Public art in a not so public place: The jailhouse art of Burgess and Paladine Roye

Great State

For more information on the jailhouse prints click this link

ENID, Okla. (KFOR) — Like most people who visit the Garfield County Courthouse, photographer Ron Bailey and his wife, even County Commissioner Reese Wedel are drawn to the murals of Ruth Munro Augur, who painted several works in the mid-1930’s as a WPA project.

But one day, while photographing those murals on the first and second floor of the courthouse a sheriff’s deputy invited him upstairs to see another collection of public art, stuck in lockup on the 4th and 5th floors.

“My jaw hit the floor,” Bailey recalls. “I’d never seen anything like it. It looks like it could have been painted last week.”

In 1976 Sheriff Pat McFadden booked a young Burgess Roye into the county jail on a six-month sentence for DUI.

His brother Paladine got a suspended sentence for the same charge.

The sheriff knew these full blood Ponca brothers needed both an outlet and a sense of direction.

“So he made him a deal,” continues Bailey. “If he would paint some paintings on the walls, he would let him be a trustee and he wouldn’t have to be locked up for so long.”

Burgess finished five paintings in oil on the reinforced concrete walls, in a style that sometimes reflected this dark place.

“I have no idea what Burgess was going through,” Don says looking at one of Burgess’ paintings, “but I would think he was at one of his darkest moments right here.”

His brother finished a landscape painting just outside the old booking area so he could be close to his brother.

“This one covers up the old booking tape measure,” Bailey shows.

The sheriff later protected the paintings with plexiglass.

Other jailhouse art came and went like so much graffiti, but theirs stayed.

Bailey says, “The county commissioners have made sure, through the years, that the paintings were not painted over.”

The Roye brothers went on to successful art careers.

These paintings became largely forgotten when the jail closed in 2005.

Only county employees or commissioners like Wedel knew they were here.

They just didn’t quite know what to do with them.

Commissioner Wedel says, “There’s nothing you can really do because you can’ t take them off the wall.”

In the Fall of 2020 Bailey got permission to show up with his camera and take some professional photographs.

His plan, to make prints of the paintings since they can never be moved from where they are.

From what must have been their darkest place in 1976, two brothers got a chance to escape, and did it with oil paints on reinforced concrete.

The evidence is still there.

Public art in a quiet, not so public place.

Editor’s Note: We’ve since heard from a surviving family member of the Roye brothers.

She expressed concerns about the potential sale of photographic prints of Burgess’ and Paladine’s work.  However, the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma has officially endorsed the project, as well as the plans for preserving the art.  50% of sale proceeds will go to properly frame the paintings and protect them from light and dust.

As of this writing, Garfield County holds all legal rights to the art work.

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