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By Ron Stahl
When you visit the city of Hominy in Osage County there are some things that will leap out and grab your attention very quickly. You will notice that there 40 murals adorning the sides of downtown businesses. They are colorful and Native American themed. You cannot help but notice the New Territory Sculptures on Standpipe Hill on the western edge of the city. The twenty-foot metal silhouettes of an Indian hunting party are distinctive and striking. Finally, when you walk along Main Street downtown you will be greeted by the soft sounds of flute music and drums. The music floats from speakers outside the Cha’ Tullis Gallery.
The New Territory Sculptures and most of the downtown murals also are products of the fertile artistic mind of Cha’ Tullis.
The Cha’ Tullis Gallery is probably the most colorful building on Hominy’s Main Street and is the sort of place where you will want to spend time beyond just browsing. The walls are lined with Tullis’ paintings and sculpture. The cases in the front of the gallery hold his silver jewelry; the thing that began his life-long immersion in art. The building he now owns is where he began his career as a teenager.
Tullis remembers it happened in an unusual way. “I went to work for a man named Leroy White that started this jewelry store business in 1941. He heard I was making silver and turquoise jewelry in my dad’s garage down on Tinker Street and he came over one night and said ‘I’m sick and tired of hearing about you, so why don’t you go to work for me.’ So I did, as a silversmith.”
In 1982 when White retired, Tullis and his wife, Teena, purchased the store and, for awhile, tried to operate it as the traditional jewelry store it had been for more than four decades.
Tullis recalls it took an economic downturn and necessity to force him to follow what was always in his heart. “We hit the oil bust of 1986 and sat here and was concerned like most people in Oklahoma of how in the world are we going to feed our kids and as we sold merchandise, I didn’t take that money to buy merchandise to put back on the shelves. We bought food. And so in place of that merchandise, I started putting out art work and immediately my art work started selling and people started traveling here.”
Collectors still make the trek off the beaten path to Hominy to seek out Tullis’ art work. His themes are mostly animal and Indian. Wolves, horses, and bison are prominent subjects and so are the faces of the Native People. He is well-known for his Giclee prints, original works scanned into a computer and stored digitally, then sprayed on paper or canvas with a special inkjet-style printer. The ink is sprayed in droplets and prints have higher resolution and clarity than lithographic prints. Special inks used in the process also allow the prints to keep their true colors longer than other processes.
He also remains true to the craft that brought him to this place in his life, silver jewelry. His creations are still among the best selling items in the gallery and at art shows. Turquoise and silver dragon flies, turtles, and spiders are very popular.
Cha’ Tullis is Blackfoot and Cherokee, not of Osage heritage like many of his neighbors, and unlike many of them, he was not born in Osage County. He was born in Carthage, Missouri, but he has a deep and abiding love for Hominy and the rolling hills of the land of the Osage. The murals he painted downtown and the sculptures on the hill are his way of paying homage to the town where he grew up and where his artistry was nurtured and encouraged. He stays here because he wants to be here, even if leaving might be more profitable.
He proudly declares, “It’s tempted me a few times and probably the number one comment we get here at the gallery is why are you here, you know, why aren’t you in Santa Fe or Taos? And we’ve actually been courted by San Francisco and Memphis, Tennessee to move our business there. This is home. You know, I’ve been a lot of places and there ain’t much prettier country than Osage County, Oklahoma.”
His words are spoken with the certainty of a man happy with his life, his art, and his home.
Cha Tullis’ website is www.chatullis.com. For information on other things to see and do in the Hominy area, visit the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department website, TravelOK.com.