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.”

The Oklahoma Nine

d.g. smalling

The Oklahoma Nine offers a representation of the nine Justices of the Supreme Court, along with iconic landmarks from each judicial district. Current Justices are presented here in order of seniority.

Justice Yvonne Kauger (District 4) is a fourth generation Oklahoman from Colony. The town’s brick and steel water tower remains a sentinel of the former Seger Colony, see page 111. Justice Ralph Hodges hired Kauger as the Supreme Court’s first woman staff lawyer, a post she held until appointment as a Justice by Governor George Nigh on March 14, 1984. She is the only woman in state history to serve as both Vice Chief Justice and Chief Justice. Kauger is depicted with her family: Jonna Dee Kauger Kirschner, Jay Michael Eduard Kauger Scambler, Winston Jon Eagle Kauger Scambler; and her longtime staff members: Kyle Shifflett and Vanessa Traylor.

Justice Joseph Watt (District 9) served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Oklahoma from 2003 to 2006. A graduate of the University of Texas Law School, he is an avid golfer and has an impressive collection of United States Presidential memorabilia. He was appointed as a Justice on May 18, 1992.

Justice James Winchester (District 5) enjoys canoeing and has been extremely active in scouting with his son, Davis. He was awarded the Silver Beaver for his service by the Boy Scouts Last Frontier Council in 2013. Winchester also bicycles frequently. He has been a Justice since January 4, 2000, and served as Chief Justice in 2007 and 2008.

Justice James Edmondson (District 7) served in the United States Navy from 1967 to 1969 before earning his law degree from Georgetown University Law School. He is shown with his wife Suzanne Edmondson, a corrections volunteer who established education and mentoring programs for incarcerated women. After 20 years on the bench as district judge, Governor Brad Henry appointed Edmondson as a Justice on December 2, 2003. He served as Chief Justice in 2009 and 2010. The mighty Arkansas River cuts through District 7.

Justice Steven Taylor (District 2) served in the United States Marine Corps after graduating from the University of Oklahoma College of Law, see page 50. Taylor spent 20 years working in the Pittsburg County Courthouse, first as Associate District Judge, then as District Judge until appointed as a Justice by Governor Brad Henry on September 23, 2004. He served as Chief Justice in 2011 and 2012. His son, Wilson, is Manager of Team Operations for the Oklahoma City Thunder basketball team and Taylor attends nearly every home game.

Justice Tom Colbert (District 6) is the first African American Chief Justice, as well as the first African American appointed to the Supreme Court of Oklahoma and Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals. Realizing that education holds the key to success, Colbert volunteers his time in reading and mentoring programs. An All American winner in the long jump, Colbert still competes in Masters’ Track events. Governor Brad Henry appointed Colbert as a Justice on October 7, 2004, and he served as Chief Justice in 2013 and 2014.

Justice John Reif (District 1) worked as a police officer for the City of Owasso before earning his law degree from the University of Tulsa. He served 23 years on the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals before being appointed to the Supreme Court of Oklahoma on October 22, 2007. An avid animal lover, he is shown with his faithful border collie. District 1 includes the Tall Grass Prairie Preserve, home to a herd of more than 2,500 American Bison.

Justice Douglas Combs (District 8) worked in the Oklahoma Supreme Court Clerk’s office while attending law school at Oklahoma City University. His collegiate career began at St. Gregory’s in Shawnee with its century-old Benedictine Hall. Combs is a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation. An avid golfer, his golf cart sports the emblem of the Oklahoma flag. His sons are both practicing Oklahoma attorneys. Governor Brad Henry appointed Combs as a Justice on November 5, 2010.

Justice Noma Gurich (District 3) moved from Indiana to attend the University of Oklahoma College of Law. She is an active member of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church where she volunteers with their television ministry and has made multiple mission trips to Russia. She is also a cat lover. District 3 includes the iconic SkyDance pedestrian bridge spanning Interstate 40 south of downtown Oklahoma City. On January 7, 2011, Gurich was appointed as a Justice by Governor Brad Henry.

Choctaw artist d.g. smalling completed these images in ink on leather. Richard Smith offered his expertise in affixing the leather to smalling’s acrylic painting of the Oklahoma Judicial Districts. Smalling’s biographic information appears on page 146. He donated The Oklahoma Nine to the Oklahoma Judicial Center Collection.

Photographs of the current Justices and all Justices since statehood are displayed on the ground floor of the Oklahoma Judicial Center, see page 197.