May 11, Wildwood Park for the Performing Arts

A picture-perfect spring day accompanied Wildwood Park's Blooms festival. The two-day event ushered in the season with a celebration of the arts and the outdoors along 104 acres of woodlands, gardens and walking trails.

Live music, from Old School Bluegrass Band to the Arkansas Brass Quintet, trickled into the air the whole day through. Vendors dotted the Richard C. Butler Arboretum, selling flowers and water garden plants. High tea was served beneath a canopy beside Swan Lake. A host of activities for both children and adults were scheduled throughout the grounds.

This festivalgoer, however, had a hard time pinning down events she wanted to attend. Walking into Hunter Wildflower Glen, where an actor reading Beatrix Potter's works was slated to appear in costume depicting the author's characters, I found nothing but the quiet loveliness of an untamed garden. The event had moved, I later learned, due to an infestation of poison ivy, but nowhere was this change noted. The Pinocchio Opera was canceled after the wind took down its set. And the UALR Opera simply never materialized, much to the disappointment of several other attendees.

The natural beauty of water and wildflower gardens served as compensation for the event mishaps.

Crowning the festival this year was the production of new Wildwood director Cliff Fannin Baker's “The Bottle Tree,” a blend of monologues and music chronicling the first hundred years of Arkansas' first ladies. The cast of women portrayed the wives of various Arkansas governors, from territorial days, through the Civil War and into the Great Depression. Former Sen. and Gov. David Pryor, standing at the rear of the stage, contributed to the narration of the story.  The story followed the first lady's changing role – from early days, when governors felt Arkansas too hostile an environment for a lady to live in, to later days when wives stepped into active roles, equipped with a full staff of their own.

The setting was sparse: a dark stage lit with spotlights, a small band playing the musical score, and several bottle tree sculptures, inspired by first lady Barbara Pryor's addition to the mansion, planted across the stage. The bottle trees symbolized the historical record that preserves, in their glass leaves, the highs and lows of each governor's term.


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