Cray Bauxmont-Flynn finds his purpose building Native American businesses
TULSA (Oct. 19, 2020) – It took Cray Bauxmont-Flynn a lifetime of study and work, traveling from one side of the world to the other, before he found his life's purpose – in his Native American roots.
"It's like coming full circle for me," said Flynn, 56, an architect and designer of international standing who grew up enthralled by tales of his Cherokee and Delaware tribal ancestors. "I'm trying to get more instituted, more engaged, in the tribes of my heritage. Not just for work, but to give back some of the knowledge and experience I've gained."
This Newport Beach, CA, native intends to accomplish this by building three Tulsa businesses – one old, two new.
Flynn has moved to Tulsa to become the principal and chief operating officer for EFG Design and Architecture, a Native American firm first led by Larry and Donna Edmondson with half a century of active tribal service.
"I want to help our people build businesses and create jobs through successful projects," said Flynn. "I want to bring stories to life in a way that takes the visitor on an emotional journey through space. My designs achieve that. They embody passion and integrity while maintaining functionality and simplicity. This holistic approach, in which no detail is overlooked, instills projects with purpose and beauty in equal measure."
Flynn has launched a new furniture product line entitled “Amatoya” – a Cherokee ancestor’s name that means “rainmaker.” This line follows several other licensed products Flynn has developed with global artisans and manufacturers during his career. He now intends to continue this working with eastern Oklahoma craftsmen.
“Amatoya encompasses designs inspired by my native heritage, tied together with a common thread of functionality that bring elegance and style of the past into today’s modern environment,” Flynn said. “Every unique product is designed by hand, using traditional craftsman tools and techniques that lend to the intricate finish, individual patina and character of each Amatoya product.”
Flynn has become a partner in Blackhawk Construction LLC of Broken Arrow, incorporated last year by Thaddeus Yeargain.
Flynn expects these operations to provide dedicated work for many Native American tribes.
"There are responsibilities that come with operating a Native American business," he said. "You can't always have an open hand out. You have to have to lend a hand, give back, especially with something that's culturally important to you as a person.”
Flynn also hopes to create opportunities for Native American youth.
"Education is very important to me," said Flynn. "I have mentored several under-resourced and at-risk youths over the past few years. By encouraging more openness and a better understanding of our economic, socio, and cultural differences, these kids hopefully gain more self-worth and a determination to succeed. I try to help them learn the cycle of poverty can be broken, and that everyone can set their own path of success."
“A wider perspective”
Flynn brings unique insight to his task, starting with his heritage. His mother carries the blood of many Native American tribes along with some European ancestry, while his father comes from French and Swiss descent. With that family diversity, Flynn grew up within many different cultures, attending multiple schools on several continents. His father's career, building French government projects around the world, introduced Flynn to architecture.
"I was attracted to the historical value of buildings, how they withstand time and tell a story across the ages," Flynn said. "I love to draw and paint. I remember looking at my father's blueprints and redesigning the buildings with trace paper. I was intrigued by it all."
He pursued this with university degrees from the Ecole Des Beaux-Arts in Paris and the Institute of Design in Rome. These steps led his career through New York, Singapore, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and several places in-between.
"This gave me a wider perspective in cultures and environments and people," said Flynn. "I see things a little bit differently. Inspiration comes to us in all forms – from history, travel, and personal experience, to extraordinary handiwork, materials, and craftsmanship. Every project is a unique journey for me. I approach each one with highly personalized care, intent, richness, and soul.”
Working in areas noted for historic landmarks shaped his view of design and architecture.
"It drew me more to the creative elements, the inspirational environments," he said. "I didn't look just at the functional aspects of a building. I focused more on what a building brings to one's senses, both on the outside and the inside. I design to the senses – cultural, locale – the importance of place, not means.
"You see, I believe in experiential environments. Design should tell a story, be it a building, a room… even down to creating a custom light fixture or a piece of furniture. We're creating spaces, environments, and objects that are site-specific to the client, yet remain conscientious of their impact on the surrounding area and its interaction with the end-user.
“I believe that architecture and interiors are active participants in our daily lives, and that the environments surrounding us engage and affect us at the most natural level,” said Flynn. “We seek to strengthen this relationship and offer spatial and decorative solutions that provide a fundamental essence of harmony.”
“A hidden asset”
Delving into Native American projects while at YWS of Las Vegas reintroduced Flynn to his tribal roots. So, when longtime Tulsa industry executive Donna Edmondson approached him about stepping in as the successor to her long-established Native American firm, Flynn was ready.
"Even though I have never lived in Oklahoma, we visited often in my childhood," Flynn said. "I was lucky enough to meet my great, great grandmother and hear some of her stories. I was always very proud of my heritage."
Though smaller than many cities of his international past, Flynn said he is enamored with Tulsa's natural beauty and culture.
"I like the pace, the people," he said. "I like the charm, the lifestyle. Someone told me, 'Oh, you live in the middle of nowhere,' and I answered, "No, I live in the center of everywhere.' In Tulsa – indeed, across northeastern Oklahoma – we have the best of everything anyone could want or need. It is truly a hidden asset."
Flynn intends to build EFG into a regional firm serving Native American tribes across the continent. He hopes EFG’s Tulsa roots help many Oklahoma tribes prosper.
"We have to give back to our Native American brothers and sisters," said Flynn, "and not just in doing work and creating jobs, but also with smaller, pro-bono projects. We need to help their youth, their seniors. Offer some direction to better their lives, be it in housing or wellness centers, schools, cultural facilities, hospitality, whatever. My heart is to provide an outlet and educational resource for the next generation."
Flynn expects his multicultural experience to help him achieve this.
"We need to help the tribal nations look at projects with a holistic approach rather than a quick fix," he said. "We need to take things one step at a time, giving time to those in need, taking the time to make a difference. Anyone can write a check. It takes someone's time and effort to make a difference."
Cray’s work history
1987-91: Valode & Pistre, Paris, senior designer
1991-97: Richard Meier & Partners, NYC, associate
1997-00: ACA Development and Design, NYC, principal
2000-03: SFA, LA, managing director
2003-10: Wilson Associates, Singapore, executive design director
2010-14: YWS, Las Vegas, global director of design
2014 -17: Kelly Wearstler, Los Angeles, vice president of design
2017-19: Caruso Affiliated, Los Angeles, consultant
2019-present: EFG Design & Architecture, Tulsa, chief operating officer and principal
2019-present: Amatoya, founder
2020: Blackhawk Construction, partner
1996-00: Paint Foundation, member
2000-07: Agnes Gund Foundation, committee
2000-07: The Fund for Public Schools, member
2000-07: The Frick Collection, committee member
2000-08: The Museum of Modern Art, junior board and advisory committee
2001-08: Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, member
2002-08: Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center, committee
2005-07: Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, junior board member
2014-17: Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS, Las Vegas and Los Angeles Picnic by Design and House of DIFFA chair
2014-2018: The Center, Las Vegas, board of directors
2016-18: Nevada Museum of Art, member, board of trustees
2017-present: Communities in Schools National Office, advocacy board member
2017 – 2019: Core Academy, Las Vegas
2018-present: American Indian Chamber of Commerce of Oklahoma, member
2018-present: American Indian Council of Architects and Engineers, member
2019-present: Rotary Club of Tulsa, member
2020-present: Leadership Tulsa, member
2020-present: AISES (American Indian Science and Engineering Society, member
2020-present: Native American Business Association, member