2015 In Memoriam – Jim Porter

1515 Porter

In these final days of 2015, we pause to look back at 15 who influenced Little Rock’s cultural scene who left us in 2015.

Jim Porter, Jr., spent a lifetime promoting music in Little Rock.  Along the way, he created social change as well.

A native of Little Rock, he graduated from Little Rock High School and the University of Arkansas.  After college, Jim started out in the family businesses and tried to follow a “traditional” path that his father had paved for him. Working in sales and public relations, he became active doing volunteer work.  Jim realized that the “traditional” path was not for him, and while working in the family businesses, he started bringing in top name entertainers, many of them black, to perform in Little Rock. He was not a singer, nor did he play any instrument, but his love for music and all things connected to music led him towards his calling as an agent/manager and promoter of musicians.

As a promoter of national artists and bands, Jim ran into southern racism and segregation. The Central High crisis in 1957 caused many black artists to refuse to come to Little Rock, fearful for their safety. Jim was forced to concentrate more on booking and managing local musicians through what was at the time Arkansas’ only full time booking and talent agency, Consolidated Talent Corporation (later to become Porter Entertainment). During his booking career from the late 50’s until his retirement in 2001, Jim placed talent across Arkansas (and even in Las Vegas) at clubs, hotels, restaurants, and private functions- anywhere that people needed entertainment.

Jim saw first hand the inequities of black musicians in Arkansas, the separate and very unequal accommodations, and the segregated venues. Never giving up promoting national artists, the 60’s led him and his co-investors to bring in such national names (mostly jazz artists) such as Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Al Hirt, Pete Fountain, Woody Herman, the Four Freshman, Dave Brubeck, George Shearing, Harry James and others.

In 1961, he was arrested for integrating a concert at Robinson Auditorium. A white man, he had entered the segregated balcony.  Knowing the challenges of booking acts in a segregated house (indeed Duke Ellington would cancel his booking at Robinson), Porter had tried to get the facility to change its rules.  It was 1966, when Louis Armstrong returned to Little Rock and played before an integrated house that the new rules were here to stay.  In the early 1970s, he helped bring the musical Hair to Little Rock, with the specter of full nudity causing consternation to Robinson Auditorium and some of the citizenry.

Jim was inducted into the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame in 2005, and the Arkansas Jazz Heritage Foundation Hall of Fame in 2006. He was appointed to the Martin Luther King Commission in 2005 and entered politics to serve as a member of the Pulaski County Quorum Court from 1998 until 2006.

Always an entrepreneur, Jim also started MusAd Recording Studio, where commercial jingles were produced and bands could record demo tapes. The Hot Air Balloon Theatre (in the old Center Theatre on Main Street) was the site for G-movies and live entertainment for kids. The Yellow Rocket, an arcade in the “Heights” is still remembered by now middle-aged adults who spent afternoons and weekends feeding money into the game machines and eating snacks. Jim wrote several books, hosted TV shows (“After Five” and “Scene Around”) featuring restaurants, bars, clubs and their patrons and employees. He was featured on a weekly radio show about dining and entertainment, and wrote “Scene Around” columns and a dining and entertainment guide for the Arkansas Democrat.

Noon Year’s Countdown today from 9am to Noon at the Museum of Discovery

Let’s face it, it can be difficult for parents to stay up until midnight to celebrate the New Year! And you probably don’t want the kids to stay up that late, either.

This year, the Museum of Discovery offers “Noon Year’s Countdown” today from 9am until 12 noon!

Join them from 9 a.m. to noon for some fun hands-on activities that include: party hat decorations, kazoo making, straw streamer creations, clock making, clock take-aparts, chain reactions and a museum-wide countdown to noon!

Ring in the New Year in style, family style at the Museum of Discovery!

And be honest, by this point, you are ready to get out of the house!

2015 In Memoriam – Susan Purvis

1515 PurvisRemembering Susan Turner Purvis, Artist and Teacher – by Judy Baker Goss

From the bulletin, “A Service of Resurrection and Thanksgiving to God for Susan Turner Purvis:”

In our life there is a single color, as on an artist’s palette, which provides the meaning of life and art. It is the color of love. 

-Marc Chagall

On July 22, there were many reasons that an overflowing crowd filled the sanctuary of Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church to memorialize the radiant life of Susan Turner Purvis. I believe that her large heART was the root of them all. A native of Hope who lived in Little Rock over forty years, Susan’s love deeply touched family, friends, fellow teachers and artists, and students.

Fortunately, I knew Susan for half a century. We met as Hendrix freshmen living in Galloway Hall, where she was the ringleader for fun. Packed three girls to a room, we were the last class to endure Hendrix’s version of orientation “hazing.” When commanded, “Button, Freshman,” we fell to a knee in dresses, one hand touching beanie cap, and sounded off, “Good afternoon, Miss Jones, m’am, I’m freshman Susan Turner from Hope, Arkansas, m’am.”  An “upperclasswoman” told Susan and her roomies to “fly like birds” into the dining hall for supper, but Susan topped that comical idea. Looking adorably innocent, Susan’s impulses were extremely impish. She made bloody bandages from huge gauze pads dripping with red lipstick blood, which they taped to their knees. They boldly flapped in that evening, giggling in front of the astonished crowd! Wherever Susan went, there was laughter, and many anecdotes prove that she never sought sainthood. The blessings she showered on others, however, gave her the aura of cherished guardian angel.

Susan knew she was an artist in college, as I was stepping into theatre, and she always encouraged my dreams. We know this was her nature, too. During her twenty-eight year career as Art Specialist at Gibbs International Studies Magnet School, which she began with no classroom and, rather, one table and a box of Mardi Gras beads, she not only provided excellent art education, but she aligned her efforts with others, enhancing the creative potential of all.  Discovering that a former Gibbs custodian, Eddie Lee Kendrick, was a self-taught artist, she facilitated his joining her for a year at Gibbs and then co-curated a show of his work with the New Orleans Museum of Art and the Arkansas Arts Center. When she worked with a project of the Rockefeller Foundation, UALR and the Japanese-American Museum in Los Angeles dealing with the Japanese-Americans who were relocated during World War II, especially to the Arkansas camps at Jerome and Rowher, she co-wrote curriculum for social studies and art teachers based on those internees’ experiences. Her Gibbs students made a wonderful quilt reflecting their encounters with this curriculum. Susan brought people together to move forward, through art, to greater human understanding.

Her approach to learning always demonstrated curiosity and creativity, making something new from what was at hand. By no accident did her methods produce remarkable results time and again. Her students won many awards, some in the exclusive International Children’s Art Exhibition sponsored by Pentel.  In nineteen of the twenty-six years that Gibbs students’ work was accepted in the Young Arkansas Artists (YAA) exhibition through the Arkansas Arts Center, they won “Best in Class.” In 2015, Susan’s retirement year, two Gibbs group projects won awards. Also beloved by her professional peers, she was twice named Arkansas Elementary Art Educator of the Year and once as Arkansas Art Educator of the Year.

Bright and well-educated, Susan’s contributions were never limited to theory; her talented efforts blossomed through personal relationships: Susan provided her full self. She convinced students that they were artists by opening their hearts to believe it and coaxing their visions into art objects, the solid evidence. She presented core ideas which students could research and expand and for which they could imagine inclusive group participation to produce results. Their remarkable achievements sprang from authentic shared creativity. I agreed with Susan that there is no higher educational goal. The outpouring on Facebook by young adults whom Susan taught at Gibbs often referenced specific examples of her inspired teaching, which still nurtures them today.

One of my happiest memories of Susan is a joyful collaboration on a music and arts project with other young mothers at our church in 1986. We guided elementary students, including our children, to create their own Christmas pageant.  They wrote a script from Bible stories, selected songs, built props and acted the play in the sanctuary. Susan and I loved the children’s interpretations, especially their decision that someone should BE the star of Bethlehem, and “it should move.” With Susan’s direction, they created a stunning orb, which was carried atop a pole down the center aisle, one of the high points in “Starry, Starry Night.” Yes, think Van Gogh, too, for Susan added art history along the way. It’s apt to say we followed Susan, our star.

Time and again, I saw that Susan’s vision of the power of self-expression was all-encompassing. It mattered to her how others experience the world, and her empathy for them, especially for children, opened the heavens for us all.

Great grief pours from great joy and love, and though the light of her life will not fade, Susan is deeply missed in this community. I treasure reminders of Susan: the faces of her family and friends, the photos and stories we’ll share over and over, her voice in my mind’s ear, and her artist’s spirit tucked deep in my heart.

2015 In Memoriam – Fred Poe

1515 Poe

In these final days of 2015, we pause to look back at 15 who influenced Little Rock’s cultural scene who left us in 2015.

Fred Poe was a world traveler who spent his lifetime sharing his love of travel with others.

Poe’s first solo trip at age nine on the Rock Island’s “Doodlebug” from Little Rock to El Dorado, Poe visited 168 countries (a country being defined as one which issues its own postage stamps) include such arcane destinations as Tristan da Cunha, the Faroe Islands, Afghanistan’s Wakkan Corridor and Upland Togo. Poe Travel was the first American travel agency to arrange tourist travel to the Peoples’ Republic of China as that nation’s Cultural Revolution wound down with son Tony Poe led an early group of Americans to North Korea. He loved automobile trips and drove in each of the 50 states and every province and territory of Canada save Nunavut which he visited only by air.

After growing up in Little Rock, he graduated from Vanderbilt University where he wrote the college musical comedy. Upon graduation he moved to San Francisco becoming part of the Beatnik subculture and playing ragtime and jazz piano in clubs. Drafted, he served as a translator in Germany in the US Forces and did graduate work at Mainz University in Eastern European History. In 1961, he opened Poe Travel in Little Rock, likely the youngest travel agency owner in the US at the time.  The firm continues today.

Poe was active in the Civil Rights Struggle among other accomplishments having sat-in at the Memphis Airport Restaurant which resulted in its racial integration. He is a member of the ACLU, a former president of the Little Rock SKAL club made up of travel professionals and was a lifetime member of the Country Club of Little Rock. As a travel writer he enjoyed great success in local publications, published at Bicentennial Guide to the USA for the German speaking market and was frequently quoted in such publications as The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Travel and Leisure, and Conde Nast Traveler.  He was a serious scholar with a fine library on the subject of the Nazi Holocaust and a dedicated art collector with especially significant items from the Russian Avant Garde and 20th Century Austrian schools.

With Jeane Hamilton, he led Arkansas Arts Center patrons on many trips including to China, Egypt and Cuba.  Just weeks before he died, he was in the front row at the Clinton School as Jeane Hamilton and Skip Rutherford discussed her lifetime support of the Arts Center. Jeane often referred to Fred in to fact check when they discussing some of the travel seminars.


2015 In Memoriam – Helen Caruthers

1515 CaruthersHelen Caruthers loved classical music. It was one of her life’s callings. (Another was being devoted to her family.)  After graduating with a degree in Music Education from Mississippi State College for Women, she was a music educator the rest of her life.

She was involved in music teaching and performing in Tennessee, Georgia and Colorado before arriving in Little Rock in 1977.  Once she arrived in Arkansas, she made her mark here. As someone who had served as a church organist and sung in many church choirs, it was no surprise that she created and led the children’s choir at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church.

But liturgical music was not her only interest.  She was interested in many kinds of music, but especially classical.  She taught piano to several generations of students. Along the way, she instilled other lessons into the students such as the value of practice, concentration, diligence and doing your best.

Helen was a tireless volunteer for the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, the Arkansas Chamber Singers, the Little Rock Musical Coterie, and countless other musical organizations. She was also a member of the Aesthetic Club. She pursued all these endeavors with a gentle voice and a graceful poise that charmed all who knew her.  Even as she endured a six year battle with ovarian cancer, she would attend as many musical events as possible to show support for the musicians and to enjoy the music.

The photo on the right (which was used for her obituary) captures the essence of Helen Caruthers. She holds a musical score in her hands, while pausing by the door with purse and keys. She is either on her way out or on her way back, but in either case – you can tell she was a woman on a mission. But she also is glad to pause for a second to smile graciously and gracefully for the camera. It is helpful to remember to take those pauses in life.  Much like in a musical score, rests are essential to help us enjoy the rest of the music.

15 Highlights of 2015 – Ark Rep opens new performance space

Rep Black Box interiorThe Arkansas Repertory Theatre opened its new education and black box performance space in the summer of 2015.  Located in the 500 block of Main Street on the Creative Corridor, it also serves as additional rehearsal space for The Rep.

The Rep’s youth education programs have been limited by the available performance and rehearsal options the Rep previously had. It was fitting, that this space was opened with one of the Rep’s Summer Musical Theatre Intensive’s (SMTI) productions.  The Maurice Sendak-Carole King musical Really Rosie was performed by two different casts in the summer.  The performances, directed by Rep audience favorite Ethan Paulini, was the culmination of a two week workshop training for preteen students.  (At the same time, across the street in the Rep’s main building, older students were preparing for two different productions of Once on This Island.)

In September, during ACANSA, the Rep hosted a performance of Jason O’Connell in his autobiographical one-man play The Dork Knight.

The space will allow the Rep to not only showcase educational performances, but to produce plays in a black box setting.

2015 In Memoriam – “Miss Polly” Loibner

1515 Loibner

In these final days of 2015, we pause to look back at 15 who influenced Little Rock’s cultural scene who left us in 2015.

“Miss Polly” Loibner taught Arkansas how to draw!

In the late ’60s, when television in the schools was almost unheard of, the Arkansas Education Television Network sought an art educator to teach elementary-age children across the state via the airwaves, and Frances Pauline “Polly” Loibner took the job.

Using her signature puppets, became THE elementary art teacher for most Arkansans, producing 13 art series for AETN, including “Polly’s Paintbox,” “Everyday Artist,” “Art Parade,” “Sketch Pad,” and “Gazebo.” She did not talk down to kids, but she DID break artistic tasks down into smaller sections to make things easier to do.

Following her 14 years on AETN, Loibner became artist-in-residence for Russellville Public Schools.  Later, she and her husband opened Vango Galleries, billed “a home of fine arts and creative framing,” in Russellville.

Not just a talented teacher, she was also a talented artist. She liked to work in charcoal, pastels, ink and dry brush, acrylics, paints, mixed media and oils.

“I love the drama of nature and I am very happy painting in the open, surrounded by beauty, smells, sounds and feelings,” Loibner to University of the Ozarks when she was a featured artist. “Sometimes the finished painting is an impression of the moment; other times the painting is more abstract. There are times my work shows the struggle; others show the flow of feelings through the brush stroke and the excitement of colors, more real than real. There is no better life on this earth than painting.”

A graduate of University of Central Arkansas, Loibner has won numerous honors and recognition for her work, including Best-In-Show and first place in the contemporary category in the annual Grand Prairie Festival of Arts. Her paintings are in numerous public and private collections throughout Arkansas, as well as in many other states and Mexico.

Loibner was an active member of Mid-Southern Watercolor Society, Southern Watercolor Society, Arkansas League of Artists, National Art Education Association, Arkansas River Valley Art Center, Arkansas Education Association, ART of Russellville, AR Retired Teachers Association and Puppeteers of America.