Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

FOUCART, JOSEPH (1848–1917)

The remarkable visual character of the urban streetscape of Guthrie, Oklahoma, was dominated by the influence of the European architect Joseph Foucart, who was born in Arlon, Belgium, on November 14, 1848. Founded on April 22, 1889, by a land run, Guthrie was a designated town site within a parcel opened for homesteading in the center of Indian Territory. By nightfall the dusty prairie had been transformed into a bustling town of more than 10,000 people. The pace of development in Guthrie was staggering: frame buildings were under construction the next day; the first masonry building was completed within a month; in June an electric streetcar system was franchised; and by the end of summer both the electric power plant and the waterworks were operating. Foucart practiced architecture in this bustling environment from 1889 to 1907. The original town site is now designated a National Historic District.

Foucart's buildings in the commercial district of Guthrie reflect the writings of the French architectural theorist Eugène Violletle- Duc, with an emphasis on structural determinism and Gothic styling. The buildings have load-bearing masonry walls that are penetrated with arched openings, with the lintels often accented by contrasting stone to signify their structural importance. Pilasters and engaged piers are expressed as vertical supports, and in some cases cast-iron columns are used in a completely undisguised manner. Foucart's designs reveal a predilection toward the Gothic. They are often asymmetrical, yet the most telling Gothic element–the pointed arch window–is missing completely. In its place are rounded arches and keyhole-shaped arches that evoke a Muslim feeling. The domes on the turrets and oriels on some of his buildings suggest a Russian influence. There is also a suggestion of influence by the American Romanesque Revival architect H. H. Richardson, with the rough-cut stone walls and arched windows that combine stone lintels with voussoirs of contrasting color.

One of Foucart's most prominent early buildings is the Grey Brothers Block. The lower part of the facade is pierced by several large arched openings with rough-cut lintels. The rhythm of the second floor then changes to a series of closely spaced double-hung windows, each crowned with a panel of patterned and corbeled brick. At the cornice is an elaborate sheet-metal band composed of a smallscale decorative motif and accented by large pinnacles that extend both above and below the band. The effect is one of a progression of elements defined by different visual scales and textures, ranging from large, rough elements at the bottom to small, smooth elements at the top.

Another important early building is the De- Ford Building. Foucart created an asymmetrical composition of tall, narrow-arched windows and crowned it with a profusion of sheet-metal ornament. The ornament, like the pattern of the windows, is also asymmetrical, with a pyramidal form poised over the stair leading to the second floor as if to provide a visual landmark signifying entry. In the side facade of the building Foucart abruptly changed the pattern, and the arched windows at the second story are much wider, with several smaller keyhole windows lighting the lower floor.

The State Capital Publishing Company was one of his most important commissions. Built in 1902, it is remarkable for the simplicity and subtlety of the wall surfaces, fenestration, and details. The primary facades are unusually flat and restrained. Because of the facade's austerity, the open, three-dimensional tower is a powerful sculptural counterpoint that draws immediate attention to the corner of the building.

During the last decade of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth, Foucart became the premier architect of Oklahoma Territory. He received important commissions outside of Guthrie, including the library for Oklahoma A & M College at Stillwater. Foucart moved to Sapulpa, Oklahoma, shortly after statehood (1907). Although he continued to practice, his buildings in Sapulpa do not have the vigor of his earlier work.

See also IMAGES AND ICONS: Boomers.

Arn Henderson University of Oklahoma

Henderson, Arn. "Joseph Foucart, Territorial Architect." In Of the Earth: Oklahoma Architectural History, edited by Howard L. and Mary Ellen Meredith. Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 1980.

Henderson, Arn, with Frank Parman and Dortha Henderson. Architecture in Oklahoma: Landmark and Vernacular. Norman OK: Point Riders Press, 1978.

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