Tapping into the wisdom of youth

For years, being named a 40 Under 40 honoree meant being profiled in a magazine column and attending a luncheon in your (and 39 others’) honor. Skip Rutherford, dean of the Clinton School of Public Service, wondered aloud if there wasn’t an opportunity to bring together those 80 yearly honorees (40 from Arkansas Business and 40 from the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal) to put their heads together to discuss some of the issues facing our state. Fortunately, he wondered this aloud during a collaborative planning meeting with the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute’s executive director, Dr. Marta Loyd. Sometimes wondering aloud develops partnerships and programs, and that’s what happened here. The Under 40 Forum was born.

The inaugural Under 40 Forum was held at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute April 1-2. 32 of 78 honorees from across the state attended the event, which was kicked-off by Gov. Asa Hutchinson. The event’s conversations focused on talent recruitment and retention, as did the governor’s talk. He took questions from the group, many of whom were business owners. They asked thought-provoking questions on issues they have faced recruiting and retaining talent in their organizations. These questions and general subject areas became the broad focus of the rest of the event.

Attendees largely focused their strategic conversations on:

  • Lack of widespread broadband access
  • Enhanced pre-K opportunities
  • Branding Arkansas for talent recruitment and retention efforts
  • Need for improved engagement with the public sector
  • Impact of recent proposed legislation on talent recruitment and retention

Examining challenges facing Arkansas was only a part of the reason for the Forum. Developing relationships, crossing geographical barriers and promoting long-term collaboration was the other half of the motivation behind hosting the Forum. If how late the conversations went is any indication of success, we are pleased.

Gov. Rockefeller strongly believed in and practiced the convening approach to problem solving. It’s an approach we are still echoing today. While these problems won’t be completely solved anytime soon, we believe that convening the Under 40 Forum was a good step in that direction, and we won’t be surprised if it’s the people who attended the Forum who are behind the solutions.

In addition to the Forum providing a spark of energy for the participants, another tangible outcome will be a report outlining the topics discussed and suggested actions that can be taken to make Arkansas a place where people want to come and stay. We plan to release that report in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.


Beyond technology, beyond art, Mini Maker Faire brings creators of all kinds together

Don’t let the name fool you. There is nothing “mini” about the Mini Maker Faire. The space in which it takes place may appear relatively small on a map, but the event is where big ideas and innovations come together as equals. Held at the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub in North Little Rock, this annual event unites all types of people to enjoy the ingenuity that is happening throughout the state. It’s a place of show-and-tell and a shared space to learn from one another.

Participant John Steward, physics lab manager at Hendrix College, succinctly describes the event.

“It’s not a ‘tech’ show, not quite an art show, but something in between and well beyond,” he said.

Warwick Sabin, Innovation Hub executive director, said he looks most forward to the diversity the Maker Faire showcases.

“The exhibits, activities and demonstrations are broad, and I look forward to the interactions among all of the different kinds of people who attend,” he said. “This is a special event because it brings together people of all ages and backgrounds to celebrate the innovation, creativity and ingenuity that is taking place all around Arkansas. It’s not only fun and educational, but it builds pride and confidence in our state.”

The Maker Faire, to be held Saturday, May 7, provides a good opportunity for artists and innovators to display their “different worlds,” said Errin Dean, director of programs and memberships. “The coolest thing about it is it’s the only event in Arkansas that brings local makers of all varieties together. From an artist and jewelry maker to a welder, if you make anything you can be on display at the Faire.” As an attendee, she added, “you might leave surprised, not realizing everything that people can make.”

Another aspect of the Faire that Dean particularly enjoys is “Education Row,” she said. It features students from various schools showcasing their specialties.

John, the physics lab manager, brought his 3D printer to the event last year along with a collection of 3D printed objects and plans to do the same this year. The objects ranged from creatures, signs and topographical maps to bracelets, household items and prosthetic hands. He tried to keep the printer running to show what it looks like when things are made.

“I love watching kids’ reactions when they see something on the 3D printer,” John said. “You can almost see in their faces that it answers a few questions, but generates a hundred more. Then I get to explain to them how to make something. The Faire is also the only place I know where so many folks can bring their own amazing creations and machines, and show them off to anyone interested.”

Megan Kessler of Fork in the Road said as the sole food vendor last year, “We had a blast. The staff was wonderful and patrons were amazing. I can’t wait to see what this year brings.”

Chris Campbell participated in the Faire last year with his R2-D2 – a full-size, movie-quality replica that a friend helped him build. The North Little Rock event was not his first, but Chris said it was much larger than some of the others he has attended. Of the artists in attendance, he said he enjoyed seeing their various works.

Campbell once again will grace the Faire with his R2-D2, but he’s also working with ArkLUG (the Arkansas Lego Users Group) to set up a city/train layout and some various other displays as well as a play brick area for people to build their own creations.

“In addition, I’ll have a table set up with my personal 3D printers running that will be printing parts throughout the day for the BB-8 that I’m currently working on,” he said. 

Catch him also in the Mini 3D Printed Diorama setup.

Jessica Beeman Smith is “absolutely thrilled” to be part of the Maker Faire again this year. Last year she and her team built a large-scale mechanical diorama that featured a giant Kraken (legendary sea monster) and a pirate ship that moved and bounced with the waves at the turn of a crank.

“The response from Faire-goers was amazing,” she said. “Kids, especially, loved to turn the crank and set the scene in motion.”

Moving forward with what her team learned last year, this year’s project is going to be “bigger and better,” Smith said. “The folks at the Innovation Hub have been absolutely invaluable. They all bring to the table, not only their super cool equipment, but knowledge, skill and passion that is just incredible. I love being a part of this fantastic community of makers. I’m so excited to see what everyone brings to this year’s Maker Faire. It’s going to be amazing.”


Arkansas Artist Spotlight: Dawn Holder

This month’s Arkansas Artist Spotlight focuses on Dawn Holder. Holder is an instructor at the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville and is an accomplished ceramics artist. Just last year she was featured alongside a select group of artists from around the globe for the National Museum of Women in the Arts Women to Watch exhibition series.

We caught up with Holder at an exhibition of her work at the Arts and Science Center for Southeast Arkansas and were able to find out a little more about her.

A Flower's Shade Exhibit

A Flower’s Shade exhibit at the Arts and Science Center for Southeast Arkansas

How did you first become involved in the arts? Have you always been drawn to work with ceramics and porcelain?

My interest in art started in childhood. My siblings and I were not allowed to watch very much TV. Instead, we were encouraged to read, play, explore and be creative. At one point, I noticed some red clay in our yard and decided to dig it up and make pottery with it. I painted the pots with tempera paint and left them in the sun to dry. Finding a direct connection with the material was exciting, even if the pieces were pretty wonky. In high school, my interest started to become more serious. I took different art classes every year, and I began to take ceramics classes in the evening at a community art center. In both undergraduate and graduate school, I focused on ceramics and sculpture.

As a material, clay is very tactile and responsive. I have always been drawn to its humble origins, its rich history and its ability to morph into almost any form. Porcelain is more temperamental to work with than other types of clay, but I love its translucency, bright white color and highly responsive nature.

 Once Upon a Time in the Forest of I'm Not Sweet Enough

Once Upon a Time in the Forest of I'm Not Sweet Enough, 2008-2009, 14' x 16' x 6 ‘, porcelain, plaster, poly-fil, sugar, chocolate and butterscotch almond bark, homemade hard candy, homemade cotton candy. Photo courtesy of Dawn Holder.

What are some of the biggest influences and inspirations for your work?

I am always looking, noticing, reading and collecting. My interests and inspiration are all over the place:  formal garden design; minimalist sculpture; highly detailed craftwork, especially traditional women’s work, like embroidery; postapocalyptic narratives; the landscape around wherever I happen to be; aerial photography; the Necropastoral; ruins; fairytales; social and cultural practice that affect the environment; landscaping; multimedia installation art (Sarah Sze, Petah Coyne, Kim Dickey, Gregor Schneider, Claire Twomey); houses and other domestic structures; geology; art history; botanical drawings; ecofeminism; ecology; natural history collections and wunderkammer; etc.


Median, 2014, porcelain, concrete, 127" x 31" x 2.5". Photo courtesy of Dawn Holder.

It seems like a lot of your work (A Flower’s Shade, Monoculture, Once Upon a Time in the Forest of I’m Not Sweet Enough) draws the viewer’s eye to elements that are ground level. Is that significant to the themes of your work?

Yes, working on the ground is a very deliberate choice. Partly, it comes out of an influence and response to minimalist sculptors, like Carl Andre, who placed materials and sculptural objects directly on the gallery floor. I am drawn to the way this type of work displaces all of the empty space above it. In a sense, the entire gallery becomes a pedestal for the work. Since I work primarily with landscape-based imagery, it makes visual sense for the work to be directly on the ground, as this is the way we experience the landscape around us—directly springing from the same ground our feet rest on. I am interested in the viewer feeling as though they share the space with the work, rather than being artificially separated from it by a pedestal.

There is an element of danger of working directly on the floor, however, because my work is very fragile and vulnerable to breakage. I have had multiple experiences with people purposefully stepping on and breaking the porcelain grass (sadly, both children and adults have done this). Occasionally, people just aren’t paying attention and accidentally bump into and break pieces. I have to work closely with galleries and museums to create visual cues, like tape lines or signage, to help protect the work. When I participate in group exhibitions where I show smaller installations or sculptural groupings, I sometimes use low pedestals to give the work a buffer zone.


Monoculture, 2013, porcelain, 8’ x 15’ x 2.5 ». Photo courtesy of Dawn Holder.

When talking about Monoculture and other works featuring ceramic grass, you mention the deliberately tedious creation process. Has that influenced or crossed over to some of your latest pieces?

Labor and tedium seem to be part of my creative process, no matter what the work is. Part of what I find visually attractive and exciting is the massing together and repetition of forms, so that means I have to make many, many little pieces for my installations. For Monoculture, I created over 75,000 blades of porcelain grass. Repetition, labor, time and process all add value and meaning to the finished work. My most recent installation, A Flower’s Shade, has a good deal of variety in the forms, but the process of collecting, sorting and dipping each piece of plant matter in liquid clay was the same. Repetition has a deep history in ceramics, from the potter who makes hundreds of bowls, to the factory that makes thousands of sinks. My installation work harnesses this tradition of multiplicity to create visual impact and metaphor.

 Once Upon a Time in the Forest of I'm Not Sweet Enough

Once Upon a Time in the Forest of I'm Not Sweet Enough, 2008-2009, 14' x 16' x 6 ‘, porcelain, plaster, poly-fil, sugar, chocolate and butterscotch almond bark, homemade hard candy, homemade cotton candy. Photo courtesy of Dawn Holder.

Speaking of A Flower’s Shade, many of the sculptures take on an active, flowing form. Is that a byproduct working with organic material, or were they deliberately shaped before firing?

A little of both. The organic materials that I used in the piece include things like hedge clippings, fallen leaves, weeds, seed pods, berries and dead flowers, so that many of them naturally have active, flowering forms. Depending on the particular item, some were trimmed or bundled together before being dipped in slip. Others were just taken in their natural, organic state. After being dipped in slip, the forms all have to drip-dry on a clothesline, which also affects the ultimate shape, as everything tends to be pulled downward by gravity. Also, many of the forms fall apart or break in the firing and glazing process, so I have to make many extra and cross fingers to get a few that have beautiful, complex shapes. I now have piles and piles of interesting shards and shrapnel that did not make the cut for these pieces, but that I imagine will also be “harvested” and transformed into some smaller works.

 A Flower's Shade

A Flower’s Shade exhibit at the Arts and Science Center for Southeast Arkansas

How did you decide on the color palette and differing levels of slip and glaze for the “porcelain fossils” that make up A Flower’s Shade?

The color palette is inspired by the Necropastoral (a poetic theory described by Joyelle McSweeney that intertwines the idealized natural world and mankind’s degradation of the environment) and my love of postapocalyptic landscape as depicted in books and movies—the rubble and the grey, black, bleak quality of the landscape. I use several shades of gray and black to evoke a dead, charred or aberrant quality. The white is reminiscent of death, bones and lifeless things drained of color. The bright yellow was chosen for contrast and to create a sense of unease. It has a radioactive or poisonous quality, like bodily fluid or an infection. Overall, I wanted the colors to evoke a sense of loss, disruption and mystery.

Porcelain fossil

A Flower’s Shade exhibit at the Arts and Science Center for Southeast Arkansas

Having grown up in the South, what makes this region unique for an artist? Has it had a specific influence on your work?

I would not say that living here has had a strong influence on what I make, although my work has always been, either directly or indirectly, a response to the culture and landscape around me. Living in several different areas of the country has given me perspective on various modes of being and interacting with the environment. There is, however, a little more space and freedom to develop and define your creative practice here. I don’t feel any pressure to adhere to a certain kind of making or thinking, as might happen in other more commercially driven places. Also, I have been surprised by the amount of opportunities and resources for artists here, as well as the supportive environment. Even the good old boys at the hardware store get interested in what I am making and regularly ask me about it.

On the other hand, the challenge of living in rural Arkansas is that life here can be personally and culturally isolating. I have had to search all over the state to find other creative people to connect to. I am part of a fairly recently formed female art collective called Culture Shock. We meet regularly to critique each other’s work, we support each other’s creative practice, and we organize group exhibitions and panel discussions. Having a critical discourse with this diverse and talented group of people has invigorated my creative practice.


 A Flower's Shade

A Flower’s Shade exhibit at the Arts and Science Center for Southeast Arkansas

What brought you to Arkansas?

I moved to Arkansas for a job. I am an assistant professor of art, and I teach ceramics, sculpture and art history at the University of the Ozarks. I had never been to Arkansas before my job interview, but full-time teaching jobs are pretty rare, so thought I would give it a try.


 A Flower's Shade

A Flower’s Shade exhibit at the Arts and Science Center for Southeast Arkansas

What do you hope to see in the future for arts in Arkansas and the South?

I hope to see more funding and support for art, not only for mature artists, but also in the schools. I think teaching children how to think creatively is just as important as learning to how to read and write.

Another thing I hope to see continued emphasis on is more diversity in programming within art institutions, which serves to reflect the diverse experience and background of our population. The Arkansas Arts Center has had some fantastic shows lately of African-American and Latino art. I would love to see this trend continue and expand, not just through specific exhibitions, but also through regular programming, inclusion in permanent collections, etc. I think there is still a lot of entrenched racism and prejudice in the South, and art can serve to challenge the dominant paradigm by communicating empathetic perspectives that are diverse, divergent and other.


We appreciate Dawn sharing her thoughts with us and encourage you to check out her work in person. You can see A Flower’s Shade at the Arts and Science Center for Southeast Arkansas through April 21, 2016. You can see Once Upon a Time in the Forest of I'm Not Sweet Enough as it travels the state as part of the 2016 Arkansas Women to Watch exhibit.


This post is part of a monthly series highlighting artists that call Arkansas home and make the arts community here one of the best in the South. Read on for a closer look at the people creating great art all across the Natural State.


Rethinking college

A new University of Arkansas System endeavor is tapping into its large pool of faculty across many institutions and reaching more Arkansans than ever. eVersity, the state’s first fully online education that launched last fall, ended its first term in February with a collective GPA of 3.47. The second six-week term starts this month to help more students complete their degrees and become workforce ready. With seven start dates throughout the year, back-to-school can happen anytime for people seeking this university path.

Why eVersity?

Arkansas ranks No. 49 nationally in the percentage of the population with college degrees. “And we’re falling fast,” said Michael K. Moore, chief academic and operating officer of eVersity and vice president of academic affairs for the UA System. “Something has to be done, whether it’s with us or another one of our many higher education institutions. It’ll take a great team effort from everyone across the state to improve that statistic. But being the state’s only 100 percent online institution allows us to offer a high-quality, affordable and workforce-relevant experience.” 

Michael K. Moore
Michael K. Moore, chief academic and operating officer of eVersity & vice president of academic affairs for the UA System

The need

The best thing about eVersity is it offers a second chance to those who gave up on their higher education dreams, Moore noted. “We know that there are 356,000-plus Arkansans who once saw the value in higher education and had a dream to earn a degree, but for whatever reason life got in the way and they didn’t complete what they set out to do. The goal of eVersity from the very beginning has been to identify as many of the barriers as possible that are preventing those people from returning to school and work really hard to remove the barriers and do whatever possible to get them across the finish line.”

The response

Faculty and students have been pleased at how engaging the online courses are, Moore said. UA System faculty works with an eVersity team of instructional designers to make classes as interactive, visually appealing and fulfilling as possible. “Our efforts to design very high-quality and interactive online classes are paying off, and our faculty has also commented about our students being among the most attentive and productive as any they’ve taught before.”

Areas of study

Courses last six weeks, and students generally take just one course at a time. Areas of study include information technology, criminal justice, business, health care management and university studies. Thoughtful analysis identified the needs of Arkansas employers and the current job market to choose eVersity’s fields of study, Moore said. “We’re happy with what we have to offer and feel like we are concentrating our efforts on what’s best for Arkansans and the state’s employers. With that being said, we are tapped into employers’ needs and ready and willing to meet those demands as things evolve.”

Quick facts

  • Cost per credit hour is $165.
  • Average applicant age is 35.
  • 73 percent of Arkansas counties are represented in the applicant pool.
  • 60 percent of the applicants are women.
  • Applicants bring an average of 67 transfer credits from prior institutions.

Calling all archeology enthusiasts: Institute research station sets open house for March 19

On top of beautiful Petit Jean Mountain, the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute is home to one of the 10 research stations of the Arkansas Archeological Survey. The mission of the Arkansas Archeological Survey is to research and protect Arkansas’ archeological sites, preserve and manage information and collections from those sites, and share what we have learned with the citizens of Arkansas.

The Arkansas Archeological Survey, along with the Arkansas Archeological Society, participates in an annual outreach event called Arkansas Archeology Month. In celebration of Archeology Month, the WRI research station is holding an open house from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, March 19. Although the research station welcomes visitors any time of the year, we are planning many fun and educational activities for our open house day.

 University of Central Arkansas Students trying out our atlatl.

University of Central Arkansas Students trying out our atlatl. (2015)

The research station at the Institute is located in what is called The Teaching Barn. This barn and the surrounding buildings in the “Heritage Farmstead,” as it is termed, are modeled after a real farmstead owned by the Westphal family on Petit Jean Mountain from about 1900 to 1953. The location of the orchard, vineyard, smokehouse and cellar house are all based on the real Westphal farmstead, which was located on the north edge of the mountain. In addition to the station “barn,” the smokehouse and cellar house will be open for touring.

We will have both prehistoric (before Europeans arrived in Arkansas) and historic artifacts on display. You are welcome to bring artifacts to be identified, but we do not do appraisals or allow buying or selling of artifacts at our events. You will have a chance to try your hand at spear throwing using an atlatl or play toli, a traditional Native American stickball game. There will be crafts including make-your-own petroglyph, a pictograph wall, making cordage and decorating pottery using prehistoric techniques.

University of Central Arkansas Students painting on our pictograph wall.

University of Central Arkansas Students painting on our pictograph wall. (2015)

We are going to have a couple of demonstrations as well. Ben Swadley, superintendent at the Parkin Archeological State Park, will demonstrate how Native Americans made their stone tools and arrow points by doing some flintknapping. For a historic perspective, Paul Glidewell is going to demonstrate some historic woodworking techniques.

The WRI station is developing a Native American garden at the station. Similar to the Plum Bayou garden designed by Dr. Elizabeth Horton at the Toltec Mounds research station, we will plant species that were used by Native Americans before the widespread use of corn around A.D. 1000. These ancient crops include sunflower, goosefoot, maygrass, little barley and a particular line of squash. At our open house you will be able to try out gardening in our garden with replica Native American gardening tools made out of stone, wood and antlers.

Ben Swadley flintknapping.

Ben Swadley flintknapping. (2015)

From noon to 2 p.m. ROOST (Revitalizing Ozark and Ouachita Seed Traditions) will host a seed swap at the open house. You can participate in the seed swap and help preserve Arkansas’ agricultural heritage by bringing your open pollinated seeds, their stories and other associated information to share with others.

I hope you will come join us for a day of history, exploration and hands-on learning for all ages!

For more information on the open house, contact Dr. Emily Beahm at (501) 727-6250 or


The Dirty Farmers Community Market—sharing and caring in Van Buren County

In Van Buren County, sustainability and farm-to-table are more than just buzzwords. They are reality. This is largely because of the efforts of The Dirty Farmers Community Market.

Opened in Clinton in May 2013 by Jackie and Sean Sikes, the market was an idea Jackie conceptualized while running for local office.

“I met several farmers who wanted help,” said Jackie, one of the participants in the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute’s Uncommon Communities program. “They needed the city to allow for a farmers market more than just one or two days a month. It took over a year to convince enough crafters and farmers to join me in starting a year-round market. It was the typical ‘if I build it, will you come?’ speech.”

She did, and they came.

Sean and Jackie Sikes

Sean and Jackie Sikes


The Dirty Farmers Community Market provides local farmers, artists and crafters with a year-round sales venue. Offerings include those typical of a farmers market: fresh, seasonal vegetables and fruits, handmade goods, and other local wares.

It didn’t take long for it to grow into something more than your usual farmers market.

During the first season, volunteers would smell lunch as Jackie cooked for Sean each day. Eventually, she offered them some. They liked it and a lunch-only cafe was born. While not part of the original plan, The Greater Good Cafe has become a hit since it opened in November 2014.

The cafe operates on an “eat what you need; pay what you can” concept. Most patrons do give what they can, and they can directly see the impact of their donation.

“Our county is one of the poorest in the state,” Jackie said. “Coupled with Arkansas obesity statistics, we not only need to provide a reasonably priced meal but one that is nutritious. We see a lot of seniors on fixed income who really enjoy our meals.”

They also enjoy the cafe’s atmosphere.

“For our seniors it's not just about the meal, it's the fellowship and the feeling of belonging to the community that keeps them coming back,” she said.

The Greater Good Cafe

Doorway to The Greater Good Cafe 

This idea of fellowship can also be seen in the free, monthly workshops they offer. Past events have included learning to make bug spray, adult coloring, Easter egg hunting and pumpkin carving. Jackie sees them as a fun way to bring people of all ages to the market, especially those who might not come otherwise.

“The market has come to mean so much more than just a place to sell produce, arts and crafts. Even the cafe means so much more,” she said. “People benefit from the atmosphere surrounding the market and the people and volunteers who are there each day. It’s like one big community family.”

And that family will only continue to grow if the Sikeses have their way.

Future plans include making the cafe 90 percent farm-to-table in two years, expanding the program of feeding seniors and extending to form more community partnerships. Currently, the market works with Clinton High School’s agricultural classes to help grow plants for the program. They would like to extend their partnerships to include additional area schools and possibly Van Buren County Master Gardeners.

The Sikeses also hope to see their concept replicated in other communities.

“I can't even talk about what the market means to me without tearing up,” Jackie said. “There are different ways of sharing and caring in communities, and ours is the market.”

The Dirty Farmers Market is located at 364 Main St. in Clinton. It is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Lunch in the cafe is served daily from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.


You do a little research, you end up in Budapest

The list of things I know about Ludwig van Beethoven is a short one. I know that he was a great composer, that he was German, that he was deaf for much of his life and that he penned "Für Elise" and several other pieces that I would recognize by ear but couldn’t name.

But I’m always interested in a good story. So when I saw an article from the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith (UAFS) about an upcoming lecture on one of Beethoven’s works, "Opus 111," I was intrigued. I wasn’t intrigued by "Opus 111" (at least not at first). I had never heard the piece before. I was intrigued by the fact that Dr. Stephen Husarik, professor of humanities and music history at UAFS, had traveled to Budapest, Hungary, to play a piano that belonged to Beethoven himself.

Dr. Husarik will give a lecture about this experience and his research regarding "Opus 111" at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 23, in the Breedlove Auditorium on the UAFS campus.

To understand the context of this story, you first have to understand a bit about Dr. Husarik. First off, he’s brilliant. He has literally written the book on humanities. Or a book, anyway. He showed me the humanities textbook he authored during my recent visit to his office in the UAFS Breedlove building.

Second, his thirst for learning and knowledge is furious. It’s evident within two minutes of conversation with him. His office, humbly tucked into a corner of Breedlove, is stuffed to the gills with books, papers, playback systems old and new … and a piano. I’m quite certain they must have built Breedlove around the piano, because I saw no other way of installing it.

His office layout and contents speak to his personality. As we talked, he glided back and forth from his desk to his piano to his collection of books and papers. If I asked a question about "Opus 111," his eyes would light up, and before the entirety of the question was out of my mouth, he had whisked past me to get to the piano to show me the answer to my question.

So how does this story wind its way to Budapest?

Husarik is a lifelong student of the works of Ludwig van Beethoven. He’s studied all of Beethoven’s works and has a ferocious enthusiasm for the composer.

As a young music student, Husarik was exposed to "Opus 111," the last of 32 piano sonatas written by Beethoven. Husarik learned to play the piece (which is no small feat) early in his academic career and has maintained an interest in it throughout his life.

It’s a complicated piece, full of nuance and mystery. Particularly curious are the piece’s variations, which take place in the sonata’s latter half. In the nearly 200 years since Beethoven’s death, scholars have debated about the nature of these variations. Husarik, through his years of studying the piece, had his own theory about Beethoven’s intentions for this section of "Opus 111," but he couldn’t prove it without going straight to the source.

“These small notes,” he said as he played a soft melody, “they just didn’t sound quite right to me when played on a modern piano.”

The story of how Beethoven acquired his original John Broadwood and Sons piano is interesting in and of itself, but to keep a long post from being extremely long, suffice it to say that it was special to him and was the first piano on which "Opus 111" was ever played.

Husarik met some resistance when he called the Hungarian National Museum in Budapest, where the piano now resides. He simply wanted to play a few notes on the piano and record them for later analysis.

“I thought that if I could just hear a few notes, I’d be be able to get a better sense of how the piece is supposed to be played,” he said.

Negotiations for Husarik’s visit took eight months, and what finally swayed the museum’s curator was Husarik’s tale of being stranded by a Budapest tour bus during a previous visit to the city; Husarik made sure to communicate his pointed displeasure with this experience when speaking to the curator.

Once the curator finally relented, Husarik arrived at the museum and was surprised when they shut down an entire wing just for his visit. And instead of playing just a handful of notes, they allowed him to play a short section of "Opus 111."

At the end of the visit, which included lunch and coffee, the curator asked Husarik, “So now what do you think of Hungarian hospitality?”

Husarik said he had assumed they had granted him access because of the importance of his research.

“So I had to swallow my pride a little bit on that, but at least I got what I had come for,” he said.

And the discovery he made while examining the piano was critical to his theory. On the side of the piano was a switch that when activated would soften the sound of the piano, much like a una corda pedal. Husarik played me the recording of the notes he was allowed to play on Beethoven’s piano, which were notes from the variation portion of "Opus 111." Though it was subtle, there was certainly a difference in the sound from the recording and the sounds coming from Husarik’s own piano.

While that might not mean much to a musical Philistine like myself, to music historians it’s a significant piece of information. Modern performances of "Opus 111," while still conveying much of the majesty and mystery of the piece, fail to completely capture the notes as Beethoven first imagined them.

The entirety of "Opus 111" is fascinating, even for the untrained ear. The first movement is bombastic in the way that much of Beethoven’s music was. The second movement is much more muted and represents “a resurrection,” as Husarik put it. And somewhere in there is a segment that almost resembles jazz, though Husarik assured me “this is no boogie.” Apparently, Beethoven subdivided the notes in one section of the piece to point that it resembles a freestyle improvisation.

Husarik told me about some of his other research. He was able to examine some of Beethoven’s original sketchbooks in Paris, something he did with great reverence.

“I realized at one point that every time I turned a page, I was turning about $200,000,” he said. “No wonder the security guards were keeping a close eye on me.”

My meeting with Dr. Husarik has changed the way I listen to classical music, and it’s made me want to dig more into the history and genius of Beethoven. My guess is those who are able to attend Husarik’s lecture next week will come away with a similar excitement and curiosity.


Taste of the Titanic: the last meal, champagne and more

Combine the idea of a last meal with the most famous maritime disaster in history and you’ve got the makings of a fascinating dinner. During the pre-dawn hours of April 15, 1912, the RMS Titanic sank in the icy waters of the North Atlantic. It was day four of her maiden voyage. First-class dinner service had only just ended when the ship struck an iceberg at 11:40 p.m. Satiated passengers—many of the world’s wealthiest—were likely still lingering over brandies and cigars in the smoking room.

More than 100 years later, the story of the Titanic still holds drama and allure. She was glorious and billed as unsinkable, yet the ship that carried 2,200 passengers and crew, 130,000 pounds of meat and fish, and 1,750 pounds of ice cream was equipped with only 20 lifeboats, many of which were lowered half empty. What irony.

I hope none of the passengers skipped dessert.

On April 15, 2016, the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute’s Executive Chef Robert Hall, a native Arkansan whose impressive resume includes stints at The Excelsior Hotel (Little Rock, Arkansas) and Sundance Resort (Provo, Utah), will replicate the final first-class meal served aboard the Titanic as part of his Chef’s Tasting Dinner series.               

“I’ve extensively researched cooking methods and recipes of the Edwardian era and believe I can closely replicate what was actually served to the first-class passengers,” Hall said.

The original 10-course meal is well-documented as a few copies of the Titanic menu were salvaged from the ship’s wreckage. And those desserts? They included Waldorf pudding, peaches in chartreuse jelly, chocolate and vanilla éclairs, and French ice cream.

Hall will stretch his Taste of the Titanic menu to 15 courses, and while Chef’s Tasting Dinners typically include specific wine pairings, the Titanic dinner will feature champagne pairings instead. According to Hall’s research, the ship’s cargo manifest suggests more champagne and liquor was on board than wine.

Taste of the Titanic will be a unique experience including more than scrumptious food and champagne. Upon check-in, each attendee will receive a replica 1912 first-class boarding pass along with a brief biography of the first-class passenger they will “become” for the evening. Prior to dinner, guests will have the opportunity to stroll through a special “museum” featuring several White Star Line, Titanic and period artifacts, including dishware, clothing and a scale model of the ship. 

In keeping with original Titanic tradition, a bugle call will signal the start of dinner (around 5:30 p.m.) and participants will be ushered into the dining room. Dinner will last approximately three-and-one-half hours and will include a discussion of meal service aboard the Titanic. Afterward, guests may retire to a different area for after-dinner coffee, brandy, period cocktails and poker (using replicas of period-specific playing cards and fake money). The evening will end around midnight, although guests may return to their rooms earlier.

Dinner is priced at $235 per person, which includes the meal, drink pairings, overnight accommodations and a continental breakfast the following morning. Participants must sign up in pairs. In keeping with first-class ambiance, Taste of the Titanic is a formal event—coat and tie preferred; black-tie optional.

For information on other culinary events happening at the Institute, see the listings for upcoming Classes & Events.

Read more from Talya Boerner at Grace, Grits, & Gardening.


Arkansas Artist Spotlight: Schmidt and House

Don House and Sabine Schmidt are both photographers based out of northwest Arkansas. While they each work on their own separate projects, they also come together on unique projects that combine their two contrasting styles. Both artists came to the state in different ways, but both have come to call Arkansas home. We had the chance to learn more about them in their own words, hear what makes Arkansas special to them and see what they would like for the future of arts in Arkansas.

Every person becomes an artist in a different way. How did you first become involved in the arts? How did you both come to collaborate on things like the Wichita Mountains Book Project?

Don House: My interest in photography dates to childhood, but the decision to pursue it seriously as a career came with my move to Arkansas some 30 years ago. I met Sabine Schmidt at the Fayetteville Underground studio/gallery complex four years ago when she regularly showed work at that venue. She is a photographer, but her biography does not read like those of many of my contemporaries (getting a Brownie camera as a child, setting up a darkroom in the bathroom and so on). She is a writer and translator who fell in love with Arkansas and picked up a camera late in the game as another tool to express what she was seeing, and that gives a perspective, a freshness, that is attractive and effective.

While I seek out people for my subjects, Sabine avoids them and concentrates on what they left behind, what they abandoned, so we can look at the same place at the same time and produce dramatically different images. We see the world in different ways, and because of that, when we work together, the finished images tell a more complete story than either of ours would alone.

The Visit, #4, silver gelatin print.

The Visit, #4, silver gelatin print

Sabine Schmidt: Although I’m now a photographer, I was originally a writer and translator. I still do translations for the German edition of National Geographic. I have a MFA (Master of Fine Arts), but it’s in literary translation, not in the visual arts. In fact, all of my adult life I’ve been moving back and forth between writing and art. My path to fine-art photography started with academic research into definitions of space and place, the role of walking in literature and psychogeography. I realized that I needed photography to express the insights I gained from my research.

Much of my work is the result of walking and hiking. To me, those are the best ways to experience places shaped by human actions, which is what I’m mainly interested in, whether it’s in a city or out in the Ozarks.

The Wichita project is different—it is built out of many road trips and lots of conversations about how Don House and I see landscape and people. We wanted to explore how two photographers with different styles interpret the same experience.

Sleeping In, Henryetta, Oklahoma (archival pigment print, 12x18

Sleeping In, Henryetta, Oklahoma (archival pigment print, 12 x 18")
“This image was in the 2015 Delta Exhibition. Its geometrical composition and use of color are meant to bring out the particular melancholy of a small-town weekday morning.” – Sabine Schmidt

What are some of your biggest influences/inspirations/muses?

DH: There were photographers that amazed me­­—Edward Weston, Tina Modotti, Yousuf Karsh, Eugene Smith—but they came later, after I had learned the basics of technique, and they helped refine my approach. What informed my desire to photograph in the first place, determined at what I would first point my lens were writers—(John) Steinbeck, (J.D.) Salinger, E.E. cummings, (Kurt) Vonnegut. It is a love of people really. It determined that much of my work would be portraiture, and even in the most remote of wilderness settings—places that I seek out—it is the human trace that makes me set up my tripod and unpack my camera—rock walls, foundation traces, chimney falls and, perhaps most significant, cemeteries.

SS: Being from Germany and having lived in the South for most of my 20 years in the U.S., I am influenced by two different aesthetics that I am trying to blend in my own work. Within the late 20th-century/early 21st-century German approach to geometrical, almost abstract interpretations of space, photographers, such as Bernd and Hilla Becher, Andreas Gursky, Thomas Struth and Thomas Demand, have been important influences. The work of southern photographers William Eggleston and William Christenberry continues to shape how I look at my adopted home state. I spend a lot of time looking at other photographers’ work, both out of admiration and to learn from what I see. A few weeks ago, I happened to see an exhibition of work by several female Japanese photographers, including Ishiuchi Miyako. I was unfamiliar with all but one of them, but Ishiuchi’s black-and-white images in particular resonated with me.

Books and music are constant companions, but I share Paul Auster’s (a favorite author) appreciation of chance and its effects on one’s life. My paper house series was inspired by a YouTube link a friend posted. It went to a short stop-motion film of a Russian fairy tale and the set design made me think about miniatures. I was stuck at home for a few days because of snow, which gave me time to develop the idea.

Beulah Church (archival pigment print, 18 x 12

Beulah Church (archival pigment print, 18x12”)
“From the paper houses series. I discovered the empty yellow suitcase in a tiny Ozarks church and filled it with all the miniature houses I had made up to that point.” – Sabine Schmidt

What brought you to, or keeps you in, Arkansas? What makes Arkansas unique or different for artists?

DH: I've been here for 30 years, longer than I've lived in any one place, and it is perhaps the first that I would call home without any modifier attached, like for the time being or currently or for now. It is home, period. What I noticed immediately was the opportunity to live frugally, to be able to reduce expenses and concentrate on what I wanted to do as an artist. It was easier to make that happen here than elsewhere. And so many of the people I first met had made choices in their lives, had given up careers and vocations to pursue their loves, trading money for a lifestyle. There is a wonderful energy in Arkansas, from its people, its towns, its rivers that nourishes the arts and the lives of artists. The whole state acts as a muse to me, but the mountainous areas in particular. For a traditional black-and-white photographer, the textures and tonalities of the Ozarks are compelling—sandstone, limestone, lichen, moss, tree bark—and I often include the human figure as a kind of textural scale.

Randy, silver gelatin print, from the collaboration with Sabine Schmidt

Randy, silver gelatin print, from the collaboration with Sabine Schmidt - We’re Not Telling You Everything.

SS: I originally came to Arkansas from Hamburg, Germany, to attend the MFA program in creative writing and translation in Fayetteville, returned to Germany, lived in Memphis for a while and finally came back.

I’ve found Arkansas, and Fayetteville in particular, to be a friendly and encouraging place for an artist trying to start and maintain her career. People are interested in what I do, they answer my questions, review my work, are happy to collaborate, etc. Professionalization has been comparatively easy here because it’s a small community whose members often are quite approachable. The Arkansas Arts Council has been a tremendously useful resource and there are other organizations, such as the Arkansas State Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, that have been helpful in building my career as an artist. We deal with the same problems artists in other states face, but overall Arkansas has a remarkable balance of very good art (and excellent galleries and museums where it can be seen) and a supportive community.


What do you hope to see in the future for the arts in Arkansas and our region?

DH: The Arkansas Arts Council has done amazing work in the 30 years I have been associated with them—the artist registry, small works on paper exhibitions, workshops, seminars, one-on-one counseling. Because they are a department of state government, there are restrictions on some activities (like lobbying), I have great hope for another organization that is just coming on the scene—Arkansans for the Arts—that will focus on bringing arts into the discussion at every level of state government and into economic development discussions. Every artist wishes for more venues to show art, more patrons of the arts, a greater chance of making a living and being able to follow the passion, and I think those two organizations will help increase the chances of success.

The Visit, #1, silver gelatin print

The Visit, #1, silver gelatin print

SS: The arts are a major force in the state’s economy, but artists seldom reap the rewards of their role at the center of this force. A radical idea: Pay artists a small monthly wage or grant that allows them to work on their art full-time, the way it’s done in some European countries. And cities, counties and the state can support artists by offering studio space, commissioning and buying their works, creating gallery spaces and organizing art festivals.

Put the arts in the schools. Make art an important part of children’s education for its own sake, not just as an add-on.

Let’s talk about the arts in more meaningful ways. The Oklahoma Arts Council has a program for training arts writers. I wish there were a similar opportunity for talented writers in Arkansas. We need more informed reviews and essays on the arts, plus outlets to publish them.

I’m a fan of places that bring first-rate art to towns and regions where one may not expect to find it, places that successfully involve their communities and become true centers of art. The Fort Smith Regional Art Museum, the Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas in Pine Bluff, and the Arts Center of the Ozarks in Springdale are just a few examples.

Signal Tree House (archival pigment print, 12 x 18

Signal Tree House (archival pigment print, 12x18”)
“From the paper houses series. I used this house a lot. I made it from watercolor rag paper, which has a soft texture that catches light in interesting ways. For this image, I took advantage of the afternoon sun shining on the roots of a big cedar. It gave the scene a fairy-tale quality. The cedar is an old signal tree on War Eagle Creek.” – Sabine Schmidt

We want to thank Schmidt and House for taking the time out to answer our questions and share their thoughts and work with us. Be sure to look for their work in galleries and tours around the state, particularly in Northwest Arkansas. You can also check their respective websites (Don House and Sabine Schmidt) for more examples of their work and to keep track of their exhibitions.


This post is the first in a monthly series highlighting artists that call Arkansas home and make the arts community here one of the best in the South. Read on for a closer look at the people creating great art all across the Natural State.


As good luck would have it: Shakespeare’s First Folio coming to Arkansas

Sometimes chasing down the origins of a word or phrase can be a wild goose chase (“Romeo and Juliet”), taking forever and a day (“As You Like It”) to reach an end that’s as dead as a door nail (“Henry VI Part II”), which is why such research isn’t for the faint-hearted (“Henry VI Part I”) who don’t want to work the live long day (“Julius Caesar”) to avoid becoming a laughing stock (“The Merry Wives of Windsor”).

Luckily, many words and phrases we use today were either coined or first recorded by William Shakespeare in his plays, making them very easy for historians to pinpoint. While the actual number of words Shakespeare invented from whole cloth is a matter of scholarly debate, there’s no doubt that the Bard is one of the most important figures in all English literature and culture.

As much debate as there is around the words Shakespeare invented, scholars could be debating something even loftier—which versions of the plays are correct. After he passed away in 1616, there were several incorrect versions of Shakespeare’s plays being sold. Many of these took the form of “bad quartos,” small pamphlets containing what amounted to pirated versions of the Bard’s plays copied down from the audience or put together from actors’ recollections of the lines. These bad versions of the plays would likely still be mixed with the correct versions had it not been for what is known as the First Folio.

The First Folio, or “Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies”, is a collection of 36 Shakespeare plays carefully collected and compiled by John Heminges and Henry Condell in 1623. Heminges and Condell were actors with The King’s Men, the acting troupe for which Shakespeare wrote. The duo set about producing the First Folio as a direct response to the bad quartos and to establish a definitive edition of Shakespeare’s plays. They worked not only from official quartos published while Shakespeare was alive, but also from Shakespeare’s personal writings and copies.

Of the estimated 750 copies printed, there are only 233 known copies that have survived. Of those, the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, has 82 in their collection. Beyond preserving as many copies as possible, the different Folios each have unique typographical errors as they were edited and printed at the same time. This allows scholars to track the changes with each book and increase their understanding of the collected works.

In honor of the 400th year since Shakespeare’s death, the Folger has created a traveling exhibit for the First Folio that will tour all 50 states, Washington and Puerto Rico. The hosts for the Arkansas leg of the tour are the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) and the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre (AST). The exhibit will be hosted from June 7–July 12, 2016, in the Baum Gallery on the UCA campus, which coincides perfectly with the start of AST’s 10th anniversary season. That means you’ll get the opportunity to see a piece of history up close and personal and then watch the work come to life on stage. This is a once-in-a-lifetime series of events that we can’t encourage you enough to take part in. That’s a foregone conclusion (“Othello”).