The Choctaw Horses

Bert Seabourn

The Choctaw Horses (Chahta Issi) mural was commissioned for the Oklahoma Judicial Center Great Room in late 2010. The nine horses represent the nine Justices of the Supreme Court of Oklahoma. “I saw the space and had the inspiration of nine justices, nine horses,” said Bert Seabourn. The mural measures more than fifteen feet long and is fifty-one inches high, acrylic on canvas.

The historical record for the Choctaw horses is extensive, with more known details than for any other strain of Spanish Colonial horses. The line originated on November 18, 1540, following the Battle of Mobilia. Chief Tuscaloosa and the entire citizenry – men, women and children – took a stand against Fernando DeSoto and his conquistadors. The Choctaws suffered heavy losses, but seized horses and livestock from the Spaniards. Choctaw horses became an integral part of the tribe’s culture, spirituality and heritage. This tough, small horse lived through struggles and tragedies with the tribe, and some carried the ill and infirm on their backs along the Trail of Tears.

Throughout their complex history, the Choctaws maintained their unique horses through preservation efforts of individual families. The strains were carefully guarded with extensive oral pedigrees extending back over generations. Closely resembling mustangs, they come in all colors, although pinto paint patterns are the most common. Today, Bryant Rickman keeps watch over a herd of more than 400 Choctaw Horses roaming the Blackjack Mountains of southeastern Oklahoma.

Bert Seabourn is an internationally recognized artist who describes himself as an American expressionist. “I think of an expressionist as a painter who expresses himself with the honest use of paint…meaning…it drips, it smears, it splatters, it runs…it does all these things.”

Seabourn’s interest in art – and its commercial viability – began at an early age. He sold his first cartoon to King Features Syndicate while he was in the eighth grade. As a teenager, the lure of art shows sometimes drew him to hop a train from Purcell to experience exhibits firsthand. After graduating from high school, Seabourn joined the Navy and was assigned to be an artist, drawing illustrations for training manuals. He served four years in the Pacific fleet before being discharged in 1955. When he returned to Oklahoma, he went to work for the art department of Oklahoma Gas and Electric and enrolled in night classes at Oklahoma City University. He completed his degree in 1963, and the following year completed a correspondence course in commercial art and illustration from the Famous Artist Schools of Westport, Connecticut. In 1978, he retired from OG&E to pursue painting full time. His daughter, Connie Seabourn’s piece in the Oklahoma Judicial Center collection is featured on page 93.

His work can be seen in collections around the world, including The Vatican Museum of Religious Art in Vatican City, Italy, the American Embassy in London, The National Palace Museum of Taiwan, the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. and the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Seabourn personally presented Ford his painting when the President visited Oklahoma City in September, 1975. Seabourn also created a large sculpture, Windwalker, for the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol Complex.

Source: Personal interviews, November 2010, June 2011.