History of Arts & Humanities Council of Stillwater

In 1967, two Stillwater residents, Jeanne Wray and Colleen Green, began discussion with friends and associates about the desirability of having and Arts & Humanities Council in Stillwater.  Everyone was enthusiastic, and an ad hoc group composed of Fran Sorenson, Cynthalice Berry, Robert Donaldson, Jimmie Lea Boggs, Green and Wray met at the home of Gladys Heath to continue discussion and begin planning for such an organization.

The group set a public meeting for February 5, 1968 in the Jefferson School Auditorium (now the Board of Education building) and public notice of the meeting appeared on the front page of the Stillwater News-Press.  Seventy-two people attended.  Cynthalice Berry opened the meeting and Jeanne Wray and Colleen Green led the discussion.

At the meeting, interest in creating an arts council was high.  Gladys Heath and Fran Sorenson were elected temporary chairmen, with the power to appoint a constitution, by-laws and nominating committee to establish a Council for Stillwater.  A committee of Gladys Heath, Fran Sorenson, Cynthalice Berry, Jimmie Lea Boggs, Colleen Green, Jeanne Wray and Bob Donaldson worked through the spring researching the aims, organization and operation of other arts councils and preparing the by-laws for the Stillwater Council.

On May 22, 1968 at a public meeting in the Commissioners Room of the Municipal Building, the interim by-laws were approved and a 20-member Board of Directors and Officers for the Council were elected.  Each Director was selected to represent a specific discipline in the arts or humanities.  The Council declared as its mission:

“to coordinate and encourage cultural endeavors in the humanities, and to promote knowledge and appreciation of the fine arts in the City of Stillwater, Oklahoma, and its metropolitan area.”

The Officers and Directors (and the area of the arts they represented) are listed below:

  • Robert H. Donaldson – President
  • Richard M. Barber – Vice-President
  • Aileen Sater – Treasurer
  • Frances Sorenson – Secretary
  • Rena Penn Brittan – Literature
  • Vivia Locke – Drama
  • Jimmie Lea Boggs – Visual Arts
  • Leta Moore – Director at Large
  • L.F. Bellatti – Lectures, Forums & Communications
  • Cynthalice D. Berry – Lectures, Forums & Communications
  • Lee Head – Literature
  • Betty Wagner – Drama
  • James Art Benson – Visual Arts
  • Stanley D. Green – Music
  • Dorothy Lynch – Dance
  • Christine Salmon – Architecture
  • Dr. Bryan P. Glass – History & Museums
  • William A. Myers – Director at Large
  • Glenn D. Shirley – History & Museums
  • Dwight E. Stevens – Director at Large

One of the first goals of the Arts and Humanities Council was to obtain a building that would serve both as a local history museum and as a venue for recitals, lectures and other cultural events.

In 1972 the Council purchased the First Church of Christ, Scientist building and renamed the building the Sheerar Cultural and Heritage Center, in honor of Mr. and Mrs. L.F. Sheerar, who provided a major portion of the funds needed to purchase the building and also donated a sizeable number of objects to the museum collection.

The Sheerar Center opened to the public in 1972 and the Sheerar Museum, in the lower level of the center, opened to the public on November 17, 1974.

The Stillwater Arts and Humanities Council owned and governed the Sheerar Cultural and Heritage Center and the Sheerar museum until 1987, when the council was forced to close the building due to lack of funds.

In 1987, the Stillwater Museum Association, a group of Council members interested in reviving the museum, began operating the Sheerar Museum and Center.  In 1989 ownership of the Center and Museum was transferred by the Council to the Stillwater Museum Association.

Since its beginning in 1968 the Arts and Humanities Council also initiated other programs and projects that are an important part of the quality of life in Stillwater today.  The Stillwater Fine Arts and Heritage Festival (Run for the Arts), Multi Arts Center (originally Multigraphis), and the Kameoka Walking Trail (the Greenbelt Project) were all projects begun by the Council.

The Council published two major books of Stillwater history: Stillwater Where Oklahoma Began and Stillwater Through the Years, both written by Robert H. Cunningham.  In 1975 the Council published A Heritage Trail of Early Stillwater Houses, written by Madeline Webb. This was one of the first historic preservation efforts in Stillwater.

Barbara Dunn, December 1994
Revised May 2006