Curating a Historic Exhibit with MSM Student Angie Williams

Picture from the Tulsa Historical Society


Nelle E. Peters, Architect of the Ambassador Hotel; Picture from the Missouri State Historical Society


One of the most important things a person can do to better their chances of employability is to gain as much experience as possible in the field they want to work in. This experience comes in many forms such as internships, work completed for courses, and also paid work opportunities. A benefit of the Museum Science and Management program at TU is the opportunities that arise to gain real job experience in our field.

One opportunity came up this year in the form of an exhibit for the Ambassador Hotel, a historic hotel in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Dr. Pickering, the founding director and faculty advisor for the MSM program at TU, was approached by the manager of the hotel to help create an historical exhibit in the hotel’s library. Dr. Pickering reached out to his past and present students to see if anyone was interested in working on this project. I, a current student, and Caroline Chandler, a former student, jumped at the opportunity.

The Ambassador Hotel is located in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and it was built in 1929 by General Patrick Hurley. The hotel manager wanted to commemorate the hotel in an exhibit in the hotel library. She wanted to focus on four main topics: General Patrick Hurley, Tulsa in the 1920s, Nelle E. Peters (the hotel’s architect) and the history of the hotel, and the transformation of the hotel to what it is today. Caroline, Dr. Pickering, and I divided up the topics and began investigative research.

My research focus was on Tulsa in the 1920s-early 30s and Nelle E. Peters. Through this research, I discovered so many fascinating and unique things about Tulsa! I discovered the bustling theater scene in Tulsa, all the growth that came from the oil boom, and the unique art deco architecture that was prevalent during that time. Through research at the Tulsa Historical Society, I located hundreds of photographs representing what life was life for a Tulsan in the 1920s-early 30s. A few unique events from the period include the erection of the Tulsa Municipal Airport Administration Building, the success of the Skelly Oil Company, and the many recreational activities Tulsans enjoyed. In the year 1930, the Tulsa Municipal Airport even set the world record for airport traffic! The nationally central location and the success of the oil industry made Tulsa a popular aircraft stop.

The second topic I researched was the architect of the Ambassador Hotel, Nelle E. Peters. It is so rare to have prominent women architects in the early 20th century. Nelle was very well known in this region and her primary work was completed in Kansas City, MO. In Kansas City, she worked with a developer to design hundreds of apartments and hotels across Oklahoma and Kansas. Some of her most famous buildings are in Kansas City and named “Literary Row” because each building is named after a great literary author or character. She designed hundreds of buildings over the span of her career. Her greatest work was done in the 1920s. After the Great Depression, demand for her type of work was limited.

The builder of the Ambassador Hotel was General Patrick Hurley, a larger than life man who bore many accomplishments through his life. He was a US Army General, US Ambassador to China, and a State Senator. While he did not spend a large amount of time in Tulsa, he did make an impact on the city. In addition to the Ambassador, he also built a home near Riverside Drive which was called the Hurley Mansion. He made his wealth in real estate, including the Ambassador Hotel in 1929. Originally he built the hotel for extended stay travelers to Tulsa, but over the years the building had many uses. It has been a hotel, apartments, a nursing home, and it was also vacant for a few decades. Since it’s revival, it has been recognized for its historical architecture. Today, the Ambassador is an upscale hotel under the Marriott brand.

The Museum Science and Management department provided a breadth of content for the new exhibit, and the culmination of the project will be revealed next spring as the hotel celebrates 20 years since it’s renovation and rebirth. The final exhibit will be displayed in the newly renovated and designed library of the hotel. It will feature photos, objects, and music of the era, and guests are encouraged to immerse themselves in the hotel’s past while also learning about Tulsa’s early history.

Museum Science and Management Student Angie Williams