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From the TFA Archives: Tulsa Contributes to the Nation!

Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt, © LIFE Inc.

In the spring of 1942, LIFE Magazine published a six-page feature that focused on the non-traditional teaching methods of three Tulsa high schools. At Will Rogers High School, an unsuspecting commercial art student, Tyler Tennelly, was photographed along with the rest of his class as they worked on their civic promotion art projects. In his work, Tennelly paid homage to Tulsa’s rich oil and architectural heritage. Tennelly’s original pen-and-ink rendering, the same one he is working on in the LIFE Magazine photograph above, recently resurfaced in the TFA archives and we are thrilled to include it as part of our collection. The nearly eighty-year-old drawing is still captivating.

Tulsa Foundation for Architecture recently received a collection of drawings by the late Tennelly from his days as an architecture student. Among them, TFA’s Archives Committee was delighted to discover the same fantastic hand-drawn poster that Tennelly created for his commercial art class as a junior at Will Rogers High School in 1941!

Reproductions of this poster will soon be available for purchase!

TULSA CONTRIBUTES TO THE NATION, Student Poster by Tyler Tennelly, c. 1941. From the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture Archives

Mr. Tennelly graduated from Will Rogers in 1942 and honorably served with the U.S. Army in World War II. He attended L’Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris until 1946, then returned to Oklahoma to finish his architecture degree at Oklahoma A&M College (now Oklahoma State University).

For over 60 years, Tennelly was a well-respected Tulsa architect who provided structural analysis and working drawings for commercial and residential properties, churches and schools. He was also involved in the renovation at the Tulsa County Court House and the expansion of St. John’s Hospital.

Tennelly’s daughter, Laura, said that from a young age her dad had a particular curiosity about how structures were supported. Freeman shared a story her dad told her about the time his parents took him to the Tulsa Fairgrounds Pavilion to see the circus. Freeman recounted, “He told me he kept staring up at the ceiling trying to figure out how the whole building and the roof could be supported without any pillars.”

Tennelly’s fascination with structure proved to be particularly helpful when he worked for William H. Ryan, Architecture on the roof design for Tulsa’s iconic Route 66 Rose Bowl building.

“Beaux Arts Villa Ball” by Tyler Tennelly.

Freeman and her son loved looking at Tennelly’s pastels from his college days because of how well they illustrated the close relationship between art and architecture, speaking directly to how architects are also artists. Freeman shared how glad she is that we are able to preserve these art pieces in our archives.

We would like to thank Laura Tennelly Freeman for sharing her personal accounts of her dad with us. Tyler Tennelly passed away on August 5, 2018. We are honored to have some of his earliest work in our collection.

Each month, we will highlight an artifact newly found in our collections—all thanks to the ongoing support of our members.

A portion of membership donations fund the ongoing operations of the TFA Archives, including the work that goes into ensuring that historical documents such as this one are preserved and made available to researchers. Not yet a member? Click here to join now.