50 Years’ Perspective

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50 years later: Governor Mike Beebe recites John F. Kennedy’s inauguration speech on the steps of post office in North Little Rock, Arkansas

1963: The year President John F. Kennedy was assassinated; the year my only sibling, Lesli Ann, was born.

Today, during a gloriously sunny noon hour, I was one of about 200 people gathered at the steps of the former Argenta Post Office (now Laman Library branch) in North Little Rock to listen as Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe read John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address. You know the most famous passage of that address: “… ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

I was struck by other passages that, despite being spoken more than 50 years ago, are very relevant today. Passages such as, “Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.”

And, “The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe – the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.”

In Arkansas we have the divisive issues of gun and abortion rights. Nationally we have the equality of marriage act being debated in the California Supreme Court, gun control and the never-ending questioning of tax laws. Meanwhile, our fellow citizens are starving, going without shelter, with ineffective education, without jobs, without basic healthcare, and those babies who are born to mothers who cannot care for them go in need of loving adoptive families, of any gender combination.

I talked with my mom this past weekend about the upcoming JFK photography exhibit in Argenta. I told her I hoped to listen to Governor Beebe’s address and to look at the photos.

She said wistfully, “I lived it. I don’t have to see it.” I wonder if I’ll feel that way about 9/11 memorial exhibitions many years from now.

Mom told me again as she’s told me in the past: When she was pregnant with my sister in 1963, following the national tension of electing the first non-Protestant president, especially one who was seen to have such “radical” views (in the South) on race relations and equality, the Watts riots and related events, she remembers wondering what kind of tumultuous world she was bringing a child into. Let me be clear – she supported then and still supports racial equality – but she saw what the struggle had brought forth.

View from the triple underpass overlooking the grassy knoll and Dealey Plaze in Dallas.

View from the triple underpass overlooking the grassy knoll and Dealey Plaza in Dallas.

In five years, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. would be dead, and a year after those tragedies, the United States would put a man on the moon. Tumultuous times indeed. But no different than today.

As Governor Beebe recited the famous words spoken by our 35th president, I thought about my visit to Dealey Plaza in Dallas this past Friday. I thought about President Kennedy on his inauguration day, laying out his vision for the nation’s future, full of hope. And I thought about the video I’ve seen – we’ve all seen – of the president’s motorcade in Dallas, of the deadly shot, of Jackie scooping up pieces of her husband’s brains, of the chaos and speculation that ensued.

Kelley and I stood looking over that very place. The place where this young president was assassinated. By exactly whom and why is still speculated. The place where thousands and thousands of visitors pay homage each year, especially this year. Fifty years later.

I can’t help thinking: what will be our children’s and grandchildren’s perspective 50 years from now?

My hope is we’ll have the same view on marriage equality and homosexuality then as (most of us do) now on racial equality and women’s rights. I hope the debates in the Arkansas legislature and in the nation’s capital don’t put us in reverse.

Related links

Go South, Fill Your Soul

Green Corner Store shoppers

Green Corner Store shoppers

A year ago today I had a very moving holiday experience, and it took me totally by surprise.

I experienced the sights, smells and sounds of the Bernice Garden Holiday Tree Lighting and Craft Market. The garden is in the SoMa district of downtown Little Rock – one of my most favorite spots in town.

The experience literally moved me to tears. When I returned home, I immediately wrote a blog post entitled SoMa Snowflakes. I’d love it if you’d read it.

I’d love it more if you’d join me at the event tonight.

In addition to the activities in the garden itself, be sure to walk the block and visit The Green Corner Store. I’m a little biased, but I think it’s the happiest place on earth (despite what Disney says).

If you don’t make tonight’s party, visit SoMa during the holiday season. It’ll put the joy right in ya!

Three Sisters and SoMa

Something happens to me when I visit Little Rock’s historic Southside Main Street (SoMa) business district. I can feel the neighborhood’s soul sing to me. It sings about its recent reawakening after decades of slumber. It sings about the people who have brought it into this new 21st-century life. It praises the investment, vision, hard work and faith that nourish it each day. The district’s heartbeat seems stronger each time I visit – and it makes me smile.

In late September, the people of Southside Main, and their kin from elsewhere in the city, gathered at The Bernice Garden to celebrate the fourth-annual installation of outdoor art pieces and to congratulate their creators. Free food and drink from ‘hood businesses, Boulevard Bread Company and The Root Café, aided the festive atmosphere.

I was immediately drawn to one art piece in particular, from the many there. What I spied looked like a trellis covered in leaves and vines, twirling and twisting their way heavenward. In reality it was a cold steel structure that emanated vibrant, warm life – thanks to the talent of artist John VanHorn.

Companions: The Three Sisters (sculpture by John VanHorn)

He titled this piece “Companions: The Three Sisters” after the native American term that refers to corn, beans and squash (or pumpkins) as the three crops that, when grown simultaneously, support, nourish and protect one another.

What I saw upon closer inspection was metal stalks of corn, beans with running tendrils, and pumpkins heavy on the vine, all intertwined to form a shield-shaped structure easily eight feet high. Despite its heft, the piece was airy and had life-like movement. The green and rusty-brown patina was glossy and rustic at the same time; I couldn’t stop looking at it and touching it. Thankfully the artist didn’t mind.

VanHorn and his Three Sisters garden gate

The work is not just art for art’s sake – which would be fine – but it is functional art; designed to be a garden gate as well. Please go visit Companions and give it my regards. I will certainly be back.

VanHorn told me his grandfather was a pipeliner and taught him to stick weld. His grandfather is still alive and I’ll bet he’s proud to have provided the instruction that fuels his grandson’s talent. VanHorn told onlookers that he creates his art to please himself and figures if he enjoys making it that maybe others will enjoy seeing it. He’s certainly got that right.

I am in love with this piece. Photos don’t do it justice.

Bernice Garden is a jewel; a priceless gift from visionary Anita Davis who donated the land at the southeast corner of Daisy Gaston Bates (14th) and Main Streets, envisioning an public art oasis in the midst of the city. I encourage you to plan a visit. Pick up lunch on the way. Community Bakery is just a few blocks north as well as the aforementioned Boulevard and Root. You can’t miss the sign with the crow on top nor the striking new pavilion structure at the center of the garden. I predict a visit will make you smile as well.

A Little Rock Love Note: While writing this post, I had an epiphany. Much like the three sister crops that the Native Americans grew together for the most beneficial and sustaining result, the Little Rock metro area also has three sisters.

There are three areas that are independent and have their own life and merit, yet will produce the most bounty when fostered and encouraged together – and given TIME to grow. Those three sisters are the aforementioned Southside Main Street district, the Argenta Arts District in downtown North Little Rock, and Little Rock’s burgeoning Main Street corridor. No one is more important than the other. Instead, if one flourishes, it aids them all in return.

For the sake of this analogy, the River Market District is not a part of the trio. It had a head start; it’s the big brother. Its success is definitely aiding the growth of the younger sisters. The River Market has set a decade-long example of the bountiful harvest that a long-range vision, financial and emotional investment, and time can produce. I love the whole family.

Lagniappe

SoMa Eats

About the Bernice Garden (from their press releases)

The Bernice Garden is privately owned but intended for public use and is located at the southeast corner of South Main Street and Daisy Bates Avenue. The garden was created to celebrate the community and will host community events as well as the sculpture exhibit in an effort to foster community interaction and a sense of pride in the neighborhood. The 100 ft. x 150 ft. garden consists of landscaped areas with a crushed granite foundation for the artworks. Next to the sculpture garden is a concrete patio, benches and approximately 20 parking spaces. The sculpture exhibition is part of a multistage development plan of the garden.

Poetic Inspiration on Main Street

Kelley and I have season tickets to Little Rock’s Repertory Theater, known as The Rep. We feel so urban – and yes, a bit smug – when it’s time to go to the theater. Unlike the other patrons who have driven into downtown and searched for a parking space before the show, we’ve simply walked out the Lafayette’s 6th street side door. A half block later and we’re at the Rep’s front doors.

Wednesday evening we saw Shakespeare’s King Henry V performed by a very talented cast.  I’m a fan of the Bard from way back. I’ve read many of his plays, but watching them being performed is another thing altogether. I’ll admit, though, and I mentioned it to Kelley that night, that I prefer Shakespeare’s poetry over his plays.

As we left the Rep, instead of taking the direct route home, I suggested we walk home via the block of Main Street behind the Lafayette. It’s the west side of the 500 block of Main Street whose four buildings have recently been purchased for restoration and redevelopment.  I’ve written about the project already and I assure you I’ll be writing about it as things progress.

But, let’s get back to our night-time block walk.

We peeped into the former department stores’ dusty and recently-uncovered windows. We could see evidence inside of the environmental stabilization work already underway.

We approached the corner of Capitol and Main where the Baker’s Shoes display windows are – where the bucket list on Main’s chalkboards were. Turns out the space is still attracting written expression.

Despite the darkness, out of the corner of my eye I spotted graffiti on a display window near the former store’s entrance.  I had just been in this space a few days ago; the writing was new.  At first we thought it must be the typical graffiti we often see downtown, but upon closer inspection, this is what we found. A poem.

Poetry in an unexpected place

This is the poem just as it was written there:

Thinking of a master plan
Cos aint nothing but sweat
Inside my hand
So I start my mission
Leave my residence
Thinkin how could I get
Some dead presidents
I need money
I used to be a stickup kid
So I think of all the devious
Things I did
 I used to roll up
This is a hold up
Aint nothing funny
Stop smiling
Be still don’t nothing
Move but the money
So I dig into my pocket
All my money spent
So I dig deeper
But still comin up
With lint
But now Ive learned
Cos I’m riteous
I feel great
So maybe I might
Search for a 9 to 5
If I strive then
Maybe
I stay alive

As we stood there reading it, we were dumbstruck.

The first thing was that it was poetry and not graffiti – quite a surprise. More likely the words were intended to be song lyrics, or at least that’s my guess. But who was the writer? Would they be successful in finding their 9 to 5? Do they have the determination and encouragement to reach that goal and change their life?

It was a gift to find such a thing in our downtown block. I didn’t have my camera with me then, but the next morning I snapped some shots before going to work. I haven’t been back today to see if the words have survived or if they’ve been removed.

Just like Little Rock’s downtown, the writer is seeking a master plan. The bucket list on Main is gone, but the desire to write dreams on that corner remains. I think William Shakespeare would approve.

A Silent Sentinal: Henry Moore sculpture

A sculpture by Henry Moore graces front lawn of Two Union National Plaza Bldg, Capitol and Louisiana Streets, Little Rock

I first became aware of this sculpture in downtown Little Rock when I worked in the office building across the street. I would examine it as I walked by. Sometimes I would stare at it from my co-worker’s window several stories above.

What was this supposed to be? A distorted puzzle piece? A flattened piece of silly putty? An armless human?

Why was it in front of this triangular building? Were the building’s developers such lovers of public art that they included this display in their plans? It was a mystery to me.

Despite working so nearby for a year, it wasn’t until my husband and I moved to the Lafayette Building in 2011, a half-a-block to the south of this sculpture, that I took the time to examine it more closely. Once we lived downtown, I made a deliberate effort to explore my new neighborhood on foot (and still do).

As I walked home from a friend’s going-away party at Copper Grill one evening, I paused to take a photo of the sculpture – the photo at the top of this post.  A closer examination revealed the following inscription on its base. Now I had something to go on.

Large Standing Figure: Knife Edge, 1961. Henry Moorehttp://www.theartstory.org/artist-moore-henry.htm

The inscription reads: “Large Standing Figure: Knife Edge, 1961. Henry Moore. Purchased for the Metrocentre Mall by Metrocentre Improvement District No. 1 and paid for by private funds from property owners within the district. 1978.”

Ah ha! It’s a relic from a prior downtown development.

Further research revealed – thank heaven for Google – that the  purchase price was $185,000. That’s quite a significant investment! No doubt its value is much higher these days. Henry Moore’s work is world-renown and very highly regarded. We’re fortunate to have this treasure on public display.

I have very faint memories of the former pedestrian shopping district, called the Metrocentre Mall, which closed a portion of Main Street in the late 1970s. Only pedestrian traffic was allowed.

I applaud the Metrocentre Mall visionaries for giving the concept a go, but they were up against an insurmountable beast of suburbanization and urban sprawl. The project was an attempt to revive downtown Little Rock’s profile just as the more modern and popular shopping destinations of McMain Mall, Park Plaza Mall and University Mall were coming into being elsewhere in the metroplex.

The sculpture was originally placed in the center of Capitol Avenue at Main Street. This photo shows how it looked there.

Henry Moore sculpture in original location

Fantastic shot of the Henry Moore sculpture at its original location in the middle of Capitol Avenue at Main Street in downtown Little Rock’s now-defunct pedestrian mall. Notice Arkansas State Capitol in the distance.

Remnants of the Metrocentre development can be seen yet today in the brick-paved raised portions of the Capitol and Main Street intersection. Vestiges of the vibrant downtown that existed prior to that, in the late 1800s through the 1950s, can also be seen in the gorgeous architecture of empty buildings.

The Henry Moore sculpture was moved in 1999 from the center of Capitol Avenue to its current location one block to the west at Capitol and Louisiana streets. Capitol and Main streets reopened to automobile traffic at that intersection then; the former “mall” buildings long since converted to office space.

I can see the logic of moving the sculpture only a very short distance – the monolith is 11 feet five inches tall and it weighs 1,200 pounds! The backdrop of the Union Plaza building was a good choice.

Right now it’s the only public art structure in the heart of original downtown.

After learning about the sculpture and why it came to be in downtown Little Rock, I now see it as a silent sentinel who represents the hope for a revived downtown. That “Large Standing Figure” stood watch over the Metrocentre Mall. It probably seemed to dance with the live music at early Riverfests held downtown (see photo below). But I suspect it has mostly stood under appreciated and misunderstood by those who pass by it during their busy work days, as I did.

The sculpture seems to dance during this band’s performance at an early Riverfest.

Many months ago I heard there was consideration of moving the sculpture to the very vibrant Rivermarket area which hosts other public art installations. Clearly, it should be in a place where there is significant and leisurely foot traffic. But I hope that’s not done. I hope it stays where it is until it witnesses a resurgence of life in the Main Street corridor – and I believe we’re on the cusp of that coming to be.

Just a few blocks away, the Arkansas Repertory Theater occupies a former department store from Main Street’s heyday. The recent multi-million-dollar renovation of The Rep has breathed new life into downtown. The update influenced the awarding of  an arts-focused grant to rehabilitate the surrounding store fronts into an arts corridor.

Just this morning, the newspaper announced the sale of other Main Street buildings, right in the shadow of our Lafayette and diagonal to The Rep. Plans are to develop the former bank and department stores into retail and event space along with living space above. This announcement follows others in recent months that indicate a revived interest in our city’s core which is emanating from the decade-long vibrance of the River Market district along the river.

In the mean time, the Henry Moore sentinel and I will be standing by, cautiously waiting and watching. Hoping this century’s version of downtown is one filled with life, light and longevity.

Related references:

Garden & Gun: Little Rock Rising (mentions Henry Moore sculpture in original place at Capitol and Main) http://gardenandgun.com/article/little-rock-rising

Encyclopedia of Arkansas article about the Henry Moore sculpture: http://alturl.com/dp687

Artistic description of the sculpture from catalog of Moore’s art on display in public spaces: http://www.henry-moore.org/works-in-public/world/united-states-of-america/little-rock/100-west-capitol-main/large-standing-figure-knife-edge-1961-lh-482a

Henry Moore bio: http://www.theartstory.org/artist-moore-henry.htm 

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

Music, MoMA and Marathon

Empty wine bottles fill the frames of City Winery’s staircase wall

Saturday morning’s plan was to visit the Museum of Modern Art, a 15-minute walk from our home base. Of course we have no car here, and wouldn’t drive in this crazy city traffic if we did! Walking, subway and taxis for us – and for 99.9% of New Yorkers.

 

It’s ironic to me how easy it is to get into the “walk to where we need to go” mindset here as opposed to how it is in Little Rock, especially since we live downtown there too. Of course here in New York, you can find anything you need within a few minutes’ walk. In downtown Little Rock, more things are available now than in recent years but still a long way to go. But I digress… 

Music

Backing up a bit… We enjoyed a delightful dinner and concert Thursday evening at City Winery (http://citywinery.com), a working winery, restaurant and intimate concert venue in SoHo. Singer-songwriter Shawn Colvin was the headliner but the opening act was Charlie Mars, a very talented singer-songwriter who was born in El Dorado, Arkansas, but grew up in Mississippi. The handsome southern boy charmed the city folk and put on a great performance.

Not many 40/50 year old women could pull off this look but Shawn did!

Shawn Colvin’s voice sounded amazing and she really engaged the audience with stories of her songwriting and concert tour with Sting.

It was magic being in the audience as the whole crowd sung along to her biggest-ever hit, “Sunny Came Home” (listen to song on YouTube: http://youtu.be/qfKKBDFCiIA).  Periodic rumblings from the subway trains passing below were the only thing that brought me out of the transfixed state that only a perfect concert experience can evoke.

 MoMA

Saturday morning, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) was abuzz. We happily joined in, picked up the free audio guides and headed upstairs to the deKooning exhibit (http://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2011/dekooning). I guess I shouldn’t admit it, but I had no prior knowledge of his work, but really enjoyed the exhibit. There are hundreds of the influential Dutch painter’s works on display and working our way through them took longer than we had allotted and expected.

We then sought out the museum’s collection of impressionist paintings by Degas, Monet, VanGogh and many others. The enormous panels from Monet’s “Water Lillies” took my breath away. It’s surreal to see in person works of art that you’ve known about your whole life but only seen in the pages of books or on postcards and posters. I highly recommend it!

Hangin' with VanGogh

VanGogh’s “Starry Night” is at the MoMA and it is Kelley’s all-time favorite painting. We found it, paid our respects along with hundreds of other museum-goers and I snapped a picture of Kelley beside it. Amazingly, given the painting’s popularity, there were no ribbons or railings in front of it, though there was an assigned guard who admonished Kelley to be sure and not get close enough to brush against the frame while he posed for the shot. There is never any flash photography allowed in museums, so my picture isn’t the best (see below).

Unfortunately, we ran out of time to see much of the “Talk to Me” exhibit there which is so “down my alley.” The exhibit examines the modern and developing communication and connection we humans have with machines and technology. I hope to snag a book online that details the exhibit.

The New York City Marathon

This is my second-ever trip to New York; coincidentally, both times have been during the weekend of the marathon. Kelley has been here dozens of times. He says the chatter of streets always has a mixture of non-English languages – plus the NYC dialect, which is nearly a language in and of itself – but it is even more so when the marathon is on. Indeed we have seen many T-shirts, bags and hats bearing various country names, particularly a lot from France.

Marathoners - and we - cruise the finish line area in Central Park the day before the race

Our home base is along Central Park South which, as you might expect, is at the southern end of Central Park. The last mile of the marathon runs right by our building so there has been an elaborate maze of barricades, fencing, signage and spectator bleachers along the street and in the park.

The past two mornings we’ve enjoyed long walks among all the logistical preparations. Hundreds of the race participants were milling around the finish line area yesterday morning (see pic), I suppose scoping out their ultimate destination for today’s race. My friend, Stacey Jones, ran the marathon today, her first. Congratulations, Stacey! (The NY Times has a great blog about the marathon: http://marathon.blogs.nytimes.com – worth visiting for the pics alone.)

At noon today (Sunday) we had a family brunch here at the apartment with Kelley’s NYC nieces and nephews, and with his Parisian sister who is in the U.S. for a few weeks. This is her place we’re happily staying in. We’ve just returned from a matinee on Broadway where we saw the FABULOUS “Relatively Speaking” (http://relativelyspeakingbroadway.com/about/synopsis) – a play that recently opened to rave reviews. Tonight we’re going to dinner at a fine restaurant of meat-lovers’ acclaim, Quality Meats (http://qualitymeatsnyc.com).

Another big day in the Big Apple! It is also our one-year wedding anniversary, the main reason for our trip. Happy anniversary and a big thank-you to the man, who, as previously blogged, has revolutionized my life.

Monday holds in store a trip to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, then the 9/11 Memorial and an evening at New York Taste (http://nymag.com/taste). Wheeeee!

A delightful morning walk along Central Park West yielded this shot

The marathon has a great ad design team