By Darla Shelden
M.J. Alexander is an Oklahoma writer, poet, playwright, lyricist and photographer who documents people and places of the American West. Her work, focusing on the American Indian culture, is currently on display at the Oklahoma State Capitol.
“ ‘My Portrait of a Generation’ exhibit has recently relocated from the Tulsa Historical Society for installation in the North Gallery of the State Capitol, where it will hang through April 15,” said Alexander.
Alexander’s portraits have been exhibited both nationally and abroad. Her work has been honored by the Center for Fine Art Photography and featured in many solo shows, including at the Main Gallery of the International Photography Hall of Fame, the Red Earth Museum, and the Tulsa Historical Society.
Alexander is an award winning author and illustrator of two nationally acclaimed books. Salt of the Red Earth: A Century of Wit and Wisdom from Oklahoma’s Elders is comprised of portraits and interviews with 100 centenarians, including dozens born in Indian Territory. And Portrait of a Generation – Children of Oklahoma: Sons and Daughters of the Red Earth spotlights Oklahomans of the 21st century, from newborn to 18 years old.
For Portrait of a Generation, Alexander drove more than 11,000 miles – from the Rita Blanca Grassland to the Tallgrass Prairie, and from the Blue River to the Glass Mountains – to meet more than 250 children of the 46th state. This book was selected as top Young Adult book of the year at the 2011 and was a finalist in two categories at the Oklahoma Book Awards.
Her iconic portrait of Thomas Jefferson Brown, 103, was named one of the top photographs in Oklahoma history by the editors of Oklahoma Today magazine.
Alexander was the only U.S. photographer honored at the 2009 UNESCO-sponsored World Humanity Photography Awards in Guangzhou, China, for her photographic series on Apache crown dancers.
That same year she photographed women’s rights activist and Ms. Magazine founder Gloria Steinem for the cover of Ms. Magazine in commemoration of Steinem’s 75th birthday.
“Although an outspoken activist, Steinem is extremely self-effacing and modest. She was reluctant to be featured by herself, insisting that the ideals behind the magazine are larger and more important than any one person. She agreed to be on the cover, but only if the honor would be shared with another pioneer: her good friend Alice Walker, an early editor at Ms,” said Alexander. “I had been in residence with her and four other writers at Hedgebrook, a retreat for women writers, on Whidbey Island, north of Seattle, for about a week. I’ve been there three times, but even now find it hard to believe such a place exists.”
Speaking of another portrait taken of Steinem during that session Alexander said, “This image was created at the beginning of our session, when we were laughing and settling in. She has expressive hands and long, tapered fingers. I asked her to bring them forward and she struck a classic activist’s pose. I love the focus and determination she channels through a simple gesture.”
Alexander grew up in a town of 250 people on Michigan’s Lake Superior where she attended a two-room schoolhouse. She worked as a park ranger and sportswriter before earning degrees from Vassar College and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
A dual citizen of Canada and the United States, Alexander is a veteran of The Associated Press in New York City and former head of the journalism department of St. Michael’s College in Vermont.
The Portrait of a Generation exhibition is on display in the first floor of the State Capitol, North Gallery until April 15. Gallery hours are weekdays, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and weekends, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The North Gallery is curated by the Oklahoma Arts Council.
For more information visit www.mjalexander.com.