Sweet Memories of Little Rock

It’s only fitting a blog titled “Little Rock Love” should have a loving Valentine’s Day post about its namesake.

1940s-era post card showing Main Street, Little Rock, AR

I didn’t grow up in Little Rock, but my family made frequent trips from Stuttgart, in southeastern Arkansas, to the capital city. It was a treat to go to Little Rock, and treats usually awaited me there.

By the time I came along, the retail center of Little Rock had shifted away from Main Street. The place to shop was the new McCain Mall in North Little Rock and the open-air Park Plaza mall on University Avenue. The neighboring University Mall was within a block of Park Plaza; I never understood why two shopping centers were built so close together.

I regret not getting to experience the hustle and bustle of Little Rock’s Main Street as it existed until the early 1970s. I was born in 1969 and by the time I was old enough to remember our family’s shopping trips, that era had passed. I have seen photos of the crowded sidewalks, the “vintage” automobiles parked along the busy street and families dressed up to do their Saturday “trading” in department stores such as MM Cohn and Pfeiffer-Blass. I’ve heard my husband and family members relay memories of seeing movies in one of the four downtown movie theaters.

Even so, I have fond memories of shopping trips to McCain Mall, the shiny new retail center of my youth. We’d shop at JC Penney and Dillard’s, and visit the mall Santa Claus at Christmastime. We’d often see movies at the theater inside. On many trips we’d have along my grandparents or one of my great-great aunts who loved having lunch at Franke’s Cafeteria there. My mother was a big fan of Franke’s tomato aspic salad, which to this child, was the most unappetizing form of Jello I could imagine. (I’ve made peace with it now.)

What my childhood dreams were made of - the candy store inside Farrell's

To a child, nothing was as sweet as a birthday party at Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour, which included an ice cream sundae with a candle on top and a serenade by one of the waiters in a straw-brimmed hat. No trip to Farrell’s was complete – for me – without a visit to the world’s greatest candy store just inside its doors. Surely I wasn’t the only child who bought the most enormous piece of jaw breaker candy they offered, simply because it was too tempting to resist – despite there being absolutely no way it would ever fit in my mouth. Sometimes my mother would intervene and insist I get a jaw breaker of more reasonable size.

I recall many night-time rides back to Stuttgart, lying in the back seat of my family’s Oldsmobile watching the moon and the stars through the back window, seeing the power lines and street lights pass above. I often slept on the way home, though it was only about an hour’s drive. I can see myself now, drifting in and out of consciousness while my chin grows sticky from the jaw-breaker-laced-saliva escaping from my mouth.

Sweet memories indeed!

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Art in Unexpected Places

Beauty can be found in ordinary objects, especially when en masse.

It’s not a novel concept – finding art in unexpected places –but it’s an important part of how I process my surroundings. I have my mother to thank for this. She taught me to spot the beauty within the ordinary and to pause a second to appreciate it. I hope you’ll do the same.

In some cases, the beauty or the art is intentional – the primary function of the object. In other cases, the artistic component emerges as secondary effect following the object’s primary function.

I recently retrieved my husband’s car from Foster’s Garage on 8th Street just east of Broadway in downtown Little Rock. It was my first time to step inside the establishment’s tiny office. While completing the transaction and getting the details of the repair to relay to Kelley, I was taken aback by what I saw on the wall.

Thousands of business cards were shingled onto and suspended from a bulletin board in a manner that seemed to defy the laws of physics. We’ve all seen a collection of business cards thumb-tacked to a cork board as a means of advertising or a business owner showing support for frequent patrons. This was beyond the ordinary in this category.

As I said, there were easily THOUSANDS of cards, and by the looks of them they had been on display for many decades. In the photos you can see the cards at the bottom of the board are very yellowed and browned with age.

The aged card colors tell the tale

A historical microcosm

The menagerie looks as if a strong breeze might send the cards flying, but there it hangs quietly, sheltered inside four concrete walls. The display is a testament to the card holders whose vehicles have been serviced by this venerable downtown business. Foster’s garage has been in business since the late 1920s –over 90 years!
Unlike probably most of the businesses and institutions represented by the business cards, Foster’s has stood the test of time – whereas time isn’t often a friend to small family-run businesses.

Now for the art part

The physical suspension of so many cards in such a tight space was what initially caught my eye, then the graduating age of the cards in the collection, and finally the card’s beautifully-shingled pattern within what was actually chaos.

Upon closer inspection I noticed several pieces of twine that ran horizontally throughout the cards providing structural support, placed there as the volume of cards grew.

The bulletin board is an art piece in and of itself. The photos do not do justice to the experience of seeing it in person. It would be perfectly acceptable to see something like this hanging as a folk art installation at a museum. The display would provide great inspiration for a set designer working on a 1940s movie.
When asked about the board, the owner told me no cards are added to it any more, understandably. He also said I wasn’t the first person to snap a few photos of it.

A typical errand at the end of a work day rewarded me with a bit of unexpected beauty. If you keep your eyes open, perhaps you’ll find similar serendipity in your day.

An objet d'art made from business cards