Gilcrease Museum gave current and prospective members of its Business Art Alliance a unique glimpse at a small portion of the Bob Dylan Archives at a special, private event held Tuesday at the Helmerich Center for American Research.
The Business Art Alliance provides a foundation for operating support for exhibits, educational programs and other projects through partnerships with local corporations and businesses.
The archives, which were obtained in March 2016 through a partnership between the University of Tulsa and the George Kaiser Family Foundation, are being kept at the Helmerich Center for cataloguing and conservation, as well as converting still photographs, audio recordings and film footage to digital formats.
The ultimate plan is for a Bob Dylan Center to be established in the Tulsa Arts District, but that project is not likely to be realized for at least another two years, museum officials said.
Until then, access to the archives is limited only to those doing scholarly work on Dylan’s life and writings. One of those is historian Douglas Brinkley, who is working on a book about Dylan.
Brinkley attended Tuesday’s event at Gilcrease, giving the audience an overview of Dylan’s career and insights obtained through Brinkley’s own interactions with the Nobel Prize winner.
Obtaining the Bob Dylan Archive was “a genius move” for Tulsa, Brinkley said, especially as it happened a year before Dylan won the 2017 Nobel Prize for Literature.
“The time is right for historians to take a serious look at the impact Bob Dylan has had on American culture,” he said. “To my mind, the person Dylan most resembles in accomplishment is Frank Lloyd Wright. Both are highly individual geniuses, who were stubbornly defiant about doing what they wanted to do the way they wanted to do it.
“Bob Dylan has always been able to stay true to his muse,” Brinkley said. “And that makes him one of the great positive voices in American culture. He’s definitely at the top of the pantheon of American art and culture.”
The archive’s curator, Michael Chaiken, described the items spread out over tables in the center’s main reading room, arranged in roughly chronological order from the early 1960s, represented by a hand-written draft of the song “Chimes of Freedom,” through a long typescript of the song “Jokerman,” which appeared on Dylan’s 1983 album, “Infidels.”
Chaiken also had on display a large tambourine, which inspired the song “Mr. Tambourine Man,” the leather jacket Dylan wore at the Newport Folk Festival and a wallet that contained such items as Otis Redding’s business card and Johnny Cash’s phone number.
Chaiken said one of the main things these items show is the time and effort Dylan put into the craft of songwriting.
“When he won the Nobel Prize for Literature, there were some people who said, ‘But he’s not a writer,’ ” he said. “All it takes is one look at the archives and the thousands of pages to know that Bob Dylan is definitely a writer.”