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Statue of famed Native American ballerina stolen and sold for scrap

Marjorie Tallchief started out dancing at rodeos. Later, she performed for presidents.

The base where the Marjorie Tallchief sculpture once stood, outside the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum on May 2. (Mike Simons/Tulsa World/AP)

Marjorie Tallchief danced for presidents, twirled the world over and leaped to global fame, achieving so much success in the ballet world that her native Oklahomans honored her with a bronze statue.

For 15 years, the statue depicting Tallchief oversaw the west lawn of the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum — a body frozen in motion, en pointe with one leg raised in a passé and arms swept across her chest and forehead.

Until last week, when thieves hacked it to pieces and sold them at a recycling center for about $250.

“We are devastated,” museum officials said in a Facebook post.

Detectives are investigating, and museum officials have started an online fundraiser for the $15,000 they say is needed to cover the artwork’s insurance deductible and to beef up security for several other outdoor sculptures on the property.

Tallchief’s was one of the museum’s “Five Moons” statues, bronze works that depict five of Oklahoma’s renowned Native American ballerinas. The other four are Tallchief’s sister, Maria; Yvonne Chouteau; Rosella Hightower; and Moscelyne Larkin.

“These women made such an extraordinary impact on history,” Sharon Terry, then the director of the Tulsa Historical Society, told the Tulsa World when the statues were unveiled. “It’s been said many times before, but it’s still just as true — the world of ballet was exclusively European until these five Indian women, all from small Oklahoma towns, came along. They truly made a place for Americans in the world of ballet.”

Maria Tallchief, ballet star who was inspiration for Balanchine, dies at 88

Local artists Monte England and Gary Henson created the statues, the museum said. England worked on two of them before he died in 2005; Henson finished the project in 2007.

Before the unveiling, Henson told the Tulsa World that sculpting “Five Moons” gave him “an opportunity to express my own appreciation for ballet. It’s a way of looking at the human condition. Here are these five American Indian women who are able to do amazing things — to move in ways that most of us can only dream about — and who were able to succeed once they got their chance.”

Tallchief, born in 1926 and raised in Fairfax, Okla., moved with her family to Los Angeles as a young girl so she and her sister could further their ballet training, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society. In 1957, she joined the Paris Opera Ballet, becoming the first American to achieve the dance company’s highest rank of danseuse étoile, or “star dancer,” the Oklahoman reported last year. A year later, she performed at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, the first American to do so since the end of World War II.

During her career, Tallchief danced for Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. She also performed for French President Charles de Gaulle, according to the historical society.

In 1991, she was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.

From the archives: Maria Tallchief's journey from Fairfax, Okla., to the heights of the ballet world

Tallchief retired in 1993 after serving as the dance director for ballet companies in Dallas, Chicago and Boca Raton, Fla. This past November, she died at her home in Delray Beach, Fla., at the age of 95. She was the last surviving member of the Five Moons.

“As an Osage and native of Fairfax, she achieved success previously unthinkable in the world of ballet for someone of her background,” Oklahoma Historical Society Executive Director Trait Thompson told the Oklahoman last year.

While the museum recovered part of Tallchief’s statue, some pieces are still missing, the Associated Press reported. The original mold for the statue burned in a fire, complicating any effort to replace it.

But it’s not impossible. On Monday, museum officials said they had spoken with Henson, the sculptor who created several of the original “Five Moons” statues. He said that, even without the mold, he could re-create Tallchief’s.

In fact, he plans to, a sentiment he summed up in a tidy message to the museum.

“I can do this!”