass Tipi

d.g. smalling

The Glass Tipi illustrates Oklahoma’s future – honoring our Native heritage while embracing the path that lies before us. It was commissioned for the Oklahoma Judicial Center Collection.

Choctaw artist Smalling speaks with passion and conviction about the symbolism of his design. “The State of Oklahoma is at a unique period in United States’ history. The overarching United States’ constitution that frames the existence of Oklahoma, and now, the increasingly engaged 39 Indian Nations’ constitutions point to this: 41 constitutions at work. To be ‘Oklahoma’ is this complexity of governance and civilizations. A healthy and deliberate Oklahoma must meld the best of these to reign in challenges to our civility. This must be done with absolute transparency.

“Latent vestiges of ‘Manifest Destiny’ within the dominant society must be acknowledged and rendered inert through openness of thought and decree. Equally, the complex internal workings of the 39 Indian Nations need to be deftly explained to minimize misunderstandings. Again, it is the necessity of transparency that underscores Oklahoma’s future and it is to this point that The Glass Tipi reflects. The Supreme Court of Oklahoma ‘fleshes out’ these inter-jurisdictional complexities on a daily basis. The Court remains the final voice of the Oklahoma citizenry as opinion and decree. The tipi intertwines Oklahoma’s various voices affirming a transparent end.”

The tipi was fabricated by Tietsort Studio in Oklahoma City. The top brace of the piece reflects four arms interlinked, a sign of community strength in early Native American cultures.

The son of missionaries, Smalling spent his youth literally hopping the globe and often found himself in places wrought with conflict, like Cameroon and South Africa, where he graduated high school. He returned to Oklahoma to earn a political science degree from the University of Oklahoma. Work with a humanitarian organization took him to the Balkans where he glimpsed first-hand the healing power of art.

He was with a group doing therapy work among refugees and prisoners of war, people who had endured the horrors of war in the former Yugoslavia. “It was a very stressful situation and I was creating more stress, among the women, just through my presence.” With art he found a way to ease the tension. He discovered making a simple drawing for the women allowed them to view him in a different context.

“When I really committed myself to art, my Mom made me take a vow that I wouldn’t work on anything dark, cynical or macabre,” Smalling said. Keeping that vow hasn’t been difficult, and while he acknowledges there is a place for art that makes a shocking statement, he prefers optimism. “People have forgotten to celebrate that which is beautiful, simple, and innocent. Beauty matters. The job of an artist is to inspire and that’s what I want to do.”

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