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Semple Family Museum of Native American Art to be constructed at Southeastern

July 9, 2019


DURANT, Okla. – What started as a dream will soon become a reality.

Preliminary construction work on the Semple Family Museum of Native American Art is now underway on the campus of Southeastern Oklahoma State University. The museum, funded by a gift from the Semple family, will be located north of the Fine Arts Building and Russell Building on Montgomery/Dunlap Drive. It will serve as the permanent home of the University’s extensive Native American Art Collection.

The 5,000 square-foot multi-level facility will feature an art gallery, an audio-visual room, reception area, storage, a balcony and walkout patio. The patio will overlook the historic Amphitheater, which was built by Southeastern students. Professors C.B. French (a cousin of the Semples), and E.B. Robbins directed the students though the construction, which was funded by the Civil Works Administration in 1934.

The establishment of such a museum had been on the minds of the Semples for a number of years.

Frank Semple, a retired energy industry executive, Janie Semple Umsted, a local artist and Director of the Southeastern Art Gallery, and Sarah Semple Brown, a Denver-based architect, were raised in Durant and are sixth-generation Oklahomans. Their parents were Dr. Allen William Semple and Jane French Semple. Upon the death of their oldest brother, Bill (Billy) in 2016, the dream of a museum became a family commitment.

Inspired by the legacy of their pioneer Choctaw family and the strong impact it had on the history of Durant, Southeastern, and Bryan County, as well as the desire to contribute to the future of Southeastern students, the Semples are proud to partner on the project with the University and the Southeastern Foundation.

“We are honored that the Semple family has decided to bestow such an important gift that will enrich our campus and community for generations to come,’’ said Southeastern president Sean Burrage. “Southeastern is indeed proud to be the home of the Semple Family Museum of Native American Art.’’

Southeastern is home to one of the finest collections of traditional Native American art in Oklahoma. These artworks, donated in the 1990s by Charles W. and Miriam Hogan, consist of 93 important Native American works spanning 50 years. The collection has grown since the first acquisition, due to a second gift of contemporary Native American Art by Brad Keithley, increasing the number of pieces from 93 to 130. The artists represent 25 tribes, most of whom are from Oklahoma. Their works include paintings, drawings, sculpture, pottery and batik.

The museum also marks the official beginning of a dream come true for Janie Semple Umsted, as the collection was acquired during a time that she was serving the University as the Director of Alumni and Public Relations. Furthermore, she was the liaison between Mrs. Hogan and the University and actually chose which pieces that were to be donated.

“Mrs. Hogan gifted her collection of Native American Art to Southeastern, but it has never truly had a home,’’ Janie Umsted said. “This treasure has been stored at the Visual and Performing Arts Center for more than 20 years, and now this magnificent art will be properly displayed so that it can be enjoyed for years to come.’’

Added Frank Semple: “It is our desire that this museum be a place of honor where visitors will have the opportunity to experience the beauty of the art and through visual experience, be able to study the culture of individual tribes. Moreover, it is our hope that it will bring continued pride to not only our vast number of Native American students, but to all who may visit. We want to see the collection continue to grow and be a place of continued inspiration and study of Native American cultures.

“As a family, we feel so fortunate to have the ability to share our collective talents and resources to be able to build this very special museum. It was beautifully and meticulously designed by our talented sister Sarah and her daughter Georgia to honor our family in this unique and beautiful way. We also know our dear brother, Bill, also an architect and artist, would be especially proud of this endeavor.’’

Semple Brown Design of Denver, Colorado, is the architectural firm, while Mid-Plains, Inc. of Durant is the contractor. The project is expected to be completed in approximately a year.