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University of Oklahoma receives donation of private collection of Indian art assembled over 50 years



An Arizona art collector has donated an immense collection of American Indian art to the University of Oklahoma.

OU President David L. Boren announced James T. Bialac's gift last week during a meeting with the OU Board of Regents.

The collection is comprised of more than 3,500 works and includes about 2,600 paintings and works on paper; 1,000 kachinas; and about 100 pieces of jewelry. Scores of American tribes are represented, but Bialac largely focused on collecting art from Southwestern and Plains tribes, especially Pueblo, Navajo and Hopi artists, university officials said.

Selections from the collection will be displayed at OU's Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art in fall 2011, when construction on its new Stuart Wing is completed. Many of the pieces will be rotated and exhibited at the Donald E. Pray Law Library and elsewhere on campus, said Mark White, Eugene B. Adkins Curator at the museum. In fall 2012, the museum will follow the debut with a full-scale "survey" of the Bialac collection, he said.

Bialac reached out to OU last summer, White said. University officials traveled to Arizona to meet with him and discuss his stipulations for the donation, which included assurances that the art would be a permanent display fixture and that the works be kept together as a cohesive collection.

"He didn't want the collection broken up, but Bialac was also very much interested in placing everything in an institution that had an educational component," White said, adding that the university is already developing courses, lectures and symposiums around the collection.

About 600 paintings from the collection are currently on loan to the University of Arizona, Arizona State University and Arizona's court system. White said the museum will honor those loans for as long as they're wanted.

Bialac's first purchase was a painting by Navajo artist Robert Chee, which he bought in 1964. Over 50 years, Bialac amassed works by dozens of American Indian artists, including Fred Kabotie, Awa Tsireh, Jerome Tiger, Richard "Dick" West and Helen Hardin. Bialac is active in the southwestern art community and has juried Native exhibitions in Santa Fe, N.M.

Some of the collection's standout pieces include "atypical" works by well-known artists, White said. The collection includes the only stained-glass piece created by influential Luiseño artist Fritz Scholder and the only oil painting made by Allan Houser, the Chiricahua Apache and Oklahoma native who's known for his modernist sculptures.

White said museum and university officials haven't made a formal appraisal of the collection's value, but described Bialac's donation as a "multimillion"-dollar gift. "Joe Wertz

above David Bradley's "Mysterious Indian Art Collector"

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