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.

Tales of the Crypt tonight at Mount Holly Cemetery

talescryptThe ghosts of Little Rock past will arise tonight at Mt. Holly Cemetery for the 21st Annual Tales of the Crypt.

Held the second Tuesday of October, Tales of the Crypt is an annual Mount Holly event.  Founded by Fred Boosey and Judy Goss, it is now under the direction of Tamara Zinck.  Drama students from Parkview Arts & Science Magnet High School are each given a person buried in the cemetery to research. They then prepare short monologues or dialogues, complete with period costumes, to be performed in front of the researched person’s grave.

Award-winning local costumer Debi Manire will once again provide the wonderful historical characters’ costumes.  Audiences are led through the cemetery from grave to grave by guides with candles. Although it takes place around the same time as the American holiday Halloween, the event is meant to be historic rather than spooky.  Many local teachers award extra credit to students who attend.

Student tour guides will escort groups of approximately 15 from grave site to grave site to learn more about those who shaped central Arkansas in to what it is today.

The Mount Holly residents will greet you are:

  • Dr. Isaac Folsom (Peyton Hooks)
  • Mrs. Sallie Folsom (Rahlea Zinck)
  • David O. Dodd (Cameron Minor)
  • Mary Dodge (Delaney Robertson)
  • Dovenia (Dovie) Kirby (Emily Gardner)
  • Samuel B. Kirby (Brock Tittle)
  • Captain Benjamin Shattuck (Micah Patterson)
  • Anne Warren (Isha Horton)
  • Quatie Ross (Michelle Mora Dominguez)
  • Katherine Eller Henderson (Mikala Hicks)
  • Juliet Neill Peay  (Emorie Mansur)
  • Mary E. Gaines Belding (Abigail Mansur)
  • Albert Stocking (Tre’Vaughn Whitley)
  • Mollie Stocking (Taylar Hasberry)
  • George Borland (Harrison Wyrick)
  • Eleanor Counts (Stephanie Schoonmaker)
  • Edward Payson Washburn (Will Frueauff)
  • Lillian Scott (Sidney Kelly)
  • James Robbins (George Patterson)
  • Maria Rebecca Craigen (Angelique Camper)

(The names of the Parkview students portraying the residents are in parentheses.)

The Twenty-first Annual “Tales of the Crypt” is sponsored by Mount Holly Cemetery Association and Parkview Arts-Science Magnet High School.

The event will be held  at Mount Holly Cemetery, 1200 South Broadway, Little Rock, from 5:30 pm until 8:30 pm.  Admission is free to the public, however donations to Mount Holly Cemetery are appreciated and aid in the maintenance of the cemetery.

Tony Awards Week – History of theatre in Little Rock

Joe E. Brown in HARVEY

Joe E. Brown in HARVEY

Little Rock existed as a theatre town for over 100 years prior to the Tony Awards.  But since this is Tony Awards week, “let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start” (words by my favorite lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II).

The first documented theatrical performance was on November 4, 1834, and in August 1838 the construction of the first theatre in Little Rock was announced.  Through Little Rock’s early years a variety of spaces were used for performances including the City Hall on Markham near Main Street which had been built in 1867.

The opening of the Capital Theatre in December 1885 would be Little Rock’s first large-scale, non-church space for performances and gatherings.  The Capital had a seating capacity of approximately 2,000 seats.  Designed to house theatrical productions, it also played host to civic events ranging from high school graduations (for both the white and African American high schools) to public memorials.  For instance, in 1901 it was the site of a public memorial for the recently assassinated President William McKinley.  In time, the Capital Theatre (which was situated on land that is now occupied by a portion of the Statehouse Convention Center) would be joined by a variety of other theatres, public houses, vaudeville houses and lodge halls.

The 1908 “temporary” City Auditorium probably played host to theatrical performances, but records do not exist for it.  The amphitheatre in Forest Park was home to many theatrical performances including appearances by Sarah Bernhardt.  Judy Baker Goss’s play Fond Farewell looked at one of Bernhardt’s visit to Little Rock.  (In the local production of that play, Bernhardt was played by Judy Trice, the mother of a three-time Tony winner Will Trice. His father, Bill Trice, played a Little Rock City Council member smitten with the actress.)

When Robinson Auditorium opened in 1940, it had space to host theatrical productions in the main music hall as well as in the lower level “little theatre.”  By that time, there were a variety of community theatre groups performing.  The first national tour to play in Robinson was Springtime for Henry starring Edward Everett Horton.

The first Tony winning production to play Robinson was the national tour of Harvey starring Joe E. Brown.  Brown, in fact, received a special Tony for starring in the national tour of the play.

New play reading of Judy Baker Goss’ LIFE SCIENCE today

judygossLittle Rock playwright and educator Judy Baker Goss is working on a new play.  A public reading of the play will take place today at 4pm at Cabe Theatre on the campus of Hendrix College.

The play, Life Science, is set during the Arkansas trial contesting Act 590 in 1981, the play explores tensions outside the courtroom between parents and teens involved in the fight over what students should be taught in biology about evolution and who holds authority over their teaching.

Goss describes the play like this: In 1981, Phoebe is pressured beyond normal teen anxiety. Her mother, a biology teacher in remission from cancer, will testify against Arkansas’ “creation science” law, supported by Phoebe’s boyfriend, Paul, and his father, an evangelical pastor. Fearing, too, that her separated parents will divorce, she leans on Paul more, but college plans consume him.

Phoebe finds comfort from Victor, an African-American classmate and basketball player whose father also opposes mixing religion with science teaching. As Phoebe and Paul’s relationship buckles, she grows closer to Victor, but violence erupts between the boys. Parents and teens find that each alone can’t restore shattered self-respect, which is essential to surviving tests of faith in their shared environment.

Hendrix College Associate Professor and department chair Ann Muse will direct the performance with a cast of students and adult actors.

Revisions to Life Science continue, after it was discussed by Lee Blessing, Dan O’Brien and contributors in the Sewanee Writers’ Conference playwriting workshop in 2009 and again by Daisy Foote and Sewanee playwriting workshop participants in 2012.