Tharp captures Nelagoney school history

Kathryn SwanJ-C Correspondent

Editor’s Note: Brian Tharp is a multi-talented artist who works in numerous genres. Tharp’s charcoal drawing of Pawhuska’s historic City Hall drew a bidding frenzy during the Historical Society’s annual dinner and auction. During the Chamber of Commerce’s recent gala, two more of his paintings drew bidding frenzies. These included a charcoal of a Drummond bull in front of the Snively barn located west of Pawhuska. His charcoal “Cool Water” topped all bidding. It was of a horse drinking from a stream. Examples of Tharp’s art may be seen at Pawhuska’s Tallgrass Gallery.

When Patty Jordan accepted Leisa Payne’s invitation to accompany her to local veterinarian Jan Johnston’s clinic, she never dreamed of the adventure awaiting her. “When Leisa asked me if I wanted to go with her to pick up one of her dogs, I thought this would be a great opportunity to visit with Jan’s husband, Brian Tharp, about some exterior painting and handyman work,” said Jordan. “Leisa had told me that Brian had remodeled their home and might be willing to help me out.

“As we were visiting with Dr. Jan, she asked me if I had seen Brian’s art portfolio. Up until that moment, I wasn’t aware of his artistic ability and how beautifully his work portrayed his subjects, especially the animals. I quickly seized on the opportunity to see if Brian would consider painting murals on our garage doors.”

Tharp created two massive murals for the Jordans. The first was the Nelagoney mascot, a tiger with lifelike eyes and incredible detail. Phase two was a painting of the original Nelagoney School.

Jordan’s garage is actually the bus barn for the former Nelagoney School located approximately eight miles east of Pawhuska. Built in 1908, the school closed in 1968 after consolidating with the Barnsdall school district. When the Nelagoney community declined the district’s offer to convert the school into a community center, the property was put up for bid.

At the time, Patty Jordan and her family were living across the street from the old school. After securing the winning bid, Jordan’s family would spend the next five years in an intensive remodeling project.

“We originally thought about converting the old school into two living areas, said Jordan. However, this was a massive three-story school that needed total rewiring, insulation, etc. I drew up the plans for our new home. My parents, Jack and Thelma Durham, were part of our remodeling crew. Before tackling this project, they had built a beautiful home in the woods near Huntsville, Arkansas. Following their retirement, they moved to Nelagoney to be near their grandchildren. We had just lost my 19-year old brother, Monty, who was killed in Viet Nam one month before he was to be released. Working on the old school proved to be a great release for all of us as we coped with his death which also occurred on my parent’s wedding anniversary.”

Jordan’s dad became the project manager, enlisting help from the entire family. Beginning on the top floor, he created a chute where meticulously cleaned bricks and the oak flooring were shuttled down. “As we began removing the plaster from the interior walls, we discovered layers of bricks and wood,” said Jordan. “We were delighted to discover these bonus building materials.” Jordan’s new home incorporated the salvaged materials which included portions of the school’s stairs. The school’s original entrance doors were enhanced with cut-glass made by Jordan.

Surplus items, including the majority of the playground equipment was given to churches and schools. They did retain the merry-go-round. The massive I-beams were donated to the County for possible bridge work. The only part of the school that could not be recycled was the gymnasium floor that had become brittle.

Situated in the heart of Nelagoney, Mike and Patty Jordan’s home is an oasis. Her love of gardening is reflected throughout the landscaping. Hints of the old school’s foundation abound. The gymnasium concrete foundation was used to create an outdoor retreat, accentuated by foliage and a beautifully designed corner stone fountain. The elevated stage area serves as a dramatic backdrop.

Mike’s “man cave” is the school’s former kitchen which brought back a flood of delightful memories of Lola Farmer’s home-style cooking and bean suppers.