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‘Looking Back’ from Central 

Art students interpret history.

click to enlarge THROUGH MY EYES
  • THROUGH MY EYES

Central High art students, of the same age and interests as teen-agers 50 years ago, give us a chance to see the events of 1957 through their eyes in a fine exhibit at the Cox Creative Center, “Looking Back — Looking Ahead: Commemorating 50 Years of Integration.”

Elizabeth Eckford's torment by whites on Central's opening day, captured in the famous photograph by Will Counts, not surprisingly inspired much of the artwork. A signature piece is Virginia Hayes' black and white acrylic painting “Through My Eyes,” which crops Eckford's face out to focus on the famous white dress with the black-checked trim and Eckford's sunglasses. The sunglasses are held by the side of the dress, painted white and reflect in their lenses red-lettered posters (“NO BLACKS”) and blank white faces.

Danielle Napolitano's clever “The Fantastic Nine” depicts the famed teen-agers as superheroes: Minnijean Brown Trickey is ablaze with light, Terrence Roberts has a “T” on his chest a la Superman's “S,” Eckford's superhero figure is wearing — what else — the black-and-white dress, Thelma Mothershed Wair has the wings of an angel. Student Kristen Smith painted a lamp to create a visual pun, “The Light of Integration,” and wrote in her artist's statement, “without the light of integration, we would be in the dark.” Gabey Smoller's colored pencil drawing of a telephone, emphasizing the numbers one through nine on the dial, recalls the terrorizing phone calls that those on the side of integration received. Kate Trotter's angular pencil portrait of Eckford, like so much of the work in the exhibit, also works both as fine art and wry commentary: Eckford is shedding one blue tear.

Many of the students used chairs as a structure for three-dimensional works of art. Snaking through the gallery are painted and accessorized chairs that memorialize, for example, Trickey's “Chili Revenge,” Eckford heckler Hazel Bryan (who later apologized), the Supreme Court that decided Brown v. Board of Education, segregated sports and other topics. In another group are nine black chairs, arranged in a circle back-to-back. Each bears a portrait of one of the nine painted on its canvas-covered back, rendered in shades of Central's black and gold. Teacher Rex DeLoney said the inspiration for the elegant composition was drawn from his father's country church, the Biscoe Church of God: Chairs in the sanctuary were covered by the women of the church in starched white pillowcases to create unity, so that they were, DeLoney said, “different, yet the same.”

Art instructors who worked with the students were Lynn Smith, Rex DeLoney, Don Enderson, Jason McCann and Nancy Wilson. Work by McCann, Wilson, Deloney and Smith is being auctioned through a silent bid process that ends at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 12, at the close of the Cox Center's 2nd Friday Art Night event. The student show will remain up through Oct. 27.

A reminder: The Sculpture at the River Market show and sale starts tonight, Oct. 4, at the River Market pavilions. The event is a fund-raiser for Riverfront Park, and opens with a $100-a-ticket preview party at 6 p.m. tonight. The exhibit continues with free admission through Sunday. To preview the work and learn more about the participating artists, who come from Arkansas and all over the country, go to www.sculptureattherivermarket.com. After the artist's commission, proceeds from the sale of work go to the Riverfront Park Conservancy.

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