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