Commentary by Carol Yoho, Topeka, KS:

I had not been to Arkansas since I was very young but, in early October, 2012, took the time to drive to the new Crystal Bridges complex in Bentonville, then continued on to an event at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, in early October, 2012. The weather was mild, and smooth, modern interstate highways got us there safely and quickly.

The main event for traveling-friend Karen and myself was a special symposium on American silent film history and its focus on the Old West. Special guests were two international experts: film historian Kevin Brownlow of London, England, whose career documents the history of the silent film era; and David Shepard, of California, who is internationally recognized for his film restoration and preservation work.

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art had been open just less than one year at the time of our visit (opening was November 9, 2011). Architect Moshe Safdie placed the buildings at the bottom of the ravine to take advantage of the water and to preserve the mature trees that grew on the high ground.

Safdie also designed the Yad Vashem Holocaust Center in Jerusalem, Israel.

The complex is built in a lovely natural setting, surrounded by nature trails. Landscape architect Peter Walker designed the trails and paths linking downtown Bentonville and area neighborhoods with the museum and cultural center. Bicycles are welcomed on some trails.

The $50 million complex was paid for and made available free to the public, a gift of Walton Family Foundation and Alice Walton, daughter of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. founder Sam Walton.

See also: comments on the opening of the museum, Nov. 9, 2011, NYTimes announcement of museum plans and comments on its architecture.

Karen and I arrived for the morning session early enough that we could take a look around. We followed one of the nearest and shortest nature trails, the Tulip Tree Trail, where we enjoyed trees, ground cover, bur oak acorns, and a large open shelter with benches at the turn-around spot on the trail.

Our meeting was held in the Great Hall, an impressive arched-roof building anchored into a lake containing various covered glass bridges and buildings. Our spacious meeting room had shades drawn over what would have been open glass walls. The glass walls slanted outward from floor to roof, and the room was anchored together with screw-joints where the sheets of glass met.

A variety of scholarly panelists talked about Western American history. Speakers included: Crystal Bridges Assistant Curator Manuela Well-Off-Man and Curatorial Assistant Ali Demorotski, Distinguished Professor in History at the University of Arkansas Elliott West, and foremost silent film historian Kevin Brownlow. First topic was the early depictions of native peoples and Western landscape in European and Early American works of art. Topics turned to Western exploration and expansion of European settlers, the "taming" of the west, cultivation of the prairie, a need for herding cows, and the evolution of the role of "cowboy." Some discussion focused on the true role of the Western cowboy, then description of the role of the cowboy and his interaction with natives and the development of law-and-order as towns settled the West.

Some discussion dealt with the thieves and bandits prevalent in the Old West: raids, hold-ups, fights, and legal retribution—all fodder for exciting action and moral summaries in early filmmaking. What was real in the depictions of the Old West and what was glamourized for entertainment value?

Early movie cowboys were actual transplants to film-land from the Western mountains and prairies--like early real-life cowboys turned movie stars G.M. “Bronco Billy” Anderson and William S. Hart. Other film cowboys were manufactured by Hollywood studios—acrobatic film heroes like Tom Mix.

We had a break at lunchtime and were encouraged to go see the American art in the museum galleries of Crystal Bridges, the main focus of the complex (plus, what I heard to be an impressive library about their collection, but did not visit).

The exhibition spaces and art collection were impressive, and include Colonial, 19th Century, Modern, and Contemporary sections. Karen and I enjoyed traveling through rooms of Early American Art on our noon-hour stroll: seeing color lithography and early-era history oil paintings. The collection is rich, and I enjoyed looking at and snapping photos of my favorite work.

I was pleased, once home, to find a web site, not associated with Crystal Bridges, that contains a database of their collection and searchable by artist's name, by the date work was produced, and by the medium used to create the work. Photo identification of the work I share here was made possible by visiting this database.

We shared a wrapped sandwich purchased from a counter in one of several covered bridges with glass walls, similar in construction to the Great Hall, site of our morning meeting. The wrap was tasty. Next, we scurried back for the afternoon presentations at our symposium, again held inside the Great Hall.

First on our agenda for afternoon was a presentation by Historian Robert Myers, who had interviewed a Cherokee bandit, Albert Beck, who claimed to be a part of major bank robberies of the 1930s and knew other cowboy-type bandits involved in various holdups and robberies. He'd spent multiple jail terms, had received a reprieve, and had also acted in the movies. He knew many details about many illegal events, but research showed that he had a good memory for details as he talked with fellow prisoners about their exploits, and had personal dealings in only a fraction of the illicit events he loved to talk about. Albert Beck spent his golden years in a retirement home, where Robert Myers found and interviewed him. Beck is a good example of the glamorization of the outlaw by Hollywood.

David Shepard spoke next about his restoration work of early film. He passed around a horribly-decomposed, wound strip of nitrate film for us to smell (!) and handle (!!) and keep a piece of--if we'd like one. (I tucked away a small piece, that disintegrated in my hand as I tried to unwrap it and slip it into a plastic sleeve I'd dug out of my purse as safe transportation home.) I'd heard about the volatile nature of early film, but seeing and touching it solidified the seriousness to me of the need to preserve film BEFORE it is too late. David has had a huge impact on film preservation. The quality of his work has improved over time with the development of electronic digital assistance.

His example was his work with the early silent documentary produced, directed and filmed by Robert J. Flaherty, Nanook of the North.

Early examples of the projected movie show a general grayness of the image. Snow is not white, but a light gray. There are no deep blacks in the movie footage either. Figures do not have the definition of detailing. A second adaptation shows a great improvement in the range of grays shown in the film. Snow is white and the details of the coats and glimpses of faces of the natives are provided. The third set of samples David shared was truly deluxe. He worked with Blue Ray, and his work is not yet available in that format, but should be available for purchase by the end of 2012. The detail in the work was stunning, rich in detail and clear beyond my ability to comprehend, considering the quality I'd seen of the original film.

His message was clear: it is important to preservation to get films and do what can be done with them immediately, before the films decompose. As technology changes ways of bringing out detail, the possibility of saving nearly-lost film improves. Nothing can be done with film we don't have. These films are Art, and David's work in bringing out their visual beauty is proof. Investments in time and technology pay off in saving these classic early films.

Our symposium was over about 3 PM and a number of us traveled to the Museum of Native American History, 202 SW 'O' Street, Bentonville, AR, a privately-owned museum of Native American artifacts. Admission was also free and open to the public. This museum is the project of a retired Walmart executive, and our group had a personal tour of the facility with the owner as guide. His passion in saving these artifacts is impressive.

The museum is small in scale when compared with my favorite, the National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Still, its collection of artifacts, the breakdown of Indian culture by time period, and an audio-guided device that can be carried along by each visitor as they tour was impressive. Native eras covered include Paleo, Archaic, Woodland (approximately 1000 BC to 900 AD), Mississippian, Historic (pertains to the period from contact with Europeans), and Pre-Columbian (a survey of cultures through Mexico, Central America, and into South America).

Parts I loved were the collection of edged stone tools and weapons, handmade bone tools, red clay pots, quillwork, beadwork, shields, drumheads, headdresses, photos by Edward S. Curtis, and a trunk of medicines once owned by the medicine man who traveled with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Perhaps the most impressive item in the collection is a bison hide, "Lone Dog's Winter Count," drawn on bison hide, depicting events for the Lakota Sioux in 70 winters of tribal experiences that started when Thomas Jefferson was U.S. President. I also enjoyed the detailed listing of what each symbol represented in the history of the tribe.

I bought a coonskin cap in the museum's gift shop area. The cap itself is manufactured of fake fur, but has a real raccoon's tail...'way nicer than my last coonskin cap, a Walt Disney product from the Davy Crockett days of early television in the 1950s.

Our tour of the Museum of Native American History was over about 4 PM. Karen and I rushed back to Crystal Bridges to look at the rest of the American art collection...1800s, Modern, and Contemporary periods. This more modern work was every bit as impressive as the historical sections of the museum. I recognized many names of artists: Bierstadt, Sargent, Cassatt, Benton, Curry, Rockwell, contemporary artists like Thiebaud, and artists I'm not familiar with, and want to know more about--thus my excitement with the database I found of this work!

On Monday evening, October 1, 2012, we traveled from Bentonville to Fayetteville where we had one last chance to hear Kevin Brownlow speak about silent film history and its connection with the American West. He spoke in the beautifully-restored _____ Hall in Old Main building, also restored to its early 20th Century glory on the University of Arkansas campus. The evening program, shared primarily with university students and a few of us died-hard Brownlow fans, was exciting because Kevin was able to project his talk outline from computer, with samples of specific movies interspersed among the points he was making. Also, friend Jeff Rapsis (although he was hidden for much of the evening behind a heavy stage curtain) played piano accompaniment to the silent sections of film projected. He finally got to come out at the end for his well-deserved bow.

I have been a long-time devotee of the work of Kevin Brownlow and feel lucky to have exchanged correspondence with him as a silent-film fan, visited with him twice in the 1980s in London, and visited in person again, here in Kansas at the 1999 Buster Keaton Celebration (held annually in Iola). He'd come back to Iola for this, the 20th Annual Keaton Celebration, in late September, 2012.

As was pointed out in Fall, 2010, when Brownlow received an Academy Award for his work, he is an international treasure!

Our adventures did not end on Monday evening, but continued as we headed home to Kansas on Tuesday. We pulled off of the interstate highway so Karen, who was familiar with the area, could show me that the winding, up-and-downhill highways of the rural Arkansas I remember from childhood still exist.

We also stopped at U.S. National Park Service's George Washington Carver National Historic Site in rural SW Missouri. I was well-aware of the scientific work Carver had done in studying crops at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, especially uses for the American peanut crop. I was also aware that Carver was born into slavery, was freed in the American Civil War, and attended high school in my mother's hometown of Minneapolis, KS--where I had often eaten lunch at a restaurant named in his honor: the George Washington Carver Inn. I'd also seen displays about Carver and his work at the Ottawa Co. Historical Society in Minneapolis, KS.

I had little knowledge of Carver's earliest years, being raised on the farm of slave-owner Moses Carver in rural Missouri. There was a modern museum built on the farm site, with many interactive displays to keep the many busloads of school-aged children in attendance entertained and learning. Only the foundation of the original log cabin of Moses Carver still exists, but historical displays and environments, voice-recordings, and a bronze bust of George Washington Carver inform and enlighten visitors about a great man who overcame adversity, got a solid education, worked hard, experimented, and shared his work in ways that made great differences in the world of American farming, manufacturing and nutrition.

One final stop, a pit stop at a rest area in SE Kansas, exposed us to end-of-summer roses and an indoor display of historic sites/educational opportunities available to tourists in SE Kansas. A black silhouette cut-out of an American dragoon soldier near the rest stop entrance alludes to a military trail, now represented by the interstate highway, from Ft. Leavenworth to Ft. Scott, and the exciting role the military played in protecting an historic trading post--now a museum—in its role in the long, interesting tales of settlement and civil war of this area.

Arkansas map, with action in the northwest corner

Select a thumbnail photo to jump to a slide show of all enlargements

Crystal Bridges Architecture — A
TraveLodge, Bentonville, ARGlimpse of Crystal Bridges from parking Covered bridgeRooflinesCourtyardOutdoor walkwayDry downhill stream and architectureNatural setting

Tulip Tree Trail, one of many at Crystal Bridges
Blackeyed SusansHint of fall colorColor Arkansas rockTulip Tree Trail and ShelterRoxy Paine, Yield, 2011, life-sized tree in stainless steelFramed nature along Tulip TrailTrail tree standTrail trees with one tree purposefully bentKaren holds Bur Oak acronMore Bur Oak acronsMagestic Bur Oak leavesMore Bur OakAcorn and mushroomOak sproutTulip Tree leavesTulip Tree shelterKaren Brown at Tulip Tree shelterKaren and nature

The Great Hall, site of our Western Silent Films symposium
The Great HallOne of two covered bridgesMany angles, much glassSupported by hingesCeiling of the Great HallHard space to darken in mid-day for seeing slides and videoPleasant openess to the spaceOne covered bridge is very near the Great HallWalmart reminder AWalmart reminder BWalmart reminder CIntroductory slide, Fact Amindst Fiction, Identifying the Real Wild WestNative in native dress and in White-guy dressSymposium environment, with audience at tables, with coffeeFrank Schiede introduces morning panelistsRobert Myers and David ShepardFilm historian Kevin Brownlow, over from LondonOn the movie set, and set dressedMorning panelists were Kevin Brownlow, Elliot West, Ali Demorotskiorian and Manuela Well-Off-Man  Ali Demorotskiorian and Manuela Well-Off-Man  Noon sun plays upon the arched ceiling of the Great Hall

Noon break for art tour, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
James Earl, Lady Mary Beauclerk, Daughter of Lord Aubrey and Lady Jane Beauclerk, oil on canvas, c1793-94Edward Dalton Marchant, Samuel Beals Thomas, with His Wife, Sarah Kellogg Thomas, and Their Two Daughters, Abigail and Pauline, 1830, oil on canvasGeorge Catlin, Buffalo Hunt, Chase, 1844Karl Bodmer, Mih-Tutta-Hangkusch, a Mandan Village. 1832-34, hand-colored aquatinAlbert Bierstadt, Indian Encampment, 1862, oil on canvasWilliam Keith, Sentinel Rock, Yosemite, 1872, oil on canvasGeorge W. Pettit, Union Refugees, 1865, oil on canvasJoseph Decker, Boy Smoking, no year given, oil on panelEmma Marie Cadwalader-Guild, Free, c1876, basswoodEmma Marie Cadwalader-Guild, Free, BEmma Marie Cadwalader-Guild, Free, CGallery and The Bubble, Harriet Whitney Frishmuth, 1928, bronze with iridescent glass ballThomas Eakins, Professor Benjamin Howard Rand, 1874, oil on camvas Mary Cassatt, Reading the Book, 1877, oil on temperaWilliam Merritt Chase, Worthington Whittredge, 1870

Quick Lunch
School-aged kids congregateTerraceSteps and pathView from enclosed bridgeOur distinguished guests have some lunchan olive from a deli wrap sharedLuncheon wrap, tastyFound this guy as an employee, here having his lunchKaren at lunch breakClaes Oldenburg, Alphabet/Good Humor, AClaes Oldenburg, Alphabet/Good Humor, BArched bridge covering

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Afternoon Session
Carol and Karen are ready to learn moreKevin Brownlow prepares afternoon slide programHistorian Robert MyersAlbert Beck, Cherokee banditDavid Shepard discusses film preservationNitrate film in advanced stage of decompositionDavid at the projectorNanook of the  North, early restoration of Robert J. Flaherty documentary Nanook, early restoration BShepard rework restoration of Nanook AShepard rework restoration of Nanook BShepard rework restoration of Nanook CShepard rework restoration of Nanook DNanook installs an ice-block igkloo windowThird Shepard restoration will be released soonBlue ray version of Nanook BShepard rework restoration of Nanook CBrownlow discusses early western film genreShepard enjoys a light moment____________Frank Schiede wraps upTwo custodians beside Redstick, a sculpture in bronze by Deborah ButterfieldGreat Hall solidly tethered in the lakeExterior, the Great Hall

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Museum of Native American History, Bentonville, AR
Museum of Native American HistoryOutdoor displayMastodon, Paleo sectionStuffed bobcat and birdCalf Creek stone pointsStone knife pointsStone points on foreshaftsarchaic hunter with alt-altatl-atl hooksFlintknapping a sharp edge from stoneFinishing work on flintknapped stonePoints from different historic periodsBirdstoneShumla tipsPipe bowlCopper EarringsMany stone pointed-tipsWoman making clay potsneedles and fine toolsMore stone tipsNegative resist mask motif, Mississippi County, Arkansas, c1200-1400 ADQuapaw pottery AEffigy teapot, called Screaming  QuapawQuapaw pottery BClay pipe bowlsSwirl bottle, with handsBreathtakingly delicate flintknapped weapon edge ABreathtakingly delicate flintknapped weapon edge BMesoamerican clayworkVesselKnapped-edge piecesKaren stands in a teepeeQuillworkQuiversWeavingEdward S. Curtis, Tearing Lodge - Piegan, c1910Edward S. Curtis, Two Moons was one of the Cheyenne chiefs at the battle of Little Bighorn in 1876, c1910Edward S. Curtis, Bringing the sweat-lodge willows - Piegan , c1900Tribal feather-fansRabbit netBird bowlTrunk used by doctor to the Buffalo Bill Wild West CircusBeadworkBead mocassinsClay figurative pipestemImpressive winter count bison hide displays 70 wintersWinter count AWinter count BWinter count CWinter count detailCount visuals explained in words ACount visuals explained in words BKiowa shieldSioux moccasins and Plains hand drumVariety of bowsLeather and beadwork shirtHow it was in the old daysCarol in her souvenir coonskin cap

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Back to Crystal Bridges, more American Art
Colonel Crockett, by John Gadsby ChapmanThe Arkansas Traveler, Currier and Ives lithograph, c 1870Alexander Calder, The Little Dear with the Tiny Black Swan, bronze, 1921View from the covered bridgeMark di Suvero, Lowell’s Ocean, 2005-08, steelMark di Suvero, Lowell’s Ocean, 2005-08, steel, BDrawing toward evening closure ADrawing toward evening closure BThomas Hart Benton, Study for Slow Train Through Arkansas, 1929 Norman Rockwell, Rosie the Riveter, 1943Alas, no infoJohn Singer Sargent's Mary Crowninshield Endicott Chamberlain, 1902 Contemporary GalleryBen Shahn, Self-Portrait Among Churchgoers, 1939, tempera on boardMarisol, Portrait of Martha Graham, 1977, oil and pencil on wood and plasterJohn Steuart Curry, Self-portrait, 1935, oil and tempera on canvas mounted on boardWill Barnet, Woman Reading, 1965, oil on camvasGallery watchers in the Contemporary GalleryWayne Thiebaud,Supine Woman, 1963Tom Wesselmann, Smoker Number 9, 1973, acrylic on canvasAlas, no info BNick Cave, Sound Suit sculpture, 2010John Baldessari, Beethoven’s Trumpet -With Ear-, Opus 132 Reverse, 2007, in resin, fiberglass, bronze, aluminum and electronics Frederick Everysley, Big Red Lens, 1985, in cast polyesterEvan Penny, Old Self, Portrait of the Artist as He Will (Not) Be. Variation 2, 2010, in silicone, pigment, hair, fabric, aluminumKaren with Old Self, a self-portrait by Evan Penny

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University Lecture by Film Historian Kevin Brownlow — B
Ceiling, Giffels Auditorium, Old Main, University of Arkansas, FayettevilleGiffels Auditorium BGiffels Auditorium, detailCinema students at Giffels Auditorium Kevin Brownlow presents his research into silent western filmsSilent film cowboy star William S. Hart adds a prelude to a version of his silent film classic Hell's Hinges, in a Shakespearian voiceKevin Brownlow loves silent filmAccompanist Jeff Rapsis takes a bow from onstage

George Washington Carver National Historic Site, rural Missouri — C
Sunrise, Oct. 2, 2012, in Fayetteville, ArkansasAn Quarks mothParking area, George Washington Carver National Historic Site, near Diamond, rural SW MissouriGeorge Washington Carver was born into slavery in Missouri and was owned by Moses CarverDiaorama of Carter log cabinQuote and photo, George Washington CarverRestored bedroom furniture of G.W. CarverPublic display and seating areaReproduction of a school room like George may have attendedDisplay of Carver's work as a biologistDried peanut plantThree types of soilStudent science labTomatoes and cotton ballsOverview of farmland and display onsiteMissouri farmland once owned by Moses CarverQuiet area with bronze bust of George Washington Carver
Basement facility, National Historic Site Lifesized display photo of Mr. Carver and some of his stated philosophyNear museum's front entranceHigh school students listen to a voice recording of Carver's comments on work and lifeBronze bust of George Washington CarverBronze plaque onsitecorner of the foundation of the Carver cabinNational Historic Site as seen for the side yardStudents stayed for lunches at picnic tables on the lawn

Trading Post Rest Stop
The end of summer's wild roses AThe end of summer's wild roses ABlack silouette of a U.S. military dragoon, represnting those who kept the peace in SE Kansas prior to the Civil War

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All photos © 2012 by Carol Yoho
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