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The 1957 Oklahoma Semicentennial Medal



Thematic coins and medals based on western subjects were a favorite of both Frasers. James Earle Fraser was born in Winona, Minnesota on November 4, 1876. In 1880 his family moved to Mitchell in the Dakota Territory. It was here in the vast openness of the American frontier that James love of the West grew. In the case of Laura Gardin Fraser, I believe it was her love of American history, the allure and excitement of the American frontier, and her love of horses that inspired her rendition of the Oklahoma Run on the 1957 Oklahoma Semicentennial Medal.[1]

The motivation for James and Lauras love of the West impacted their interpretation of it. In an interview with Mrs. Fraser, Dean Krakel, the author of End of the Trail the Odyssey of a Statue writes in his book; There is a mood not only to our lives but to our studio and to everything we have ever done. I saw the frontier in a different light from Jimmy. I saw it with all its glamour, excitement, and motion and so created my Oklahoma Run. Jimmy saw the spiritual mood, the tragedy and emotional undercurrents of the frontier and so created his End of the Trail.

Late in his life, James Earle Fraser received a commission from the Oklahoma City Fairgrounds to sculpt a relief panel of the 1889 Oklahoma Run. With his health failing and near death James asked Laura to finish the panel which at the time was only in the preliminary stages of design. Based on James sketches, Laura finished the 4 x 20 foot panel in 1955, two years after his death. The relief panel features more than 250 figures composed primarily of horses and riders. Unfortunately, due to several disagreements it was not delivered until after Lauras death in 1966 and a decade after the 1957 Oklahoma semicentennial celebration. The "Run of 1889" relief panel that is a model for the obverse of the Oklahoma Semicentennial Medal currently resides at Oklahoma City's Bicentennial Plaza.[2][3]

Mrs. Fraser brilliantly captures a snapshot of all the chaos, excitement, and fast movement of the Oklahoma Run featured on the obverse of the Oklahoma Semicentennial medal. Up for grabs on April 22,1889 was 2 million acres of land and 50,000 people simultaneously vying for it. As mentioned in a previous paragraph, Mrs. Fraser captures all the glamour, excitement, and motion of the American frontier on the obverse of this medal.[4]

The highest relief devices on the obverse of this medal are the largest and most detailed images. The horses have their muscles flexed in full gallop and give an impression of fast motion. As the relief lowers so does the size and detail of the images until the images forming the lowest relief are very small and numerous. This gives the medal a three dimensional look to the action portrayed on the obverse. At the highest relief is a cloud of dust which frames the devices. A few wagons, one just behind the central horse and rider and a covered wagon towards the back adds diversity to the devices.

The following is a description of the reverse as given by the editor of The Numismatist, Elston G. Bradfield in the June 1958 issue of The Numismatist; Reverse: Around, at top, OKLAHOMA SEMI-CENTENNIAL EXPOSITION, at bottom, OKLAHOMA CITY; in center, two dramatic figures facing left, one representing energy and progress and the other imagination and vision; woven into the design are symbols of each activity that is derived from the earth, the air, fire and water. Harvesting is suggested by the scythe, mining by the pick, electricity by the wheels, animal husbandry by the cow and sheep, and power by the waterfall, oil wells and atomic symbol. The figure of Vision reflects the reverence that comes to him from on High. The symbol of the arrow piercing the symbol of atomic energy was the theme of the Oklahoma Semicentennial Exposition, Arrows to Atoms in 50 years. To the left of the central figures is 1907 and to right, 1957. In exergue, ~ PROGRESS ~ VISION~." Certainly, Laura Gardin Fraser employed numerous and appropriate symbols to tell the story of Oklahoma on the reverse of this medal.

This medal is struck in bronze by the Medallic Art Company and is 76mm in diameter. Distribution was by the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce at a cost of $7.50 each.[5]

[1] End of the Trail the Odyssey of a Statue by Dean Krakel; Chapters 2 & 4.

[2] The Numismatist, July 2013, Canine & Equine the Art of Laura Gardin Fraser, pg. 36-37.

[3] End of the Trail the Odyssey of a Statue by Dean Krakel; Chapter 4.

[4] Wikipedia, Land Rush of 1889; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Land_Rush_of_1889.

[5] The Numismatist, June 1958, page 664




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