Current Exhibits


History in Color: The Spectrum of Daily Life in Early America

Based on an examination of historical objects, many from the museum’s collection, History in Color explores the spectrum of colors that shaped 19th century cultural attitudes and influenced trends in fashion and décor, the technological innovations that drove the production of brilliant new colorfast dyes and pigments, and the ways early Americans used color to enliven their homes. 

It’s easy to understand why many of us believe the historical world was a less colorful place than the present: vivid colors fade, layers of paint flake off, varnish darkens over time, and textiles can become dull from wear. Sepia-toned photographs of the past may fool us into thinking 19th-century Americans either preferred drab colors, or else had limited access to bright pigments and dyes. While it’s true that many pre-industrial colors were not especially permanent, and some were even toxic, a wide range of saturated hues were available for use in the creation of textiles, ceramics, decorative applications, and the fine arts. 


Stitched Together

 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 2020.

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Life in the Western Country: Arkansaw Territory from 1819-1836

This exhibit celebrates the 200th anniversary of the creation of “Arkansaw” Territory. Historical documents, like the deed to the first newspaper print shop west of the Mississippi, provide context for stories of opportunity and westward migration, while a needlework sampler stitched by a young Cherokee girl at the Presbyterian school known as Dwight Mission speaks to the displacement and cultural assimilation of Native Americans. House shoes worn by William Savin Fulton, the last governor of Arkansas Territory, and tablewares similar to what would have been used at Jesse Hinderliter’s tavern remind us of the timeless desire for the comforts of home. These authentic items shed light on the culture, experiences, and beliefs of some of the state’s earliest inhabitants. Life in the Western Country continues through April 5, 2020.


Language of Pattern and Belonging

Printmakers Tammy Harrington and Melissa Gill create works layered literally and figuratively, featuring patterns that hold meanings and significance. In their exhibit Language of Pattern and Belonging, Harrington and Gill explore materiality and movement; overlapping ornaments ebb and flow, inviting the audience to unravel their layers. Harrington creates designs derived from traditional Chinese art and contemporary American graphics, a combination that references her own cross-cultural identity. Self-portraits of Harrington are hidden within these intricate patterns, concealed and constrained by borders they occasionally break through. Melissa Gill’s works are hybrids of printmaking processes and textiles, pieced together and further worked with drawing and embroidery. Her constructions take different forms, at times reminiscent of quilts and abstracted garments. This body of work imagines woven fibers and stitched pieces as a metaphor for connection and interdependence.

In addition to their art practices, both Harrington and Gill are collegiate art professors. Tammy Harrington holds a BFA in Printmaking from the University of South Dakota and an MFA in Printmaking from Wichita State University. She is Professor of Art at the University of the Ozarks. Melissa Gill holds a BFA from the University of Arizona, MFA from IU Bloomington, and MA from Purdue University. She is Associate Professor of Drawing and Printmaking at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas.

Language of Pattern and Belonging is on display in the Trinity Gallery for Arkansas Artists through Sunday, June 7, 2020.


Split Infinity

 Looking at the work of artist Spencer Purinton feels like peering into a keyhole to catch a glimpse into a vibrant, other world, where ambiguous forms coil and writhe and crash. Split Infinity features flat, graphic paintings with layers of dynamic movement.

Purinton pulls visual references from a variety of sources, including French and American comics, Japanese anime, cartoons, and Pop Art. These familiar images inspire abstractions of his own invention and are transformed through cropping, collage, and color. By alluding to recognizable styles, Purinton creates accessible images that invite viewers to dig through the layers to find meaning. His circular compositions swirl chaotically and his square canvases feel like comic book panels with indecipherable but action-packed narratives.

Spencer Purinton is a self-taught artist who lives in El Dorado, Arkansas with his wife and children. His artwork has been featured in the Delta Exhibition at the Arkansas Arts Center and won best in show at the South Arkansas Arts Center Juried Exhibition.