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.
Timothy Hursley’s photographs, James Matthews’s textile pieces and Peter Scheidt’s furniture sculptures come together for this exhibit bound by concept, rather than visual compatibility. Timothy, James and Peter use creativity and
skillful labor to revive objects, structures, and landscapes that might otherwise be considered metaphorically dead. Their thoughtful modifications reinvent cast-off items and invest them with fresh aesthetic meaning while preserving their original
Sometimes artists can help us appreciate what they already understand— in this case, transformation as an act of hope. Abandoned objects are reborn through relationships of interdependence: between those who originally made a thing and the artist who recognizes potential for alteration where others see only trash. The circle is completed when the viewer interprets the item anew.
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.
Quilting is a skill that was carried to the New World by immigrants. However, in the almost two and a half centuries since the colonies became states, quilting evolved into a uniquely American tradition. Most early quilts were not the thrifty creations of hard-strapped settlers, but elegant, complex compositions that commemorated significant life events and were reserved for the family’s best bed.
Arkansas quilts pre-dating 1850 are rare; the majority of surviving 19th century quilts were produced in the last quarter of the century by the hard-working wives and daughters of independent yeoman farmers. Despite the demands of daily life, Arkansas women found time to create some of the most exquisitely crafted quilts in the entire country.
This exhibit tells the story of quilting in Arkansas through a selection of the museum’s most treasured bed covers. On display in Cabe Gallery from through October 2021.
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.
Explore the history of Arkansas’s most famous weapon, the Bowie knife, as well as the history and art of bladesmithing. This gallery includes both historical and modern knives and is the home of the American Bladesmith Society Hall of Fame.
The exhibit includes more than 100 historical and modern knives and is the official exhibit for the American Bladesmith Society. The knives are from the museum's permanent collection and on loan from knife makers and collectors. Representing the work of master craftspeople who created exquisite weapons, the knives are made with precious metals, gemstones, Damascus steel, and intricate designs.