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Woody Guthrie
A painting of Woody Guthrie holding a guitar that asks, "How did it come to this," reflects off the Oklahoma State Capitol on Monday, Feb. 27, 2017. (William W. Savage III)
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This Capitol is your Capitol, this Capitol is my Capitol.

That’s the bastardized ditty I hum to myself every time I experience plumbing problems and drive two miles east to ingratiate myself with 23rd & Lincoln’s fabulous public restrooms.

It also seemed fitting Monday night when local artist Jack Fowler and technical guru Stephen Tyler digitally slapped an enormous painting of Woody Guthrie on the side of the Oklahoma State Capitol.

“I feel like I need to do something besides vote. This is something I can do,” Fowler said, sitting on a stone bench more than 100 yards from a white tarp covering the north side of the people’s house during renovations. “I hope it inspires some conversation, and I hope the people inside this building notice it.”

Legislators, lobbyists, state employees and others may get a chance to notice it every night for the immediate future, as Fowler and Tyler intend to return each night “for a while.”

Although Monday’s momentary mural featured guitar art, “How did it come to this,” in place of Guthrie’s famous, “This machine kills fascists,” Fowler and Tyler are taking suggestions for future messages via #WoodysGuitar on Twitter.

“It’s almost the exaggerated beauty of Twitter,” Tyler said of Fowler’s template. “You only have so many words you can cram on there.”

Fowler laughed. “It can be an eight-word tirade.”

(Jack Fowler)
(Jack Fowler)

‘It’s like a giant canvas’

Fowler and Tyler had come up with their plan earlier in February. A songwriter himself who found the paintbrush as an adult, Fowler selected Guthrie and his iconic message-bearing guitar “because I think he’d be appalled at what we’ve become.”

“For a state that claims to celebrate Woody Guthrie’s legacy, we’ve done a perfect job of turning Oklahoma into something he’d hate,” Fowler said.

Tyler said his civic engagement has grown over the past year, meshing with his love of creating public art when a friend told him about the enormous tarp draping the Capitol’s north wing.

“The description was, ‘It’s like a giant canvas.’ So we started to brainstorm and found out there’s power out here,” Tyler explained Monday night. “Considering the climate, it just seemed ripe for this sort of thing. I thought of Jack because I’d been seeing his political cartoons. Then I ran into him at the bar.”

Fowler nodded. “It always pays to go to bars.”

‘We’ve seen an influx of new blood’

In their interactions with the 2017 Oklahoma legislative session, Tyler and Fowler have so far taken different paths. Tyler said he has been to the Capitol multiple times in 2017, while Fowler said he hasn’t been there since Oklahoma Arts Day 2016.

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Woody Guthrie

Unpacking the legacy of Woody Guthrie’s Okemah home by William W. Savage Jr.

“I just think that people are paying somewhat more attention now than they did in the past,” Tyler said. “I know I am. I’d never been to the Capitol until last year, and now I feel like I’m up here at least once a month.”

Fowler, on the other hand, has chosen to avoid visting the fourth-floor rotunda this year.

“I’m not planning on it,” he said. “I haven’t been to a whorehouse this year, either, but I don’t need to go to one to know what’s in for me.”

Tyler has been a part of Let’s Fix This, an OKC-based effort aimed at encouraging citizens to meet and develop relationships with their legislators. The group takes no positions on pending legislation and refrains from partisanship.

“Even if me pounding on a door doesn’t have an impact, if nothing else it’s drawing more attention to what’s going on to this building and other buildings,” Tyler said. “We’ve seen an influx of new blood. We’ve seen new people trying to [engage with the process].”

Fowler said he wants to do something different.

“My vote hasn’t changed a goddamn thing since I’ve lived here,” Fowler said. “I don’t think that’s futile. I think that’s something we’d better do. But we’d better come up with something else.”

That sentiment seems more and more common among people both inside and outside of the establishment.

In the meantime, the Senate Judiciary Committee convenes at 9 a.m., and the chairman is trying to shrink the statute of limitations for lawsuits involving surgeons who accidentally leave foreign objects in their patients’ cavities.

(Editor’s note: Jack Fowler has occasionally authored pieces on NonDoc, notably about grumpy old men, armless Ugandans or the Oklahoma Standard.)

UPDATE: STATE RESPONDS

projecting artwork

Citing safety, OMES prohibits projecting artwork on Capitol tarps by Josh McBee