Hometown legend: Straughn to receive Wilson award for arts and culture

Michael D. Smith
The Daily Ardmoreite
A self-portrait of Lance Straughn, a Wilson-born artist who will receive the Jim Miller Arts and Cultural Award from the Wilson Historical Society next week. Straughn's artwork often depicts animals, scenes and people of the American southwest, including Native American imagery.

Before bright colors on canvas became a profession for Lance Straughn, electrical engineering was how he made a living. His artistic endeavors started to take up more of his time after retirement in 2012 and Straughn thinks he may actually be busier now than before he retired. 

While he’s been a professional artist for almost a decade, this is not Straughn’s first venture into the world of art. For the Wilson-born artist, that first attempt happened over 40 years ago just outside of his small hometown. 

“I had been doing paintings – and I’ve sold some along the way – for several years. I guess I got kind of serious about it back in ‘78 because at that time I actually opened a small little gallery just outside of Wilson in Dillard. I tried to make a go of it but I really wasn’t ready at that time,” Straughn said.  

“And of course, that’s not what you would call the center of artistic endeavors.” 

White Buffalo

Wilson may be a small town but Straughn still associates the community support he’s received throughout his life with the success he’s gained as a painter, illustrator, sculptor and author. Now based in Lindsey, Straughn will return home to Wilson next week to receive a hometown award. 

In July, the Wilson Historical Society announced Straughn as the most recent recipient of the Jim Miller Artistic and Cultural Award. Miller moved to Wilson in the 1950s and became a full-time artist by 1973, according to the Wilson Historical Society. He would go on to find success as a sculptor of southwestern imagery before his death in 2015 at the age of 90. 

Pueblo Maiden

“Something like this — particularly from Wilson, from people who I grew up with — for them to recognize me as an artist and put me in the same category as Jim, I was quite shocked,” said Straughn, who had the opportunity to befriend Miller before his death. 

Previous winners of the award include Randy Hacker for his eagle sculpture that welcomes drivers on U.S. Highway 70 at the east entrance of town, and Sherry Gray for her design of the Wilson city flag. Straughn said he was humbled to learn he would be receiving the award and noted the number of artists that have come from such a small town. 

Good Medicine

“Wilson is just kind of a melting pot of a lot of diverse people and there’s been several artists and writers and other very artistic people come out of there,” he said.  

Straughn relies heavily on the scenery, animals and people of the American southwest in his artwork. Pantings of Native Americans with bright clothes or traditional instruments are as common as illustrations of surreal-colored bears or panthers in his “spirit pantings.” 

Panther Spirit

Inspiration comes from a variety of places for Straughn. With a grandmother among the original Chickasaw enrollees, he visited Native American events in his earliest years. Travels to New Mexico later in life would further Straughn’s interest in the southwest, and he continues to pursue photography in an effort to capture scenes that could become the basis for his next painting. 

His paintings have been displayed at the Goddard Center in Ardmore and at other galleries, museums and shows in Ada, Muskogee, Norman and elsewhere in Oklahoma. The Smithsonian Native American Museum in Washington, D.C., displayed his work in 2014, and the U.S. Department of the Interior Museum recently purchased a Straughn painting. 

Bear Clan Guardian

Along with primarily oil paintings and the occasional bronze sculpture, Straughn also published his first book, Images in the Smoke, that combines Native American mythology and lore with his style of illustrations.  

The Children Will Not Learn The Old Ways, a sculpture by Wilson-born artist Lance Straughn

The Wilson Historical Society will recognize Straughn and present him with the award on Saturday, Sept. 18, at the Wilson Chamber of Commerce. The public can meet the artist, view his works and also purchase items beginning at 7:30 p.m. Some items will also be available for purchase. 

Along with the hometown nature of the Jim Miller Artistic and Cultural Award, Straughn said the honor means something personal as well. 

Chickasaw Drum

“It was really quite a shock to get the call for them to say they wanted to give it to me. I was very surprised because, as I said, I knew Jim and to me it’s quite an honor for them to give this to me.”