Little Rock Look Back: Fine Arts Club opens first public art gallery in Arkansas

Pulaski County Courthouse, site of Fine Arts Club first gallery

On Tuesday, May 15, 1928, the Fine Arts Club opened an art gallery on the fourth floor of the Pulaski County Courthouse. This was the first step toward their dream of creating a visual arts museum.

County Judge C. P. Newton identified space within the Courthouse for the gallery.  It opened with works by 40 Arkansas artists and fifteen from outside of the state. The collection was mainly watercolors and oil paintings.

Judge Newton spoke at the dedication ceremony. Other speakers were Fred W. Allsopp, representing the Fine Arts Club and Janet Hempstead Pierce (making historical remarks prepared by her father, Fay Hempstead, who was unable to attend).

Berta Hamilton Baird, president of the Fine Arts Club presided over the event and also made remarks about May Danaher, the founder of the club. Musical entertainment was provided by Alma Colgan, Toistine Haley, sisters Grace and Elizabeth Schaer, Margaret Farrior, and Lucile Owens.

Among those helping Mrs. Baird and Miss Danaher plan the event were Eula Terral (former First Lady of Arkansas), Mary Chapple Allsopp, Frances Edmonson Almand, Jennie Holmes Tillar, Louise Loughborough, Jean Hollenberg, and Dilla Horrocks among others.

The gallery was open from 2pm to 5:30pm on weekdays.

Seven Mays later, plans were authorized by the City of Little Rock to construct the Museum of Fine Arts in City Park.  In May 1961, the plans were unveiled for the new Arkansas Arts Center (incorporating the existing Museum of Fine Arts building).  Now, 91 years later, the Arkansas Arts Center is preparing for an even bigger future.

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Little Rock Look Back: First night of first TABRIZ

After over a decade of the Beaux Arts Bal (it was spelled the French way with only one “L”), a change was afoot in 1971. Because of the need to raise more money for the Arkansas Arts Center, the Fine Arts Club decided to replace their evening of dining and dancing with an auction event.

While there had undoubtedly been thrift sales and small-scale bidding on items to raise money in Little Rock, this effort would be the first large-scale endeavor to use an auction as part of a fundraiser.   In order to maximize the fundraising potential, it was decided this would be a two-night event. The first night (Friday, February 12) would be casual with a silent auction while the second (Saturday, February 13) would be formal.

There were two major reasons the Fine Arts Club needed to raise more money.  The National Endowment for the Arts had issued the Arts Center a challenge grant which required a $10,000 match. In addition, the Arkansas Arts Center was trying to build up an endowment for future purchases.  (This was less than three years after the facility had been faced with closing its doors.)

The name Tabriz was chosen because it was the name of a cultural city in the Mideast known for its marketplace.  The first edition had the tagline of “A Persian Market of All Things.”

The logo was designed by Jim Johnson of the firm then-known as Cranford/Johnson Associates. The decorations echoed the exotic theme employing palm trees, ferns, ceramic elephants, paisley fabric swaths, and turbans.

Among those working on the first Tabriz were Jane McGehee Wilson, Betty Mitchell, Betty Terry, Frances Cranford, Feetie Hurst, Tina Poe, Annette Connaway, Willie Oates, Phyllis Brandon, Jane Wolfe, and Mary Worthen.

Over 650 people attended the Friday night event. Admission of $5 provided sandwiches (conflicting newspaper accounts indicate either coldcut sandwiches or hot dogs) and beer.  Mixed drinks were an additional $1.

Newspaper coverage indicated that men wore “sports outfits,” suits without ties, or colorful parkas. It attracted men with “longhair and beards” and “conventional haircuts.” (Depending on who the writer was, “longhair” could have meant anything over one inch.)  The women that Friday favored maxi or midi skirts. There were no mini skirts on hand, but a Gazette reporter noted that some women were wearing hot pants which might make a mini skirt look long.

Music was provided by the trio of Tom, Jerry, and Barbara.

Because a Silent Auction was such a new thing, newspaper coverage pointed out that the rooms were actually quite full of sound as people chatted with each other both about bidding on the items and socializing in general.

To give people a preview of the auction items, the Arts Center galleries had been opened for viewing on the Sunday and Monday prior to the Friday and Saturday events.  An auction catalog was also available for pickup in advance of Friday.

Among the items up for bid were tennis and golf lessons, visits to beauty salons, credit at a pharmacy, a tour of the Municipal Courts building and lunch with city prisoners, a tour of the Little Rock Zoo, jewelry, artwork, tickets to Razorback games, a football jersey worn by Lance Alworth, a week in Las Vegas (one of only three items with a minimum bid), and a subscription to an answering service.

When all was said and done, the evening raised $9,500 for the Arkansas Arts Center.

Little Rock Look Back: Open House Gala for Museum of Fine Arts

On Tuesday, October 5, 1937, the Fine Arts Club of Little Rock held its first meeting in the new Museum of Fine Arts.  But it was not a typical meeting. It was an Open House and Dedication for the new building.

Construction on the 10,140 square foot building had commenced with the January 3, 1936, groundbreaking.  By September 1937, the keys were presented to the City, marking the end of the construction process.

During the October 5 events, a letter of congratulations was read by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and WPA Administrator Harry L. Hopkins.  A letter which had been prepared by Sen Joe T. Robinson prior to his death was also read.  Mayor R. E. Overman, architect H. Ray Burks, and Fred W. Allsopp spoke at the event.  The latter was chair of the museum’s board.  Over 1,000 people were in attendance. At the time the city’s population was around 87,000.

The museum officially opened its doors to the public on October 28, 1937.  Nettie L. Robinson, a longtime member of the Fine Arts Club, was its first director and would serve in that capacity for two decades.

The original facade of the Museum can still be seen inside the Arkansas Arts Center.  Once the expansion and renovation of that building is complete in 2022, the original entrance will be highlighted even more with the new design.

 

Little Rock Look Back: 1961 Groundbreaking for Arkansas Arts Center

On a warm Sunday afternoon, ten golden shovels turned dirt to mark the start of construction for the new Arkansas Arts Center.  The activity followed a series of speeches that day, August 20, 1961.

The speakers and dignitaries sat on the front portico of the original Museum of Fine Arts in MacArthur Park. That building would be incorporated into the new structure.

Among those who took part in the speeches and groundbreaking were Winthrop Rockefeller, Jeannette Edris Rockefeller, Gov. Orval Faubus, Congressman Dale Alford, and Little Rock Mayor Werner Knoop.

The efforts to create the Arkansas Arts Center started in the mid-1950s when the Junior League of Little Rock started an effort to establish a new art museum.  Next, the business community founded a Committee for a Center of Art and Science to accept funds donated.

When a suitable location within Little Rock could not be found, the decision was made to join with the Fine Arts Club and the Museum of Fine Arts.  Under the leadership of the Rockefellers, the drive to form the Arkansas Arts Center was launched. In September 1960, the City of Little Rock formally established the Arkansas Arts Center.

Little Rock Look Back: Opening of the Arkansas Arts Center!

On Saturday, May 18, 1963, amidst fanfare and fans of the arts, the Arkansas Arts Center officially opened its doors.  (This was thirty-five years and three days after the Fine Arts Club had opened the first permanent art gallery in Arkansas in the Pulaski County Courthouse).

The dedication ceremonies on May 18 featured U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright (who was in the midst of championing what would soon be known as the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts), Congressman Wilbur Mills, Governor Orval Faubus, Little Rock Mayor Byron Morse, Winthrop Rockefeller and Jeanette Rockefeller.

On Friday, May 17, 1963, film star Gordon MacRae performed two separate concerts in the theatre space.  There were other assorted small events and tours on May 16 and 17.

The culmination of the weekend was the Beaux Arts Bal.  This black tie event, featured Oscar winner Joan Fontaine, cartoonist Charles Addams (creator of The Addams Family), James Rorimer of the Metropolitan Museum, and Dave Brubeck.  Chaired by Jeane Hamilton, the event set a new standard for events in Little Rock.

Among the exhibits at the Arkansas Arts Center for the grand opening was a special exhibit from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York entitled Five Centuries of European Painting.  In Little Rock for six months, this exhibit featured works by El Greco, Titian, Claude Monet, Odilon Redon, Pierre Renoir, Paul Signac, Edgar Degas, and Paul Gauguin among many others and spanned from the fifteenth century Early Renaissance era to the nineteenth century.

Prior to the opening, a profile on the Arts Center in The Christian Science Monitor touted the building as one of the first regional arts centers in the country to be completed. Benefiting from national ties of the Rockefeller family, the events in May 1963, set a high standard for the institution, and for other regional art museums.

Arkansas Heritage Month – Celebrities and Celebrations open Arkansas Arts Center on May 18, 1963

AAC opening programOn Saturday, May 18, 1963, amidst fanfare and fans of the arts, the Arkansas Arts Center officially opened its doors.  (This was thirty-five years and three days after the Fine Arts Club had opened the first permanent art gallery in Arkansas in the Pulaski County Courthouse).

The dedication ceremonies on May 18 featured U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright (who was in the midst of championing what would soon be known as the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts), Congressman Wilbur Mills, Governor Orval Faubus, Little Rock Mayor Byron Morse, Winthrop Rockefeller and Jeanette Rockefeller.

On Friday, May 17, 1963, film star Gordon MacRae performed two separate concerts in the theatre space.  There were other assorted small events and tours on May 16 and 17.

The culmination of the weekend was the Beaux Arts Bal.  This black tie event, featured Oscar winner Joan Fontaine, cartoonist Charles Addams (creator of The Addams Family), James Rorimer of the Metropolitan Museum, and Dave Brubeck.  Chaired by Jeane Hamilton, the event set a new standard for events in Little Rock.

Among the exhibits at the Arkansas Arts Center for the grand opening was a special exhibit from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York entitled Five Centuries of European Painting.  In Little Rock for six months, this exhibit featured works by El Greco, Titian, Claude Monet, Odilon Redon, Pierre Renoir, Paul Signac, Edgar Degas, and Paul Gauguin among many others and spanned from the fifteenth century Early Renaissance era to the nineteenth century.

Prior to the opening, a profile on the Arts Center in The Christian Science Monitor touted the building as one of the first regional arts centers in the country to be completed. Benefiting from national ties of the Rockefeller family, the events in May 1963, set a high standard for the institution, and for other regional art museums.

Art+History Throwback Thursday: Museum of Fine Arts

MFA postcardOn February 9, Little Rock voters will have the chance to say Yes to improving the Arkansas Arts Center, MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History and MacArthur Park.

Leading up to that election is a good time to look back at the development of these two MacArthur Park sited museums.

The Museum of Fine Arts opened in October 1937.  The groundbreaking was held on January 3, 1936, with the cornerstone laid on October 6 of that year.  Nearly one year later, the Fine Arts Club held its first meeting in the building and hosted a grand open house on October 5, 1937.

The front doorway to the museum is visible today inside a gallery of the Arkansas Arts Center.