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A Native American man wears a beret with red artwork and a black jacket with Native patterns.
Benjamin Harjo Jr. looks on at the reception for OSU Museum of Art’s 2018 exhibition “Benjamin Harjo Jr.: We are a Landscape of all We Know.”

Honoring Harjo’s life and legacy in must-see exhibition at OSU Museum of Art

Thursday, June 6, 2024

Media Contact: Casey Ihde | OSU Museum of Art Marketing and Communications | 405-744-2783 | casey.pankey@okstate.edu

The Oklahoma State University Museum of Art is honored to present “benjamin harjo JR.: from here to there,” on view June 11 through Sept. 7, 2024. This exhibition offers a rare opportunity to explore a solo presentation of artwork by OSU alumnus Benjamin Harjo Jr. (Absentee Shawnee/Seminole, 1945–2023).  

A renowned visual artist, Harjo is a beloved household name for many in Oklahoma and beyond. Many knew him for his artistic ways and were charmed by his humor and generosity. 

“We know from story after story that he was a mentor and very generous with his time. He gave back to his community, Native and non-Native alike,” said Vicky Berry, curator and director emerita.  

Born in New Mexico, Harjo and his family moved to Oklahoma in 1945. Harjo quickly discovered his lifelong artistic passion in comic strips and animation. He found his love for printmaking at the recently opened Institute of American Indian Art in Santa Fe, founded in 1962. Later, Harjo returned to Oklahoma and enrolled at OSU just before being drafted into the U.S. Army in 1969. After serving, he returned to OSU, earned his BFA in 1974, and began his career as an artist and mentor. 

Working primarily with gouache, pen and ink, and a variety of printmaking methods, Harjo also ventured into sculpture, jewelry, and other three-dimensional forms. He relied on color and line to create art that spoke to the continuum of his cultures and creativity at large. 

“His ability to layer symbols and deeper cultural meaning with playfulness is very compelling,” Berry said. 

Selecting from over 400 pieces of Harjo’s work, Berry was tasked with showcasing a lifetime of artistic production. 

“He has carried on multiple themes throughout his career. Finding a difference from his early artwork to the last is very challenging,” Berry said.

Many artists’ careers are marked with stylistic periods relating to their own artistic development. With Harjo’s work, viewers are offered a “freshness” with his color and pattern work. There is a complexity underlying the simplicity that intrigues and offers a visual reward upon repeated study of his work. 

In partnership with the First Americans Museum and heather ahtone, director of curatorial affairs, a monograph will be published honoring Harjo’s life and legacy. Featuring over 120 of Harjo’s artworks alongside essays and poems, “A Constellation of Color: the artwork of Benjamin Harjo, Jr.” will be available for purchase at the closing reception on Sept. 6. 

“The choice of contributors was very strategic and selected with an appropriate lens to honor his accomplishments,” Berry said. “As a university museum, we support scholarship that can inform us all about Harjo's impact as an artist and a member of the Indigenous community. We hope our efforts will encourage others to support exhibitions and publish more on Benjamin Harjo Jr. There is much more to discover and discuss.” 

The museum will host a closing reception for “benjamin harjo JR.: from here to there” from 5 – 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 6. The show is on view from June 11 through Sept. 7, 2024, and features approximately 86 original works spanning the length of his career. 

For more on the exhibition, visit the website. Funding for the 2023-24 season of exhibitions and programs is provided by Malinda and Richard Fischer, Riccarda de Eccher and Bill Goldston, Caroline and John Linehan, Suzanne Sugg, and the OSU Museum of Art Advocates.

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