FIDDLER AND ALICE: The artist poses by her fiddler figure in 'pARTy for Peg' at the Historic Arkansas Museum.
The aluminum fiddler and her eight square dancers poised at the south north (2nd Street) entrance to the Historic Arkansas Museum greet visitors as engagingly as Peg Smith would have. Join the party, they say — starting with the “pARTy for Peg.”
The sculpture, to be dedicated Saturday at the annual Territorial Fair, adds a terrific piece of public art to Little Rock's land-scape as it celebrates the life of Smith, the late long-time commissioner and ardent supporter since the museum's opening as the Arkansas Territorial Restoration in July 1941.
Alice Guffey Miller of Monticello won the privately-funded commission for the sculpture, which features 7 1/2-foot-tall cut-out figures, kicking up their heels and posed atop pedestals inset with objects from all over Arkansas donated especially for the project. Embedded artistically are sherds of Smith's own China, horseshoes, arrowheads, crystals, spigots, silverware, a shell with buttons punched out — all manner of things, from each of the state's 75 counties. (Even the dancers are local; the half-inch aluminum figures were fabricated by SeaArk Boats in Monticello.) The source of the artifacts and videos documenting the donors (many of whom were children that Miller worked with through 4H clubs) will be part of the museum's website, historicarkansas.org.
The HAM will dedicate “pARTy for Peg” at 10:30 a.m., with brief remarks by first lady Ginger Beebe, Mayor Mark Stodola, architect Charles Witsell and Department of Arkansas Heritage Director Cathie Matthews. Miller's husband, poet Mars Hall, will read a poem he wrote for the occasion, “Peg's Patter Call.” Fiddle playing and dancing will follow. Smith's daughter and her husband, Laurie and Steve Fisher, will be in attendance, along with other members of the family.
Peg Smith, the wife of Supreme Court Justice George Rose Smith, was the successor to founding volunteer Louise Loughborough, who in 1939 persuaded the state legislature to buy and preserve the block of territorial period structures — which appeared to most people to be nothing more than dilapidated shacks. The WPA helped build what would become known as the Arkansas Territorial Restoration.
Smith, whose grandfather Fay Hempstead wrote the first Arkansas history textbook in 1889, knew that evidence of the past added character and identity to the present. With architect Ed Cromwell, she founded the Quapaw Quarter Association and until she died in 2003 she did what HAM development director Louise Terzia called the “holy work” of bringing Arkansas's past into the present.
She also helped the Territorial Restoration transition into the Historic Arkansas Museum, smoothing the way when change — which better research into the period brought to the restored structures, the grounds and their history — might have bristled. “She was a modern woman in wanting to represent [the past] accurately,” HAM director Bill Worthen said, and she was a commissioner who was always willing to listen.
The square dance theme derives from a well-known painting by Arkansas artist Louis Freund. Freund's work was among the first to be exhibited in the museum's Arkansas Artists Gallery, which Smith started in the 1970s. (She also started the museum store and the library.) The sculpture helps the museum “express that inside these walls history is alive and fun and changing,” Terzia said. She said it is a fitting remembrance of Smith, who was herself full of life … and “she liked a party,” Terzia added.
Smith was also a great storyteller. One of her favorites stories, Worthen said, was about a National Trust meeting in Charleston, S.C., which Smith attended years ago as one of Arkansas's first advisors to the trust. Smith met one of the advisors, from the North, at a genteel luncheon in which the table's centerpiece included cotton. “This,” Smith liked to recall the lady from the North saying, “I assume, is grits.”
The Territorial Fair starts at 10 a.m. and runs through 4 p.m. It will feature reenactors, the Arkansas Country Dance Society, a scavenger hunt around the “pARTy for Peg” pedestals, games and living history.
ArtWeek 10 kicks off at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 13, with food and drink and partying on the Junction Bridge. Twelve restaurants are participating; music will be provided by the Arkansas Symphony, Lealon Worrell and Steve Bates.
Wristbands will be issued at the Little Rock and North Little Rock entrances; the $20 entry will include food, wine and beer. More information about the 10-day visual and performing arts festival will be in next week's Times.
Its grand opening won't be until June, but Hearne Fine Art and Pyramid Framing is now open to the public at 1001 Wright Ave., across from the Sue Cowan Williams Library. Garbo and Archie Hearne built the gallery and Dr. Hearne's adjacent clinic space. The building also contains a Java Roasting coffee shop.
On exhibit are works by a number of artists, some with Arkansas ties — including silverpoint artist Marjorie Williams-Smith, sculptor Susan Williams, Ariston Jacks and Pine Bluff-born Kevin Cole of Atlanta — and national names, including Kennith Hum-phrey and Ernest Withers. The gallery is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday.
Hearne also offers a wide selection of books by African-American artists, including children's books.
As mentioned in the previous post about the new Arts Council director, which was prepared before the official announcement, the Department of Arkansas Heritage announced today that Missy McSwain, longtime director of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, has resigned. Her resignation takes effect March 15.
Check out the trailer for "Shelter," the Renaud Bros. new feature-length documentary about homeless teens navigating life on the streets of New Orleans with the help of Covenant House, the longstanding French Quarter shelter for homeless kids.
When President-elect Trump announced he would, in a few days, force Congress to enact comprehensive health insurance for everyone, poor or rich, that would provide better and cheaper care than they've ever gotten, you had to wonder whether this guy is a miracle worker or a fool.