2016 marks the 75th diamond anniversary of the Historic Arkansas Museum. Just below the southern bank of the Arkansas River, in the oldest part of Little Rock, Arkansas, it shows daily life in the 1800's. Alternating among its five historically-preserved buildings and grounds, the museum's dedicated re-enactors bring Arkansas' frontier history to life.
The Historic Arkansas Museum is acclaimed for its sensitive portrayal of Arkansas' Indian heritage, for its breadth and scholarship in Arkansas artifacts and textiles, for its outreach to schools and inter-active teaching, and for its showcasing of Arkansas artists, musicians, and craftsmen. The museum regularly has cultural and historic programs to demonstrate all things Arkansas.
Photo: Photo: Historic Arkansas Museum
»The Historic Arkansas Museum History
The Museum owes a great debt to three exemplary Arkansas women. The first was Louise Watkins Loughborough, who, in 1939, saw the worth of a group of neglected, dilapidated houses on Block 32 of the Capital City, and endeavored to lobby the Arkansas Legislature for the funds to restore and preserve them.
These buildings were not just any buildings. The Hinderliter Grog Shop is the oldest building left standing in Little Rock. Another, the Woodruff Print Shop, printed the Arkansas Gazette in the 1820's and 30's, the oldest newspaper west of the Mississippi.
Loughborough's efforts brought about the Arkansas Territorial Restoration, as the museum was then named, and opened its doors for the first time in July of 1941. For the next 30 years, Louise Loughborough directed the Territorial Restoration, and, with the aid of architects and preservationists, added to the historical accuracy, vibrancy and usefulness of the buildings today.
The opening of the Museum showcased textiles and furnishings of the 1800's, and was significant for bringing two other feminine benefactors to the Museum. The first, Peg Newton Smith, volunteered, in costume, on the museum's opening day, and became a life-long volunteer and commissioner of the Museum. Along the way, Peg Newton put her love of the arts and her love of Arkansas into her vision for the future of what the museum was to become, and thanks to her, very early on, a separate gallery was set aside for showcasing Arkansas art. Peg loved Arkansas artists and artisans and believed that the museum could offer major support for the artistic communities in the state. She endeavored tirelessly on their behalf, so that now many hundreds of contemporary Arkansas artists have exhibited at HAM. The Museum Store, replete with crafts from all over the State, was also her brainchild, another vehicle for artists and artisans to display their work and to get paid for doing it. In her honor, a large sculpture was commissioned to express Peg's spirit, called ‘ pARTty for Peg', by Arkansas artist Alice Guffrey Miller.
On opening day in 1941, another young woman arrived to volunteer at the museum, and soon she and Peg Newton Smith became life-long friends and collaborators. Mary Sandlin Fletcher Worthen, for the next 70 plus years, added her considerable energy and talents to the museum. Besides an abiding love of history, she added her love for music, art and gardening. The medicinal herb garden at the Homestead is now named in her honor. Her son, Bill Worthen , will retire at the end of 2016 after 44 years as the museum's director. In his honor, the Bill Worthen Future of History Fund has been established, dedicated to "inspiring the Next Gener- ation of Arkansas History Lovers." The Worthens, together, encompass the museum's entire 75 year history, and are a testament to the love and esteem that many in Little Rock hold for this museum and its legacy.
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The permanent collections are comprised of: Arkansas Made, The Knife Gallery, We Walk in Two Worlds, pARTy for Peg, and the five historic homes and their grounds.
The seven galleries of Arkansas Made, comprised of art and artifacts, is considered the state's premier collector of Arkansas-made decorative, fine, and mechanical arts, and seeking out the art in everyday objects made in Arkansas, which reflect the artistry, craftsmanship, creativity and vision of Arkansans.
Photographs, pottery, quilts, furniture, furnishings, jewelry and paintings-from 1850's cabinetry to 20th century baskets- strive to reflect the lives and loves of Arkansans from the early 1800's to the present.
To this end, the staff of the Historic Arkansas Museum has spent decades combing census records and newspapers to identify artisans, silversmiths, cabinet makers and portraitists, and more. They have travelled the state, looking for these 19th century works. Some have been added to the collections. Others have been documented. All have added to the understanding of Arkansas history and its sensibilities.
This research has culminated in the first two of a four volume set called "Arkansas Made: A survey of the Decorative, Mechanical and Fine Arts Produced in Arkansas, 1819-1870", and was published in 1990 and 1991 by the University of Arkansas Press. The 3rd and 4th volumes will comprise the 20th century.
We Walk in Two Worlds
This exhibit speaks to the history of the first inhabitants of Arkansas, the Caddo, Osage and Quapaw Indians. Their history is told through artifacts and research. About 160 objects of pottery, clothing and weapons are on display. There are six thematic areas, arranged chronologically. Included are passages of research from historians, archeologists and ethnographers.
During the two years preceding the exhibit, tribal members from each of the three tribes were extensively interviewed. Their voices come through the exhibit, educating and guiding visitors by their experiences and thought. This exhibit thus allows the museum to share a broader understanding of frontier life in Arkansas in the 1800's. To this end, the museum has developed related programming for all the school children of Arkansas, and the museum brings guest speakers and artists relating to the exhibits to the community at large.
More than a hundred knives are showcased in this exhibit, many from the antebellum period, of various sizes and shapes, many with ornate markings. The Bowie knife, considered Arkansas' most famous knife, was named after Jim Bowie. The exhibit includes the history and art of blacksmithing, as well as that of bladesmithing.
Jim Bowie became famous for his knife-fighting abilities in 1827. James Black, a blacksmith from Washington, Arkansas, made one, and possibly, two knives for Jim Bowie, thought to be in the collection. At the time of Bowie's death in 1836, at the Alamo, the bowie knife was well-established as a form of self-defense against the swords of the day.
Arkansas was the western frontier in the 1820's, as the bowie knife first made its appearance. But, by the time the Civil War came, bayonets, rifles and revolvers diminished its usefulness.
pARTy for Peg
This exuberant, large white aluminum sculpture, made by Alice Guffrey Miller in 2010, to commemorate Peg Newton Smith's innumerable contributions, was made as a permanent exhibit to the north plaza of the main building of the museum. In this sculpture, square dancers and a fiddler, with Peg , are all dancing together. Visitors are invited to walk or dance among them. The artist asked for objects from all of Arkansas' 75 counties. Receiving them, she imbedding them into the sculpture's pedestals. Photo:
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»Historic Houses at the Museum
Five historical houses comprise the offerings at the Historic Arkansas Museum. Four of them were restored where they sit and one was transplanted from 20 miles away. All these properties are shown daily, on an alternating basis, as part of the museum's commitment to show Arkansas history as an interactive experience. The museum maintains a full-time bladesmith, who makes nails, horse shoes, knives and farm equipment at the blacksmith shop in the Homestead, (opened in 2011). Everything made and used here is original to the period. Living history is a big part of what makes the Historic Arkansas Museum unique in its desire to bring Arkansas history alive for everyone.
Woodruff Print Shop (1824)
William Woodruff moved to Arkansas from New York in 1819, and began printing the Arkansas Gazette, the territory's first newspaper. When Little Rock became the first territorial capital in 1821, he moved there, and for three years, from 1824-1827, he lived and worked from what has become one of the highlights of the museum. Inside this structure, meticulously reconstructed in 2010, are some of the original furnishings and a replica of the Ramage press that he brought with him to Arkansas by keelboat. The medicinal herb garden, dedicated to Mary Worthen, is comprised of native and imported plants, used by Native Americans and by the settlers for healing. It is maintained by the Arkansas Chapter of the Herb Society of America.
Plum Bayou Log House
In 1856, the house was found abandoned and in great disrepair by the Pemberton family, which repaired it when they first moved from North Carolina to Arkansas. Logs from ancient cypress were used, and the chimneys were made of brick. The house was moved 20 miles in the 1970's, to its current location on the northern side of the museum.
This was the Pemberton family's main house, and it's next to the log house, their original home. This is a working farm; it has a barn, a slave cabin, privy, smokehouse, blacksmith shop and raised garden beds. The Farmstead was home not only to the Pembertons, but to their slave, John Perry and his wife and two children. After the War, the Perrys elected to stay, becoming prosperous as farmers. The Farmstead is surrounded by a snake rail fence, common in the 1850's, added in 2005 to the property, as were the gardens and two log structures.
McVicar House - late 1840's
Built of white oak logs and square pegs, James McVicar built this wooden house, on the same block that his friend, Robert Brownlee, built his brick home. Both homes follow the symmetrical 1840's style with a large central hallway, bordered by two rooms of equal size. McVicar was single, ran the local penitentiary, owned slaves, was a Mason and a veteran of the Mexican War. He and his friend Brownlee left in 1849 to try their luck in California's Gold Rush. Later, McVicar returned to Little Rock, and married.
Hinderliter Grog Shop (1820's)
This building was made of logs in the mid 1820's by Jesse Hinderliter, and it served as both his home and business. With him lived his wife and two slaves, until 1834. Folklore says it is where the last meeting of the territorial legislature took place in 1835. The grog shop was made of red oak logs and of cypress flooring. It had a hand-carved federal mantel.
Robert Brownlee House
This federal brick house was built by Robert Brownlee in the late 1840's for his brother and sister-in-law. Brownlee was a Scottish stonemason, who moved to Little Rock in 1837 to help build the State House (now the Old State House Museum). Brownlee left for the California Gold Rush with his friend James McVicar in 1849. Photo:
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»Current & Past Exhibits
Current exhibits vary in length from 2-3 months to a year's length. There is always an exhibit of current Arkansas art and interactive exhibits at the Sturgis Children's Gallery. Many current exhibits are showcased in 2nd Fridays, which spotlights a new exhibit every 2nd Friday of the month, usually with an Arkansas band or other musical entertainment, and often showcasing a different Arkansas brewery. Of the four current exhibits listed, only the Nilook Art Pottery did not receive a 2nd Friday celebration.
A DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH: 75 YEARS OF HISTORIC ARKANSAS MUSEUM
This exhibit was made to commemorate the museum's diamond anniversary. It is comprised of photos, stories and events, including the re-enactment of Louise Loughborough going before the Arkansas Assembly making her case to preserve and renovate the four buildings that eventually became part of the Historic Arkansas Museum. This exhibit will be carried into 2017.
THE HOUSE OF LIGHT
Hugo and Gayne Preller met in 1892, and shortly got married. He was 27; she was 16. They were both artists. Starting in 1898, the Prellers lived on a houseboat, where Gayne created a photographic studio. Spending a couple of years at the mouth of the Wolf River, near Memphis, then weeks at other river towns, they eventually ended up in Augusta, Arkansas, where the Prellers remained for the rest of their lives. Taking photos of all the people she met, at her houseboat studio, more than 2,500 studio portraits remain. It is said that these photographs make up the greatest collection of its kind of the Arkansas Delta at the turn of the century. These photos were stored by Gayne Preller Schmidt, Gayne's granddaughter, for decades in an attic, and many were in disrepair. White River photographer, Chris Enghorn, learned of the Prellers in 2013, and set about to find the photographs in order to preserve them.
This exhibit includes many photographic portraits, several of Hugo Preller's shell paintings, and many of Gayne's photographic brooches. At the opening of the exhibition, Chris Enghorn was in attendance, as was Gayne Preller Schmidt. Music was provided by the Cons of Formant and the Arkansas-made beer was provided by Core Brewing.
NILOOK ART POTTERY
Nilook is a line of American art pottery, produced in Benton, Arkansas, from 1909 to 1946.
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Historic Arkansas Museum in Little Rock, Arkansas
ROBERT LEMMING & LOUIS WATTS
This exhibit in the Trinity Gallery for Arkansas Artists is an excellent example of the eclectic and varied offerings in this almost limitless genre of Arkansas artists and artistry.
Robert Lemming's pieces are inspired by burrowing arthropods as they burrow along the ocean floor, looking for food. Millions of years ago, these pathways were fossilized, and in 2011. Robert Lemming found these remains in the gullies and bluff shelters of northern Arkansas. Lemming frequently uses hot glue, epoxy, acrylic, and foam insulation to retrace the steps of these prehistoric creatures.
Arkansas native Louis Watts currently lives in North Carolina, where he makes large abstract drawings. His meticulous geographic drawings explore the formal elements of repetition and scale, recalling the "golden ratio" of mathematical beauty.
Hundreds of artists have exhibited their work since the museum opened, and they are as eclectic and varied as the artists themselves.
Some recent exhibits include: The Great Arkansas Quilt Show; Neal Harrington & David Carpenter (Harrington produces large-scale woodcuts. Carpenter is a sculptor); Jack Kenner and Ed Pennebaker : Disciplined Inspiration ( the black and white photography of Kenner and the art glass and sculpture by Pennebaker); Patterns from the Ozarks: Contemporary Ceramics, Quilts and Folk Art Painting in Arkansas; Women Artists in Arkansas; Purse & the Person: A Century of Women's Purses.
Two past favorites: Treasures of Arkansas Freemasons, 1838-2013, celebrates the 175th anniversary of the Grand Lodge of Arkansas, and features George Washington's family bible. George Washington's Inaugural Bible was on loan from St. John's Lodge, No. 1. When George Washington took the oath of office to become the first president of the United States, in April of 1789 in New York, no bible was available, so one was provided by a fellow Mason, and this bible has served in the inaugural ceremonies of several presidents since: Harding, Eisenhower, Carter and George H.W. Bush.
Reel to Real- From the Shaw - Tumblin Gone With the Wind Collection : Jim Tumblin, internationally known for his one-of-a-kind Gone With the Wind memorabilia, shows the Reel portion of the exhibit, including Janet Leigh's Oscar. Film director William Cameron Menzies shows the Real side of Arkansas during the Civil War. Extensive information is offered on the Real side. For example, while there were 335 thousand people in Arkansas during the time of succession, only 11 thousand owned slaves. Forty years earlier, there were less than half that number, yet, Arkansas voted for succession from the Union. 80 thousand men entered that conflict, 70 thousand on the Southern side and 9 thousand on the North's.
ONGOING PROGRAMS AND EDUCATION
Annual Territorial Fair
This, the 75th anniversary of the museum and, the 43rd Annual Territorial Fair includes many of its annual events: living history performances ( this year including Louise Loughborough petitioning the Arkansas legislature to renovate and protect the buildings which now comprise the museum), blacksmith presentations ( this year, 5,000 pounds of coal shipped in from West Virginia for that purpose), historical dances and games on the grounds. This year, Kate Askew, of YellaDog Press, will operate a press in the Woodruff Print Shop, and she will discuss the history of printing. Children will be able to pan for gold, make cards, and can often watch beekeepers tend their hives, learn to start a fire with a bow, see how candles are made, or learn to walk on stilts. The Arkansas Country Dance Society will lead guests in historical dances, and in the use of a maypole. This is a much-anticipated family event in Little Rock every year.
Frontier Fourth of July
Independence Day on the frontier is celebrated by cold lemonade and watermelon, with period music, living history performances, crafts, and a reading of the Declaration of Independence.
Big Boo!-seum Bash
Halloween brings a haunted look into the Historic Arkansas Museum. Bring a bucket for free treats.
Field Trip Programs
Educators from across the state, enjoy using our many tools which makes bringing their classes to us a pleasure for all concerned. Annual programs and field trips are divided in increments of three: grades K - 3rd; 4th - 6th grade, and 7th - 12th grade. Field trips are available for every age group.
Pioneer Day Camp
A week-long summer camp, divided into two age groups. 1st Session: Rising 3rd and 4th graders Second Session Rising 5th and 6th graders. The fees are very affordable. Through interactive activities, such as building a log cabin, and special guests, day campers learn about Arkansas history during the 1800s.
Loan Boxes can be borrowed at no charge for a week at a time. They can also be sent to any school in Arkansas, being reserved for a week or more, depending upon location. Each of the ten boxes has a different theme. Each box contains reproduced objects to use to better understand pioneer living. Written materials and books expand the topic.
Chapters in Arkansas History is a series of educational materials produced by the Historic Arkansas Museum, made especially for the use of Arkansas teachers and students. Each chapter introduces a new subject. The topic is then explored through historical fiction, film clips, illustrations, queries, and proposed activities. Teacher assessments and bibliographies come with the series. There are eleven subjects to choose from.
Historic Arkansas Museum has ADE accredited hours which can be made available to teachers in the State. A group with a minimum of ten participants can be booked to come to the museum, or to invite a HAM staff member to their school. Whether the emphasis is on teaching history at the museum or at another location, the goal is to engage with artifacts and stories that bring Arkansas history to the forefront. The one to two hour sessions are free, and the museum can accommodate from 10 to 45 teachers per session.
Arkansas Living Treasure Film Project
For 40 years, through Arkansas Made, HAM has consistently documented, amassed and preserved the work of Arkansas artisans who resided and worked in the state from the early 19th century to today. Collaboration between the Arkansas Arts Council and Historic Arkansas Museum produced a series of short films sharing the lives and work of each Arkansas Living Treasure. The Arkansas Made research teamed with area filmmakers to produce these films, making this the only statewide program to honor Arkansans in the visual arts field.
SURROUNDING ATTRACTIONS AND TRANSPORTATION
Getting to the museum is a pleasure: The trolley arrives to the grounds at the River Rail Trolley Stop on 2nd Street, next to the Homestead, and the bus to the south side, next to the main building on 3nd Street. The museum is surrounded by dozens of hotels, restaurants, pubs, attractions and museums.
There are numerous walking trails and local and State parks nearby. It is easy to get to the museum by bicycle, and the entire area can be arrived to by the Arkansas River Trail, just beyond the museum. One can continue on bicycle to local interests like Heifer Village and Ten Thousand Villages, two philanthropic organizations with inspiring histories, just to the east, and to the Clinton Library and Museum, just beyond. The Museum of Discovery, another interactive experience tailor-made for children of all ages, is close by as are literally dozens of choices, like the Old State House Museum, the original state capital building, the Purse Museum, the first of its kind in the US, and the Arkansas Arts Center, a close collaborator and ally in artistic projects to the Historical Arkansas Museum.
200 E 3rd St, Little Rock, AR 72201, website, Phone: 501-324-9351
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