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!

Eleven Years after 9/11

I vividly remember being stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on Little Rock’s I-30 bridge that sunny September morning 11 years ago. I remember hearing on the radio that a small plane had hit one of the twin towers. I immediately called my then-husband, an amateur pilot, who was already on the job at his highway department office. I said to him, “What kind of idiot can’t miss a skyscraper that big?”

Of course we all soon learned what was really happening.

I, like you, watched the television and listened to radio news reports that Tuesday and in the days and weeks that followed. We watched in disbelief and horror as the towers burned and fell, at the gaping hole and smoke left at the Pentagon, and later as we saw the smoldering crater in that field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. When search-and-rescue turned to search-and-recovery, like you, I mourned with the families and friends coming to grips with such a senseless loss.

Like you, I gained even more respect and appreciation for first responders who run in when everyone else is running out. But maybe unlike you, I had never been to the Word Trade Center, the Pentagon or that field in Pennsylvania before the attack, so seeing those places in the news reports was a bit like watching a horror movie – not quite real.

It wasn’t until I visited the 9/11 memorial garden last year, shortly after it opened on the 10th anniversary of the attack, that it truly became real for me.

I had never stood at the bottom of the World Trade Center towers and taken in their impressive stature. I had never looked down over New York City from their observation floors. Visiting the footprints of those enormous and iconic structures that are now replaced with somber fountains, and experiencing the reverent park that surrounds them, personalized it for me.

I was standing where the towers stood. I was standing where the victims died. I was standing in the only place loved ones might be able to reconnect with the spirits of those they lost.

The memorial site is very quiet and peaceful, despite being in the middle of New York City. The white noise of water flowing through the enormous granite-lined pools accomplishes that – and I’m glad.

I invite you to read the post I wrote last year following the day  Kelley and I visited the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and the 9/11 Memorial.  Visiting those three historic sites in the same day gave me a perspective on the freedoms we American’s enjoy, what our forefathers sought here, and what was viciously attacked eleven years ago.

Freedom: Embraced, Exercised and Attacked

Note: I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the dedicated soldiers who, shortly after 9/11/01 and yet today, are fighting the wars that the attacks spawned.  So many have been killed and so many have been injured, yet their love for our country endures. So many have been sent on tour after tour after tour, yet their love for our country endures. So many families have lost their beloved soldiers, yet their love for our country endures. My heart and support goes out to each and every one.

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

SoMa Snowflakes

Bernice Garden: wire and lights Christmas tree sculpture

I got a big dose of Little Rock Love tonight. I was ensconced, enveloped and mesmerized by Christmas in SoMa.


Little Rock’s southside Main Street neighborhood –branded as SoMa – is the section of Main Street south of interstate 630 to Roosevelt Road. The SoMa neighborhood boasts an urban blend of ages, races, and socioeconomic levels which seems to mimic the mix of vintage homes and storefronts that are experiencing a second wind of occupancy and restoration.

There are a few businesses that have been entrenched in SoMa, long before the rebranding and resurgence. Community Bakery is the grande dame of SoMa, as were Juanita’s and The Band Box. Those last two are no longer in this neighborhood but were steadfast SoMa businesses for decades.

The pulse of SoMa is quickening and it’s getting stronger. Over this past year the 14th and 15th street blocks of Main have welcomed a branch of our city’s venerable Boulevard Bread enterprise, The Root Café, The Green Corner Store and others. A new USA Drug Store stands where the Band Box served fabulous burgers for decades. The Bernice Garden, an oasis of outdoor art and city park all rolled into one, now boasts a sophisticated-yet-rustic roof over its concrete pad, which gives the garden a structural presence and visual weight, not to mention offering visitors actual shelter from sun and rain. But back to tonight.

Bernice Garden: community tree and craft market

Tonight was the Bernice Garden Holiday Tree Lighting and Craft Market. Local crafters, artists, restaurant owners, bakers, farmers and food truckers set up their allotted retail spaces and gathered with, as best I could tell, about 300 friends and neighbors. They were there to light the garden’s Christmas tree, socialize and support one another.

I visited with a goat’s milk soap maker, recycled glass jewelry crafter, a home-made pie baker, and a tree trimming service owner who reclaims and recycles wood into gorgeous boxes, bowls and ornaments. Members of a SoMa church were offering free hot cocoa to a line of neighbors, chilled by the evening’s December air. Bakery staff were handing out sugar cookies in holiday shapes, a choir was singing carols and a steady din of communication and commerce rose up from the crowd. Parents were taking photos of their children with Santa, and retirees were shepherding their poodles and Heinz 57 pups through the festivities.

It was a Christmas bazaar the likes of which I’ve never experienced. The feeling of community pride and the support of independent artists and businesses was palpable.

SoMa snowflakes at the Green Corner Store

I walked down the block where I found The Green Corner Store brimming with shoppers. The owner sells only items that are from environmentally conscious sources, the more natural or “green” the better. Even the hand-scissored snowflakes decorating the shop windows reflect the non-commercial bent. I browsed the store, sampled ice cream and natural sodas, fingered hand-crafted cards, wooden toys and “Arkansas Native” t-shirts.
I turned and looked back through the windows as I left the store, walking out into the frigid night. To me, the warm glow emanating from that space seemed to be a beacon of hope for SoMa’s future – and for the hope that Christmas brings. It was a Norman Rockwell Christmas print come to life.

Green Corner Store and shoppers

Read more about it:
SoMa – http://www.southsidemain.org
The Bernice Garden http://www.thebernicegarden.org
The Green Corner Store http://www.thegreencornerstore.com
The Root Café – http://therootcafe.com
Community Bakery http://communitybakery.com
Boulevard Bread http://www.boulevardbread.com