“Mystery & Benevolence” includes carvings, textiles, sculptures and adornments that were made in the late 19th and early 20th centuries’ golden age of fraternal organizations in America. Mystical, evocative and sometimes simply strange, the art of the Freemasons and the Independent Order of the Odd Fellows is rich in symbolism. According to the American Folk Art Museum, the exhibition offers special access to objects that hint at the richness and complexity of the visual language used by these secret societies. Designed to instill a sense of wonder, the works on display embody a deep faith in fellowship, and in the potential for shared ideals to create lasting bonds.
“Mystery & Benevolence: Symbolic Expressions of the Masons and the Odd Fellows from the American Folk Museum was organized by the American Folk Art Museum, New York, N.Y., from the Kendra and Allen Daniel Collection, and is toured by International Arts & Artists, Washington, DC.
On display through January 2024.
Celebrating Trinity Gallery: 50 Years of Arkansas Artists will bring together works that span the decades and represent a slice of what has shown in the gallery since its beginnings in 1973. When it debuted, the gallery was one of the few places in Little Rock to feature living Arkansas artists and was an incredible resource for those developing their careers. The gallery also served as a place to showcase established and nationally-known Arkansas artists. In 2001, a generous gift by Tyndall and Carrie Dickenson ensured the gallery’s continued success and resulted in the new moniker Trinity Gallery for Arkansas Artists. This 50th anniversary exhibit commemorates this important milestone by reaffirming both the gallery’s role as a vibrant cultural space and the museum’s unwavering dedication to supporting and promoting the remarkable talents within our state. It will be on display through September 2023.
Popular culture often portrays 19th century Arkansas as a sleepy backwater populated by shiftless hillbillies and cagey moonshiners. And while the years prior to statehood did attract a handful of unconventional lawless types, western settlement also
brought discerning ladies and gentlemen from important families, as well as skilled craftsmen and enterprising merchants eager to supply a growing middle class with the latest trends in housewares, textiles, accessories and more.
During the second half of the 1800s, shipping by river, road, and rail brought almost everything within reach, even to rural Arkansans. Improvements in industrial technology and mass-production meant items could be constructed cheaply and quickly and sold at reduced prices. These advances increased access to items that previously belonged only to exclusive members of early American aristocracy – descendants of European nobility, slave-owners and barons of industry.
By mid-century, converging commercial forces created an environment primed for conspicuous consumption. In the formal parlor, a hybrid public/private space where 19th century families entertained guests, Arkansans donned their most fashionable clothing, displayed their fanciest furniture, laid out their finest silver, and generally presented themselves to their best advantage. In the parlor and on the street, items like hand-painted miniature portraits, day dresses of patterned silk, and the flash of a gold pocket watch increased the social prestige of both middle- and working-class adults.
A new, exciting addition is coming to Conspicuous Consumption. Hidden Histories is an exhibit within an exhibit; supplemental captions explore lesser-known facts about selected objects on display in Conspicuous Consumption. The result of careful research, this project shares information about items produced with an eye toward status or profit but at the expense of humans, animals, and natural resources. Expanded captions illuminate subjects left in the shadows and provide a voice for unique individuals whose lives have been forgotten. Just as a partially submerged iceberg reveals only a fraction of its true size, a historical object can conceal stories that lie just below its surface.
Over several years, Rett Peek worked as the principal photographer for the second edition of Historic Arkansas Museum’s recently-published “Arkansas Made Vol. I & II.” Collectors granted Rett access to their homes and welcomed him into small-town historical societies, university collections, and many other unique spaces to capture images of Arkansas treasures. He traversed the state, venturing into almost every county to photograph local vernacular architecture. In the end, over one thousand of his images appear in the new books.
This exhibit celebrates Rett’s impressive achievement by sharing a small selection of his artful photographs, with a focus on items in Historic Arkansas Museum’s collection. We hope you will recognize a few old favorites, discover a handful of objects rarely seen on exhibit, and walk away inspired to explore the latest edition of Arkansas Made.
We Walk in Two Worlds tells the story of Arkansas’s first people, the Caddo, Osage and Quapaw Native American tribes from early times to today. The exhibit is told through objects and research. Approximately 158 objects, such as pottery, clothing
and weapons, will be on exhibit. The exhibit has six thematic areas that are arranged chronologically. Along with objects and a historical timeline are passages of relevant research from archeologists, historians and ethnographers.
Throughout the exhibit, is the dominant presence of the Native American voice, from each of Arkansas’s three prominent tribes. During the two years of exhibit development, many tribal members were interviewed and it is this voice that informs, educates and guides visitors through the exhibit. Former Historic Arkansas Museum chief curator and deputy director Swannee Bennett said, “What makes this exhibit unique is that it is a story of the Arkansas Native American told in large part with an Indian voice.”
This new permanent exhibit enables the museum to tell the bigger story of Arkansas’s frontier history. "We Walk in Two Worlds is a milestone as the State of Arkansas officially partners with the Caddo, Osage and Quapaw Nations and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian to tell this story of struggle and endurance,” said former museum director Bill Worthen. To enhance this permanent exhibit, the museum is developing related programming for all the school children of Arkansas. For adults, the museum will bring in guest speakers and artists to cover many topics relating to the exhibit for many years to come.
When Historic Arkansas Museum’s Knife Gallery opened in 2001, it was the first gallery in the country dedicated to the history of the bowie knife and the forged blade in America. The recently updated gallery stays true to its roots, with plenty of information about Arkansas knifemaker James Black and the 200-year evolution of “a knife like Bowie’s.” Over 50 remarkable blades are on display, including the famous Bowie No. 1 (c. 1830). Visitors will be captivated by modern bowies and the historical knives that inspired them, plus a selection of exceptional contemporary custom knives made by master bladesmiths.