Tulsa, Oklahoma Is Now Home to a Massive Bob Dylan Archive

Wikipedia // CC BY-SA 2.0
Wikipedia // CC BY-SA 2.0 / Wikipedia // CC BY-SA 2.0

Want to see some of the notebooks in which Bob Dylan wrote his 1975 album Blood on the Tracks? A wallet that once belonged to the singer-songwriter and contained Johnny Cash's phone number? A slew of never-before-seen photographs, poems, and artworks? You'll soon be able to peruse thousands of rare relics like these at Tulsa’s Gilcrease Museum, The New York Times reports

The George Kaiser Family Foundation and the University of Tulsa have acquired a massive archive of more than 6000 pieces of Dylan memorabilia. The collection will be housed in the Gilcrease Museum’s Helmerich Center for American Research, alongside a copy of the Declaration of Independence, a collection of Native American art, and the papers of Oklahoma music hero Woody Guthrie. There, the archive will be available for academic study and curated public exhibitions.

The collection was reportedly purchased for between $15 and $20 million. It's said to provide such rich insight into the artist’s creative process that “it’s going to start anew the way people study” him, Sean Wilentz, a historian and author of Bob Dylan in America, told the Times. However, until recently it was only the stuff of legend.

Scholars had long whispered that Dylan kept a private collection of his works, dating all the way back to his early career. They were correct. For years, Dylan placed papers, letters, and other items in storage, where they were managed by an in-house archivist. In 2014, rare-book dealer Glenn Horowitz—who brokers deals between artists’ estates and cultural and academic institutions—offered to sell it to the Kaiser Foundation and the University of Tulsa, which co-runs the Gilcrease Museum along with the city.

The Wall Street Journal reports that it will take two years to acquire, ship, and inventory most of the items. Many of them will land in the Helmerich Center for American Research, but the George Kaiser Family Foundation is also considering building a new Dylan exhibition gallery in Tulsa next to the city's Guthrie museum. In the meantime, USA Today writes that a few items are already on display at the Gilcrease Museum, including early lyrics to "Chimes of Freedom" written on hotel stationery and drafts of the song "Visions of Johanna" that were penned on a yellow legal pad.

Many people might be surprised that the Dylan archives are now in Tulsa, and not in a museum in New York City, Washington, D.C., or even in Dylan’s hometown of Hibbing, Minnesota. The items ended up in the Sooner State because George Kaiser, the Oklahoma billionaire who runs his namesake foundation, bought the papers to attract scholars, students, and tourists to the area. “Portland wasn’t always cool; Seattle wasn’t always cool,” Kaiser told the Times. “One of the ways you can try to make your city cool is by attracting talented young people and hoping that a number of them stick.”

Meanwhile, Dylan, now 74, approves of the archives’ new home. Guthrie is reportedly one of Dylan's heroes, and the singer is happy that his works will be showcased next to the American folk singer's papers. “I’m glad that my archives, which have been collected all these years, have finally found a home and are to be included with the works of Woody Guthrie and especially alongside all the valuable artifacts from the Native American Nations,” Dylan said in a statement. “To me, it makes a lot of sense and it’s a great honor.”

[h/t The New York Times]