By Shannon Frazeur
Good things come in small packages, the notion goes.
American Alliance of Museums recognized this in the Arts & Science Center, noting in a 2016 letter recommending ASC’s reaccreditation: “The museum [ASC] is an excellent example of a small but mighty museum serving its community with significant impact.”
This theme carries over into the title of ASC’s latest art exhibition, “Small but Mighty” as part of the center’s golden anniversary.
“This is our 50th year as the Arts and Science Center, and I wanted 50 works from the Permanent Collection for 50 years,” ASC Curator Dr. Lenore Shoults explained. “They don’t correlate year-to-work; it’s just 50 favorites.” Shoults selected pieces she loved, and Curatorial Assistants Ashley Smith and Catherine McGibbony weighed in on their favorites.
“There were some works in the collection that had been in flat storage files that we wanted to bring out, frame up, and have the public see for the first time. The most notable of those would be the Romare Bearden,” Shoults said.
Bearden (1911-1988) was a noted African-American artist who worked in a variety of media including oil and collage. The work on exhibit is a 1964 photostat of Bearden’s collage “The Conjure Woman.”
Shoults saw the original work earlier this year in the “Soul of a Nation” exhibition at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. “I walked in, and lo and behold, there was that piece. The work in our collection is a signed photostat from the original exhibition. It’s extremely cool that we have it here, and it’s never been displayed here before.”
“I happen to be a huge fan of Nelson Stevens,” Shouts said. The painter and printmaker was an early member of AfriCOBRA and is still in AfriCOBRA today.
AfriCOBRA (the African Community of Bad Relevant Artists) is a black arts movement that began in the 1960s. Pine Bluff native Jeff Donaldson (1932-2004) was the founding force that launched what has been referred to as “the Black Panthers of the art world.”
“They were protesting the fact that most museums in the United States only had white male representation,” Shoults explained. “They wanted a presence, and they also wanted an African-American aesthetic. [“Homer de Brave”] is a good representation because it has shine. It has really bright colors. The images are flat. And it’s a print which was important this was art for the people. So, as opposed to creating one artwork, they wanted multiple artworks so that all people could have art and it was accessible to everyone.”
(Three other works by AfriCOBRA artists — one by Donaldson and two by fellow Pine Bluff native Kevin Cole — are in the adjacent “UAPB & ASC: Five Decades of Collaboration” exhibit.)
Another standout work in the exhibit is Donald Gensler’s 1997 “Quilt Blanket (A Protective Covering),” created in charcoal and pencil, and incorporating a piece of blue quilt.
“A blanket may protect us yet also allow us a place to hide. Woven deep into the blanket we will find the wisdom and answers, which our families’ heritage provides,” Gensler wrote in his artist statement.
The heritage theme continued in the mural Gensler painted in 2000 in downtown Pine Bluff. “Delta Heritage,” on Second Avenue just east of Main Street, depicts scenes in the life of Jefferson County residents between the 1920s and 1940s. It features John Rust, inventor of the first mechanical cotton picker, along with scenes of the Delta cotton fields.
Other artists included in the exhibition include Al Allen, Benny Andrews, Harold Altman, Leonard Baskin, Camille Billops, James Boodhoo, Margaret Burrows, Roger Carlisle, Warrington Colescott, Richard Day, Michael Dorsey, Jean Fosch, Palmer Hayden, Robyn Horn, Lynn Manos Huber, Joan Irish, Samella Lewis, Evan Lindquist, Kitty Mashburn, Byron McKeeby, Jack R. Carol Spencer Morris, Laura Phillips, Juliette Reed, Dale Rayburn, Don Shaw, Jack R. Slentz, Dominique Simmons, J.L. Tucker, and Ray Walters.
“Small but Mighty” is on display in the William H. Kennedy Jr. Gallery through Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018.