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.
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.