50 States

An overview of the 50 States art installment at the OSU Museum of Art

By: Morgan Malget

50 States was created by Nick Vaughan and Jake Margolin. The couple, based in Houston, Texas, have been traveling across the country to uncover and transform lesser-known LGBTQIA+ stories from all 50 states into immersive art exhibits. So far they have completed Oklahoma, Texas, Wyoming and Colorado, and they were set to debut their Arkansas exhibit in March 2019.

These contemporary pieces are driven by the stories of LGBTQIA+, and have been intensely studied by Vaughan and Margolin with the help of local LGBTQIA+ members. They are able to reflect culture's views of sexuality and gender of the past while correlating it to views today through each of their pieces.


For Frenchy

The Colorado installation is based on the life of Charles "Frenchy" Vosbaugh. Charles had been born as Katherine, but was accepted as Charles. Frenchy's heartwarming story of acceptance by the Mt. San Rafael Hospital in Trinidad, Colorado, lead to Trinidad being called the "Sex Change Capital of the World." The exhibit brought together five transgender or gender non-conforming artists, writers, or activists from around the country to write eulogizing toasts to Frenchy. At the exhibit you can watch and listen to footage from these toasts, and you can read the transcription of every toast.


For Lynn

50 States: Oklahoma honors the gay Cherokee playwright Lynn Riggs. Riggs wrote Green Grow the Lilacs, which inspired Rogers and Hammerstein's iconic musical Oklahoma!. The exhibit incorporates an experimental film made by Riggs, A Day in Santa Fe. Riggs used this film to capture daily life in his home, Santa Fe, New York. Nick and Jake created an experimental film of their own that resembled A Day in Santa Fe. They filmed theirs in Tulsa and Tahlequah, Oklahoma, the seat of the Cherokee Nation. Their video was composed of members of the LGBTQIA+ community in front of locations of importance to them. The videos are played side-by-side in the exhibit.


Pure Carbon

The Texas exhibit is composed of the complete text of Norma Twist: or Pure Carbon, a Story of the Inversion of the Sexes, presented in loose graphite powder in a font derived from the original font used in the first edition of the book. Norma Twist was written by John Wesley Carhart, a medical doctor, from La Grange, Texas, in 1895. It was one of America's first fiction titles with a lesbian protagonist. This novel incorporates themes surrounded same-sex relations that were progressive for their time.


Prairie and Mountain Sketches

50 States: Wyoming was the first completed installment to the 50 States exhibit. Wyoming encompasses the story of fur Scottish lord-turned-fur-trader, William Benemann's travels with his lover Anoine Clement, a Canadian hunter. The pair led 100 likely same-sex men to a lake in the Wind River Mountains where they threw a bacchanal. Nick and Jake traveled the 1,200 mile journey that the men traveled nearly two centuries ago and collected soil from multiple Cartesian coordinates on their path. They created tinted wax poured painted LGBTQIA+ cowboy silhouettes and drove over them with their truck to show their progress on their journey.


These contemporary installations have the power to enlighten viewers of the stories of LGBTQIA+ heroism of the past, and can install a pride in the LGBTQIA+ community of today. To learn more about these stories and to view the exhibits for yourself, the 50 States installment will be on view at the OSU Museum of Art until June 29, 2019. Admission to the museum is always free.


Photographer: Anna Nall

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