First Beaux Arts Bal raised money for fine art acquisition in Little Rock on December 12, 1958

Snow covered highways throughout the state on Friday, December 12, 1958.  However, the 400 guests at the Fine Arts Club’s first Beaux Arts Bal braved the roads and made their way to the blue drape bedecked ballroom of the Country Club of Little Rock. (Note, the event used the French spelling of Ball using only one “l.”)

Proceeds from the evening would be used by the Fine Arts Club to build up an acquisition fund for the Museum of Fine Arts. At the time, the club was in the process of launching an effort which would lead to the creation of the Arkansas Arts Center.

With the theme “bal de tete” (or “Head Ball”) guests were encouraged to come in their finest evening wear while sporting elegant and/or creative chapeaus atop their crowns.

Gege Darragh

Among the revelers were:

  • Elsie Stebbins, president of the Fine Arts Club, wearing a papier-mache silhouette of Arkansas adorned with the five flags which had flown over it
  • Howard Stebbins, president of Ducks Unlimited, wearing a replica of a duck blind complete with Mallard ducks
  • Daisy Jacoway, beneath a white Christmas wreath
  • Cooper Jacoway, clad in a black and white bear’s head with eyes flashing on and off
  • Carrie Dickinson, wearing a hat made of pink and red roses
  • Mayriann Hurst, bedecked in an epergne holding Christmas ornaments and fresh white orchids (as befitting the owner of Tipton Hurst florist)

Gege Darragh won a prize as “Most Artistic” hat which included lighted candles on a styrofoam base intermingled with white glitter oak leaves and silver balls. Her prize was a portrait by noted Arkansas artist Edwin Brewer.

The Hamiltons (as Marie Antoinette and her executioner) and the Kreths (as Siamese dancers)

Dr. and Mrs. K. M. Kreth won the prize for “Best Hats” which were a matching pair of elaborate gold peaked headdresses in the style of Siamese dancers. Their prize was a trip to Nassau.

The “Most Creative” prize went to Jeane and Jim Hamilton who wore hats depicting Marie Antoinette and her executioner.  They received a Swedish crystal masque.

The headgear was judged by a triumvirate of notables: Little Rock hotelier, restaurateur, and raconteur Sam Peck; future Arkansas First Lady Jeannette Rockefeller, and architect Edward Durrell Stone.

Among the many women serving with Elsie Stebbins on the planning committee were Jane McGehee, Daisy Jacoway, Raida Pfeifer, Buff Blass, and Kula Kumpuris.

Just as the Museum of Fine Arts made way for the Arkansas Arts Center, so too did this event change.  In 1971, the annual Beaux Arts Bal was replaced by Tabriz. In 1976, it became a two night event which took place every other year.

Peck, Rockefeller, and Stone judging the head wear

August 20, 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: How LR reacted to Assassination of Dr. King

On April 4, 1968,  when Dr. King was assassinated, Little Rock did not see the unrest that many cities did.  Part of that was probably due to quick action by Governor Winthrop Rockefeller.

The Governor released a statement fairly quickly expressing his sorrow at the tragedy and calling for a day of mourning. He also made the State Capitol available for the NAACP to have a public memorial, as well as worked with a group of ministers to host an interdenominational service.

Little Rock Mayor Martin Borchert issued a statement as well:

We in Little Rock are disturbed about the incident in Memphis. We are disturbed regardless of where it had happened.  Killing is not the Christian solution to any of our problems today.

In Little Rock, we feel we have come a long way in 10 years toward solving some of our problems of living and working together regardless of race, creed or color.

The city Board of Directors in Little Rock has pledged itself toward continuing efforts to make Little Rock a better place in which to live and work for all our citizens.

We feel the efforts of all thus far have proved we can live in harmony in Little Rock and are confident such an incident as has happened will not occur in Little Rock.  We will continue our most earnest efforts toward the full needs of our citizens.

The day after Dr. King was assassinated, a group of Philander Smith College students undertook a spontaneous walk to the nearby State Capitol, sang “We Shall Overcome” and then walked back to the campus.  President Ernest T. Dixon, Jr., of the college then hosted a 90 minute prayer service in the Wesley Chapel on the campus.

On the Sunday following Dr. King’s assassination, some churches featured messages about Dr. King.  As it was part of Holy Week, the Catholic Bishop for the Diocese of Little Rock had instructed all priests to include messages about Dr. King in their homilies. Some protestant ministers did as well. The Arkansas Gazette noted that Dr. Dale Cowling of Second Baptist Church downtown (who had received many threats because of his pro-integration stance in 1957) had preached about Dr. King and his legacy that morning.

Later that day, Governor Rockefeller participated in a public memorial service on the front steps of the State Capitol. The crowd, which started at 1,000 and grew to 3,000 before it was over, was racially mixed. At the conclusion of the ceremony, Governor and Mrs. Rockefeller joined hands with African American ministers and sang “We Shall Overcome.”

That evening, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral was the site of an interdenominational service which featured Methodist Bishop Rev. Paul V. Galloway, Catholic Bishop Most Rev. Albert L. Fletcher, Episcopal Bishop Rt. Rev. Robert R. Brown, Rabbi E. E. Palnick of Temple B’Nai Israel, Gov. Rockefeller, Philander Smith President Dixon, and Rufus King Young of Bethel AME Church.

Earlier in the day, Mayor Borchert stated:

We are gathered this afternoon to memorialize and pay tribute to a great American….To achieve equality of opportunity for all will require men of compassion and understanding on the one hand and men of reason and desire on the other.