Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


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.


Little Rock Look Back: Little Rock reacts to death of Martin Luther King, Jr.

On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in Memphis.  Thankfully 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.


Little Rock Look Back: Boxing Day remembrance of Muhammad Ali vs. Dan Sprick

Ali SprickDan T. Sprick was a Little Rock Mayor for two years in the 1940s after having previously served on the City Council.  From 1961 until 1970, he served as a State Senator from Little Rock and was a reliable ally for Governor Orval Faubus. Once Faubus left office and was replaced by Governor Winthrop Rockefeller, Sprick continued to wave the banner of segregation and agitation.  One of his new focuses was boxer Muhammad Ali.

In 1969, the University of Arkansas announced that Ali would be one of the speakers for its public appearance series.  After refusing to be drafted and go to Vietnam, Ali was barred from earning a living as a professional boxer and so was making a living giving lectures.  His refusal to submit to the draft was based on his religious beliefs as a recent convert to the Nation of Islam.

Opposition to Ali’s appearance rose almost immediately, and from Little Rock not Fayetteville. The Pulaski Businessman’s Association sent a letter to UA president David Mullins asking him to bar Ali from speaking. President Mullins insisted that he had the right to speak on campus. When that didn’t work, Senator Sprick and his cohorts in the state’s upper chamber went to work. A resolution calling for Ali to be barred from speaking failed on a voice vote after much debate.

While there were certainly some racial overtones to Sprick’s opposition, he and others seemed to be more concerned over the former Cassius Clay’s conversion to Islam plus his ensuing refusal to be drafted.  Senator Sprick declared that if President Nixon would draft him now he would go to serve in Vietnam.  (Sprick was in his late 60s at the time.)

Ali’s speech on the campus actually caused some controversy on its own.  One of the things he advocated for segregation. He praised Alabama Governor George Wallace.  The Arkansas Gazette which had been following the saga in both news stories and editorials, noted that remarks like that should have endeared Ali to Dan Sprick and others.

Ali, of course, resumed his boxing career and defined that sport in the 1970s with his talent in the ring and his showmanship.

Based on an editorial, Sprick sued the Gazette for libel. The paper settled with him out of court because his health was poor. Sprick died in 1972.


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Little Rock Look Back: Election Day 1966

The Britts, Rockefellers and Hammerschmidts

Fifty years ago today was Election Day 1966. It was a seismic election for Arkansas. Winthrop Rockefeller was chosen as Arkansas’ 37th Governor, defeating Jim Johnson. (An earlier version of this incorrectly listed Jim’s wife, Virginia.  She would run for the Democratic primary in 1968, losing to Marion Crank.) In addition, Maurice “Footsie” Britt was elected Lieutenant Governor, Joe Purcell was chosen as Attorney General, and John Paul Hammerschmidt & David Pryor were both new faces in the Arkansas congressional delegation.

Rockefeller, Britt, and Hammerschmidt made waves as the first Republicans to hold those offices since Reconstruction.  But perhaps more importantly, when joined by Pryor and Purcell, the five represented a new face and outlook on Arkansas politics. They were progressive and centrist. They saw a different role for government in social and moral questions.

This election set the stage for Arkansas of the 1970s and 1980s. It was a repudiation of the overtly racist Faubus-era political old guard.  It was certainly not the end, however. In the 1968, 1970 and 1972 elections, Faubus and his cronies would try to reassert themselves in statewide races and would continue to see allies win local races.

But it would be the 1966 election which marked a turning point in Arkansas politics.


Little Rock Look Back: Former LR Mayor Sprick takes on Muhammad Ali and Loses

Ali SprickDan T. Sprick was a Little Rock Mayor for two years in the 1940s after having previously served on the City Council.  From 1961 until 1970, he served as a State Senator from Little Rock and was a reliable ally for Governor Orval Faubus. Once Faubus left office and was replaced by Governor Winthrop Rockefeller, Sprick continued to wave the banner of segregation and agitation.  One of his new focuses was boxer Muhammad Ali.

In 1969, the University of Arkansas announced that Ali would be one of the speakers for its public appearance series.  After refusing to be drafted and go to Vietnam, Ali was barred from earning a living as a professional boxer and so was making a living giving lectures.  His refusal to submit to the draft was based on his religious beliefs as a recent convert to the Nation of Islam.

Opposition to Ali’s appearance rose almost immediately, and from Little Rock not Fayetteville. The Pulaski Businessman’s Association sent a letter to UA president David Mullins asking him to bar Ali from speaking. President Mullins insisted that he had the right to speak on campus. When that didn’t work, Senator Sprick and his cohorts in the state’s upper chamber went to work. A resolution calling for Ali to be barred from speaking failed on a voice vote after much debate.

While there were certainly some racial overtones to Sprick’s opposition, he and others seemed to be more concerned over the former Cassius Clay’s conversion to Islam plus his ensuing refusal to be drafted.  Senator Sprick declared that if President Nixon would draft him now he would go to serve in Vietnam.  (Sprick was in his late 60s at the time.)

Ali’s speech on the campus actually caused some controversy on its own.  One of the things he advocated for segregation. He praised Alabama Governor George Wallace.  The Arkansas Gazette which had been following the saga in both news stories and editorials, noted that remarks like that should have endeared Ali to Dan Sprick and others.

Ali, of course, resumed his boxing career and defined that sport in the 1970s with his talent in the ring and his showmanship.

Based on an editorial, Sprick sued the Gazette for libel. The paper settled with him out of court because his health was poor. Sprick died in 1972.


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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 – Townsend Wolfe of the Arkansas Arts Center

wolfe

Continuing with a focus on Little Rock recipients of the Governor’s Arts Awards, today’s focus is Townsend Wolfe, who led the Arkansas Arts Center for 34 years.

Though not the founding director of the Arkansas Arts Center, Townsend Wolfe was the director for well over half of the institution’s 53 year history. Hired in 1968 at the age of 32 (making him one of the youngest art museum directors in the US at the time), he retired in 2002.  That year he was honored with the Governor’s Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement by the Arkansas Arts Council.

A native of South Carolina, Wolfe holds a bachelor’s degree from the Atlanta Art Institute and a master’s degree from the Cranbrook Academy of Art. He also received a certificate from the Harvard Institute of Arts Administration, and honorary doctoral degrees from two other institutions.  He was recruited to the Arkansas Arts Center by Governor and Mrs. Winthrop Rockefeller.

During his tenure at the Arts Center, he first was responsible for creating financial stability. After drastic cost-cutting measures, he refocused programming which led to the creation of the current Museum School, a focus of works on paper for the collection, cultivating a thriving collectors group, establishment of a children’s theatre, expansion of statewide services, and several additions to the physical plant.

In addition to serving on the National Council of the Arts, Wolfe was a member of the National Museum Services Board and the board of the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts in New York. He was curator for an exhibition in the First Ladies’ Sculpture Garden at the White House in 1995, and was the recipient of the 1997 Distinguished Service Award (outside the profession) by the National Art Educators Association.

Over the years, Wolfe has served in a variety of capacities for the Association of American Museums, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.