Lee Roy Chapman, RIP: "To force it on eyes that don't want to see it"

| | TrackBacks (0)

A memorial service for Lee Roy Chapman will be held Wednesday, October 14, 2015, at 4:00 p.m. at Cain's Ballroom. All are welcome. A fund for the benefit of his five-year-old son, Kasper, has been set up at GoFundMe. Friends are sharing memories on the "Remembering Lee Roy Chapman" page on Facebook. I've posted his curriculum vitae on a separate page and will add links as I am able.

Thursday night I got the news that Tulsa historian and artist Lee Roy Chapman had died. He was 46. Tulsa lost a passionate curator and narrator of its history, someone who delved into aspects of our city's past that aren't publicized as points of pride.

I first met Lee Roy at Coffee House on Cherry Street some years ago. This intense but soft spoken man with dark eyes and the bushy brown beard of a prophet introduced himself, squatted next to the table where I was writing and gave me two small pinback buttons, as he told me about his effort to rename the Brady District to honor Bob Wills. The buttons featured his own graphic art. One of the two buttons featured a jubilant Bob Wills, cigar in hand, superimposed with the word "REVOLT!" in yellow lightning-bolt letters.

bob_wills_revolt.jpg

The other button featured Bob Wills' 1948 Flxible Clipper tour bus, which he had traced to a field near Big Spring, Texas. Lee Roy hoped to bring the bus back to Tulsa, restore it, put it on exhibit, and take it on tour. He put an option on the bus to hold it until he could raise the money to bring it home. In June 2013, with the help of Loren Frederick, Bob's bus returned to Tulsa.

While I didn't always agree with the conclusions he drew, I always appreciated the passion and persistence Lee Roy brought to digging out the facts and then presenting his findings to the public in a compelling way.

For example, in 2011, Lee Roy and a team of people converted the storefront at 13 E. Brady, the location of Benny's Billiards in Francis Ford Coppola's Rumblefish and turned it into an art installation about the film. A video about the installation (embedded below) caught the attention of Chilean author Alberto Fuguet, who had been inspired by Rumblefish to write about the ordinary stuff of life. Fuguet had been working on a documentary about the film and its influence on Latin American writers and filmmakers. Fuguet had visited Tulsa a few months earlier and had been frustrated by his inability to connect with locals who loved and appreciated the film. Through the installation video, Fuguet connected with Chapman, who became his second-unit director, gathering footage of Rumblefish locations around Tulsa and allowing Fuguet to complete his homage, Locaciones: Buscando a Rusty James.

A man in the video says, "Lee Roy Chapman should be applauded for doing this.... That kind of energy and spirit really embodies what Tulsa is all about, in my mind, the best part of Tulsa."

I suspect that Rumblefish never caught the imagination of mainstream Tulsans because it was a Tulsa that had almost entirely succumbed to the urban renewal wrecking ball, a Tulsa that early '80s suburban mall rats didn't recognize as their own city.

Chapman was passionate about another body of artwork that mainstream Tulsa has ignored, the work of another curator of Tulsa's seamier side, photographer Larry Clark, whose 1971 book Tulsa depicted a teen underworld of drugs, guns, and sex. Chapman tried to persuade with Clark to do a retrospective of his work in Tulsa, as he had done in Paris, but without success; instead Chapman created a "guerrilla art installation," posting three-foot-by-five-foot prints of all of the images in the book in the ruins of the Big Ten Ballroom in north Tulsa. Photographer Western Doughty interviewed Chapman about the installation and published it in two parts on his blog: Part 1, Part 2. Here's what Chapman had to say about Tulsa's reaction to Tulsa, which gives you a sense of Chapman's own artistic mission:

[Clark's] work is representative of a whole side of Tulsa that still remains unseen. If it is ever seen by anyone, it's mocked. Tulsa tries to represent itself as this myriad of things, the first of which was the "Oil Capital of the World", but working to represent to the world wealth, class, prestige, and culture, there is a price; the working class has paid a price for that. And this book shows that price, all the drugs and violence, and all those excesses that come with being a part of the working class society. You're at war with main stream society, you're at war with the cops, and sometimes you're at war with yourself, and you can see that in the pages of this book. And for the book to be as well known, as influential as it has been, and for Tulsa not to have any representation of it here at all, not to have even tried, it's beyond neglect....

But the people who run the arts here, they want what every other city has. They want the A-lister stuff; they don't want anything that's organic. The formula has been that you have to move from here to become successful in the art world, either New York or L.A. I think some of that's changing, though, now....

Asked by Doughty if Clark's work had influenced him personally, Chapman replied:

Yeah, of course it has, to know that there is somebody living and running in not the same circles, but in similar circles, and has seen some of the things that I have. He was really one of the first photographers that documented the scene he was within, not coming as a photographer-colonizer. You know, "Oh, what a weird bunch. I think I'll take pictures of them." He was exposing his own secret. So I think that's the sign of a true artist, too. Of course, when you're dealing with other people, there are repercussions to that. But it's, for one, made me want to stay here in Tulsa and create, rather than going somewhere else. Two, it's made me want to force it on eyes that don't want to see it; I just think it's that important, not necessarily just his work, but that kind of work, that kind of organic, dirty, real work that only comes from the bottom up.

Chapman's last blog entry was about the Lew Clark Photography Studio on the west side of Peoria south of 15th Street. Lew and his wife Fran were Larry Clark's parents, and the little house that served as their studio, with the clock above the door and lighted portraits on display through the front windows, was a neighborhood landmark until a few years ago, when it was demolished for a parking lot.

It was Chapman who called attention to Tate Brady's connections to the Ku Klux Klan and vigilante justice. His exposé led to a public debate about Tulsa's founding father and the street, district, and neighborhood named in his honor. The debate received international attention and led to a compromise that left no one happy.

Chapman did some work for the George Kaiser Family Foundation (this silkscreen etching of Bob Wills from 2013) but that didn't stop him from taking some jabs at the billionaire and his incongruous ownership of Communist singer/songwriter Woody Guthrie's archives.

An inscribed first edition of Atlas Shrugged was found by George Kaiser, the billionaire banker and philanthropist, as he was unloading the materials from the back of truck last week.... Ms. Rand penned a nasty note on the title page; "Woody, you're a filthy [*******] hick. I hope you do gather all the poor together one day so they'll be easier to kill. One day a banker will own you. - Ayn"....



George Kaiser Family Foundation is kicking out the big bucks for a large scale mural of Woody Guthrie on the Tulsa Paper Company building, soon to be home of the Kaiser owned Woody Guthrie Archives, in the Brady Arts District. Is this mural supposed to offset the fact that the Guthrie Green and the entire district, has no representation or historic relevance to the park's namesake?

The original namesake for the green was to be the same as the district where the park is located, W. Tate Brady, architect of the Tulsa Race Riot and a founder of the Tulsa Ku Klux Klan.


This guitar's owned by George Kaiser

Woody Guthrie's 1930 Slingerland May Bell is owned by the Woody Guthrie Archives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I'll betcha Woody wrote Jolly Banker on this one.

Lee Roy worked with the libraries of Yale, Duke, and the University of Tulsa, finding for and selling to these institutions books and ephemera relating to Tulsa history. Thanks to his efforts, Yale and Duke Universities have copies of the limited-printing original edition of Mary Parrish's first-hand account of the Tulsa race riot.

Last year, Lee Roy was kind enough to give me a sneak preview of an album of photos that were taken in the Greenwood District as it was being rebuilt following the 1921 Race Riot. The photos showed stylishly dressed African-American young adults posing in Deep Greenwood, out in the countryside, and at what may have been the Acme brick pits. These photos are now in the University of Tulsa McFarlin Library Special Collections and viewable online.

My last interaction with Lee Roy was indirect. A few weeks ago, my wife and youngest son were driving down 15th Street in the middle of the day when she noticed that Oak Tree Books was open. She had bought some bookshelves when the store was going out of business and was surprised to see it open, so she stopped in. Lee Roy was there. They chatted about books, children (he has a son a few years younger than ours), schools and homeschooling, and music. When he figured out that they were connected to me, he handed her a cassette album to pass along to me: "The Bob Wills Story: The Life and Music of the King of Western Swing," narrated by Hugh Cherry. There's a little Post-It stuck to the front: "Michael -- hope yr well. Lee Roy Chapman."

("The Bob Wills Story" is available for listening online at bobwillsradio.com.)

I was out of town at the time on an extended business and personal trip. I had intended to stop by and thank Lee Roy when I got back in town a week ago Tuesday, but getting back into the routine of family life distracted me, and it slipped my mind. And now it's too late.

Bob_Wills-Indian_Headdress-Marquee_Doors.jpg
The doors of The Marquee on North Main in Tulsa. Silkscreen art by Lee Roy Chapman, from a portion of a photo of Bob Wills in Indian headdress, when he was honored by the Osage Tribe. Photo found at topix.net.

MORE:

Michael Mason of This Land Press posts a tribute, entitled "Lee Roy Chapman Is Still the King":

Last week brought the news that historian and journalist Lee Roy Chapman has passed away. Among the many roles he fulfilled, Chapman was a contributing editor at This Land and delivered some of our most well-known articles. He also hosted the Public Secrets video series, and was an ongoing resource in numerous other pieces. A polarizing yet beloved figure, Chapman leaves behind a rich legacy of scholarly work and groundbreaking journalism.

Below are links to the many works Chapman authored, along with videos in which he appeared. Besides being a skilled professional, Chapman was also a beloved colleague to many of us at This Land Press.

If your life has been enriched by Chapman's work, please consider donating to the Lee Roy Chapman Memorial Fund, the proceeds of which will go to the support of his son, Kasper Henry Chapman, age 5.

UPDATE 2015/10/13:

The Tulsa World and the Tulsa World Alumni Association have each posted an item about Lee Roy.

UPDATE 2015/10/20:

The video shown at Lee Roy's memorial, produced by Matt Leach, has been posted to Facebook. (I can't embed it here.)

Connor Raus has posted video of Lee Roy Chapman's 12-minute presentation "Twenty Shades of History Recovery" during PechaKucha 20x20 at Living Arts of Tulsa on April 12, 2013. It covers a range of topics, including the Race Riot, the impact of Brady District gentrification on the historic Greenwood District, Larry Clark, The White Dove Review, The Outsiders, Rumblefish, and Bob Wills's tour bus. It's a good overview of Lee Roy's range of interests and attitude.

So this is what I do. I read about this stuff, research it, and drive around and find this stuff. Some people care. Some people don't care. It doesn't pay. It's, like, horrible. I'm chronically unemployed. I'm obsessed....

In the Warsaw Ghetto, I don't think there's, like, an arts district named after Adolf Hitler. But Tate Brady is one of the few people that we know that actually participated in the Tulsa Race Riot, and did numerous other things.... If Woody Guthrie knew that he was in the Brady District, he would burn that park down....

Institutions aren't really that interested that much in what organically comes out of Tulsa. It's like it has to come from somewhere else....

(A quibble: To say that Tate Brady "participated" in the riot seems intended to lead the listener to conclude that Brady was part of the white mob that descended on Greenwood, killing African-Americans and torching their homes and businesses. But elsewhere Chapman says that Brady's participation was to stand guard on Main Street, well away from the battle lines, joining his neighbors in defending their buildings from any rioters. Some of the "numerous other things" that Chapman mentions were far more morally blameworthy -- his participation in the 1917 tarring and feathering of labor union activists, his membership in the Klan, his efforts to block the rebuilding of Greenwood after the riot -- but Chapman seemed to understand that saying that Brady "participated in the riot" communicated his unworthiness of honor in a way that needed no further explanation.)

UPDATE 2015/10/22:

Tributes to Lee Roy Chapman from friends, compiled by Josh Kline of The Tulsa Voice.

0 TrackBacks

Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: Lee Roy Chapman, RIP: "To force it on eyes that don't want to see it".

TrackBack URL for this entry: http://www.batesline.com/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.cgi/7567

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on October 11, 2015 1:25 AM.

Lee Roy Chapman curriculum vitae was the previous entry in this blog.

San Francisco middle school rejects election results for insufficient diversity is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Contact

Feeds

Subscribe to feed Subscribe to this blog's feed:
Atom
RSS
[What is this?]