TULSA— Oklahoma has been having a bit of a moment in pop culture lately.
There have always been cowboy movies, and Pawhuska’s Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond, has been owning her corner of Green Country for some two decades on the Food Network.
But, more recently, Killers of the Flower Moon at the movies and Echo, the new Marvel show on Disney Plus, are all about Oklahoma.
Both feature the plight of the Native American people in northeast Oklahoma, even though they go about it in remarkably different ways.
Regardless, Oklahoma is hot and happening, which isn’t why we found ourselves there last weekend.
Why we found ourselves there was the Immersive Van Gogh exhibit that’s been traveling around the country. It has yet to make its way to Arkansas, but there’s always hope for that later.
For now, Tulsa is close enough to drive, and the tickets were reasonable, even though the ones we used were a Christmas gift.
For more on the exhibit, click here.
Tickets can be had in two ways, a timed ticket for entry at a specific time or a more VIP experience allowing for entry whenever it suits you that day.
Pro tip: If you want to go cheaper, but also take your time, in Tulsa, no minders were moving you in or out, but the more expensive ticket comes with some other bonuses.
The tickets start at $29.99 for adults. There are discounts for children, college students, veterans and seniors. There’s also family and group bundles as well.
The Tulsa show doesn’t run every day, generally skipping Tuesday and Wednesday, and will end on Sunday, March 17.
As for the experience itself, it was, in fact, quite immersive.
Vincent Van Gogh was a tragic figure who cut off his own ear after a dispute with a fellow artist and was plagued by poor health and alcoholism. Those conditions led to depression, and he took his own life at just 37.
He created more than 2,100 pieces of art in his relatively short life and became one of the world’s most famous artists after his death.
All that history is covered on the front end of the exhibit in displays, three-dimensional and multimedia renderings, and a short film. That leads to an area where you stand in front of a depiction of Van Gogh’s famous bedroom as well as some other works.
Then, a curtain beckons and the immersive experience begins. A giant hall with floor-to-vaulted-ceiling screens surround you, with about an hour-long display of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings set to a classical music soundtrack and narration.
The experience is, perhaps, the closest one can get to the holosuites on Star Trek: The Next Generation as Van Gogh’s work, from sunflowers and irises to self-portraits and the familiar “Starry Night,” display and dissolve on all four walls and even the floor.
It was so good, we stayed for two rounds, moving seats for a different view.
The room features chairs, bean bags and benches where one can sit and take it all in.
The only distraction was the curtains where people entered and exited. If facing that way, the trance one goes into is spoiled as folks came and went. There’s a simple solution, just face another way.
After the experience was over, our tickets also allowed us to use the Virtual Reality headsets, which was, again, immersive as it took us on a walking tour of Van Gogh’s landscapes. At the end, a work area with coloring sheets and crayons invited you to color your own Van Gogh, which is then displayed on the wall after being scanned in.
Naturally, the experience concludes in a gift shop, but, again, our ticket came with another bonus: a free poster of a Van Gogh painting.
Was it worth it? Yes.
Would we like something like this to come to Arkansas? Also, yes.
Would we go again? Again, yes, and more pop-up immersive experiences are planned with other artists. Our helpful clerk said the plan was to bring a Monet experience to Tulsa next. Monet? Yes, yes, yes.
Tulsa is roughly a five-hour drive from central Arkansas and as easy as going west on I-40 and turning north on the Tulsa Turnpike. That’s a toll road, and we haven’t gotten the license plate camera bill yet, but it's worth it. If, for some reason, you need to pass through northwest Arkansas on the way, head north until you hit the Hwy. 412 interchange and head west. It directly leads into Tulsa. It is also a toll road.
Tulsa is larger but feels like Little Rock if only all of central Arkansas were crammed together, with all points from Cabot to Conway to Benton and even Pine Bluff combined. Tulsa’s metro population is 1.03 million. The 50-mile radius population of Little Rock is about the same.
The biggest difference is the Arkansas River that flows through town is a muddy, shallow, sand-bar filled waterway and wildly different from the industrial river that flows through this state thanks to the McClellan-Kerr River Navigation system. Also, in Oklahoma the senators' names are reversed and it is Kerr-McClellan. Old people and their egos.
Tulsa also has minor-league hockey and some impressive concert venues.
Not everything we wanted to see or do was available, as we were there just before the Arctic Hammer came sweeping down the plain and it was also the weekend before the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
Tulsa sits on historic Route 66, and the state’s travel department offers a fun passport that lets you get stamps for some of the things to see. Catoosa’s Blue Whale is a throwback to another time and something worth the few minutes of drive to get there.
Things we missed: The combination of weather and the holiday meant Tulsa’s historic Black Wall Street will be saved for the next time. Also, the Philbrook Museum of Art was closed for a winter break.
Where to eat: Ted’s is a terrific local Tex-Mex chain with good prices, delicious food and entrees that come with complimentary cheese dip, salsa, chips, homemade flour tortillas and, for dessert, free sopapillas and honey. Mother Road Market sits directly on Route 66 and is a food hall with good breakfast and lunch options. It is also where you can get one of those travel passports, and if you ask the right vendor, they’ll hook you up with free tickets to hockey, if they’re playing that night.