James Walton Bruce
The Justice in honor of Marian P. Opala depicts an American eagle surrounded by the Stars and Stripes with the Oklahoma flag in the background. Artist James Bruce thought America’s national bird would be a fitting tribute to his very good friend, Justice Marian Opala, who overcame great adversity in his early life. Bruce donated the painting to the Oklahoma Judicial Center collection.
Justice Opala was born in 1921 in Lodz, Poland. During World War II, he served with the Polish Underground in opposition to Nazi forces, was captured and spent time in a prisoner of war camp. After liberation, he worked as a translator for American troops in Germany. In 1947, he immigrated to the United States, settling in Oklahoma City. He completed law school at Oklahoma City University and became a United States citizen in 1953. Opala worked in private practice for a few years before joining the Supreme Court staff. He served as the court system’s first Administrative Director and was appointed as a Justice in 1978 by Governor David Boren. He was the first foreign-born Justice to serve on the Court. Shaped by his early experiences, he championed due process, individual rights and freedom of speech during his tenure on the Court.
Justice Opala taught classes at all three of Oklahoma’s law schools: Oklahoma City University, the University of Oklahoma and Tulsa University. In 1997, he received the Oklahoma Bar Association’s Award for Judicial Excellence. In 2000, he was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. He was extremely active in the community, speaking to church and civic groups and attending social functions. He was still actively serving on the Court at the time of his death in October 2010.
A native Oklahoman, James Bruce took his first art lesson at 14 with Faye Burnett Baker in Ardmore. The following summer he took a workshop with noted artist Richard V. Goetz. This workshop sparked a passion for creating art that continues to this day. “Dick taught me basically how to see – how to see color and the beauty of putting objects together in harmony and design to create the overall mood I wanted to achieve.” Bruce said the focus on ‘painting what you see’ inspired by Goetz sets the creative tone for his work. Bruce later studied with the late Henry Hensche, Scott Christensen, Kevin Macpherson, David Leffel and Sherrie McGraw.
In 2006, Bruce was recognized with the Governor’s Arts Award and a retrospective of his paintings, A Painter’s Journey: Learning How to Paint What You See, was displayed in the Governor’s Gallery at the State Capitol that fall. In addition, his works have taken first place and best of show at Oklahoma Art Guild exhibitions. His work has also been exhibited at the Gilcrease Museum and in several Oil Painters of America national exhibitions. He is a signature member of Oil Painters of America and serves on its Board of Directors. He is an artist member of the Salmagundi Club of New York, one of the oldest art clubs in the country. Bruce is also a signature member of the Oklahoma Society of Impressionists.
Bruce earned a bachelor of science with special distinction from the University of Oklahoma in 1960, then served as a commissioned officer in the United States Navy from 1960 – 1963. He then attended Harvard’s Graduate School of Business Administration, earning a masters of business administration, with distinction. He returned to Oklahoma City and joined the Liberty National Bank and Trust Company. Bruce now serves as chairman and CEO of American Bank Systems, a bank service company. He is a member of the Board of Directors of American Bank & Trust Company of Tulsa and InvesTrust Company, NA of Oklahoma City. He also serves on the Board of Visitors for the Weitzenhoffer Family College of Fine Arts, the Executive Boards of Oklahoma City University’s Meinders School of Business Administration and the Wanda L. Bass School of Music. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Canterbury Choral Society of Oklahoma City, as well as being former president of the Society and a member of the chorus.