Little Rock Look Back: Dedication of the Arkansas Arts Center on May 18, 1963

AAC Logo in 1963

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 11:00 am dedication ceremonies on took place in the Arts Center Theatre and 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.

The dedication ceremony was chaired by Jane McGehee, now known as Jane McGehee Wilson.  Earlier this month she was honored at the Arkansas Arts Center with an outstanding patron award in recognition of her work supporting the Arkansas Arts Center for close to six decades.   More information on her work for the AAC can be found here.

The Arts Center lower level in 1963

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.

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Little Rock Look Back: Media preview, Gordon MacRae concert prior to Arkansas Arts Center Opening

Photo of singer Gordon MacRae from the 1963 Arkansas Arts Center dedication booklet

On Friday, May 17, 1963, Little Rock’s media were treated to a preview of the new Arkansas Arts Center.  It was set to open to the public the next day.  The media were invited to attend between 6:30pm and 10:00pm.

One of the highlights was the chance to view the exhibit:  Five Centuries of European Painting.  The works were from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Arts.  The exhibition featured works by Titian, El Greco, van Dyck, Murillo, Gainsborough, Monet, Courbet, Renoir, Degas, Pissarro, and Gauguin.  Another artist featured was Paul Signac.  Today the Arts Center has one of the largest collections or works by Signac due to the generosity of collector James T. Dyke.

At 8pm that evening, there was a concert appearance by film and recording star Gordon MacRae.  This took place in the Arts Center’s theatre for Arts Center patrons. (Or at least the 389 who could get tickets to it.)  At 10pm, the press were treated to an encore performance by Mr. MacRae.

After it concluded around 11pm, it was time for the staff and volunteers to wind down for the evening and get ready for two major events on May 18, 1963.

Little Rock Look Back: Members Preview of Arkansas Arts Center on May 16, 1963

Mrs. Rockefeller

Two days before the Grand Opening of the Arkansas Arts Center, the institution’s members were given a sneak preview. On May 16, 1963, at 8:00pm, members were given a preview of the opening exhibition: Five Centuries of European Painting.

Members were greeted with remarks by Jeannette Rockefeller, the Board of Trustees president. Following her were comments by Alan R. Symonds, who was the Arts Center’s executive director.  James Rorimer, the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which had created the opening exhibition, also spoke.

The exhibition featured works by Titian, El Greco, van Dyck, Murillo, Gainsborough, Monet, Courbet, Renoir, Degas, Pissarro, and Gauguin.  Another artist featured was Paul Signac.  Today the Arts Center has one of the largest collections or works by Signac due to the generosity of collector James T. Dyke.

Mr. Symonds had been hired by the Rockefellers to lead the planned automobile museum on Petit Jean. He was loaned to the Arts Center to get the museum open.  A year after the AAC grand opening, he returned to the assignment on Petit Jean.

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.

Arkansas Heritage Month – Cinco de Mayo with Diego Rivera

portrait-of-two-womenToday is Cinco de Mayo. This Mexican holiday seems a good day to return again to the art of Diego Rivera.  He is one of the Culture Vulture favorite artists, so any excuse to discuss him and his relationship with the Rockefeller family is greatly appreciated.

One of Rivera’s masterpieces is 1914’s Portrait of Two Women which is part of the permanent collection of the Arkansas Arts Center. The official name is Dos Mujeres.  It is a portrait of Angelina Beloff and Maria Dolores Bastian.  The former was Rivera’s first wife.

This oil on canvas stands six and a half feet tall and five and a half feet wide.

Influenced by cubists such as Picasso, Rivera adopted fracturing of form, use of multiple perspective points, and flattening of the picture plane.  Yet his take on this style of painting is distinctive.  He uses brighter colors and a larger scale than many early cubist pictures. Rivera also features highly textured surfaces executed in a variety of techniques.

The painting was a gift to the Arkansas Arts Center by Abby Rockefeller Mauzé, sister of Arkansas Governor Winthrop Rockefeller.  At the 1963 opening of the Arkansas Arts Center, James Rorimer, the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, remarked several times to Arts Center trustee Jeane Hamilton that the Met should have that piece. Jeane politely smiled as she remarked, “But we have it.”

Of all her brothers, Abby was closest to Winthrop. The other brothers, at best ignored, and at worst, antagonized the two.  Given the complicated relationship of Rivera with members of the Rockefeller family, it is not surprising that if Abby were to have purchased this piece, she would donate it to a facility with close ties to Winthrop.  (Though the Rockefeller brothers had Rivera’s mural at Rockefeller Center destroyed, he maintained a cordial relationship with Abby Aldrich Rockefeller — well as cordial as an anti-social Communist could be with the doyenne of capitalist NYC Society.)

The Arkansas Arts Center has several other works of art in their collection with ties to Mexico. Some are by Mexican artists. Others are inspired by Mexico. They have several by Elsie Fruend depicting scenes in Mexico.