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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