20 years of indoor mural at Little Rock City Hall

On October 28, 1999, a mural was dedicated inside Little Rock City Hall.  Painted by artists Donald Gensler and Charlotte Allison, it was created to honor the City for its assistance in saving the Kramer School building.  As calendars everywhere were poised to turn from 1999 to 2000, it looked back to a time when the 20th Century was on the horizon.

Gensler and Allison drew inspiration for the mural from images they saw in old photographs. They were surprised to see photos of white and African American men working together at the original port of Little Rock which existed at La Petite Roche in what is now Riverfront Park. The photo was from the late 1800s before Jim Crow laws were fully enforced in Little Rock which separated the races more fully.

The only image in the mural that was not taken from an old photo is the mother holding the young baby. A fellow Kramer School resident and her young child posed for that photo. (Given that it was 20 years ago, that child is soon to be 21.)

At the dedication ceremony, held in Little Rock City Hall’s rotunda, Gensler and Allison as well as Mayor Jim Dailey spoke.   Joe Terry, a local actor and dancer who was also a Kramer School resident, sang “Old Man River” from Show Boat.

Gensler and Allison worked on the painting inside City Hall for a couple of weeks. They would often stop what they were doing to talk to City Hall employees and visitors to the building about the process of painting a mural.

While neither of the two artists currently live in Little Rock, a piece of them remains in this lasting tribute.

At the time, the Kramer School was serving as an artists cooperative.  While the building is no longer fulfilling that purpose, the efforts to make it thus saved it from a wrecking ball.  (The burgeoning effort of Artspace to create a live/work space in Little Rock would not repeat the Kramer School scenario because Artspace will maintain ownership of their facility guaranteeing its mission remains arts-based.)