Not a week goes by in the capital city without an arts and crafts to-do. One doesnt have to search far to find art walks, gallery openings, museum exhibitions, festivals, live music and theater. Plus, theres primo shopping
Don’t delay in visiting the Arkansas Arts Center (Ninth and Commerce streets). The city’s premier art institution is scheduled to close in November 2019 for a $98 million renovation conceived by Studio Gang, an internationally renowned architecture and design firm based in Chicago. The construction will shutter the Arts Center until early 2022. “Independent Vision,” a showcase of modern and contemporary work from San Francisco-based collector Martin Muller, is on display through Dec. 30, 2018. Learn how to build a table, throw a pot or draw figuratively at the AAC’s Museum School, or take the kids to a production of the Children’s Theatre, which finishes out its season in May 2019.
The Historic Arkansas Museum (200 E. Third St.) is both a place to learn about Arkansas’s craft history and get a window into the past with a stroll about the grounds’ restored antebellum homes, tavern, print shop and blacksmith shop. The museum’s permanent galleries highlight Arkansas knives and the objects and experiences of the Caddo, Osage and Quapaw in Arkansas; the museum’s years-in-the-making research on the state’s arts and artisans is featured on a rotating basis in the Arkansas Made gallery; and works by contemporary artists are regularly displayed in upstairs galleries.
Take a longer trip through Arkansas history at the Old State House Museum (300 W. Markham St.), where you’ll find changing and permanent exhibits (of the latter, the inaugural gowns of the state’s first ladies are a favorite); and the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center (501 W. Ninth St.), which is dedicated to African-American history, culture, community and entrepreneurship in Arkansas from 1870 to the present. Stroll through Riverfront Park and enjoy the whimsical sculptures in the Vogel Schwartz Sculpture Garden.
Learn about the nation’s 42nd president at the Clinton Presidential Center and Park (1200 President Clinton Ave.), where thousands of artifacts, photographs and interactive exhibits tell the story of the Clinton presidency. A temporary exhibit, “White House Collection of American Crafts,” celebrates works commissioned during the Clinton administration for exhibition in the White House. It remains on display through March 31, 2019.
For a truly unique experience, explore decades of changing purse design and special exhibitions at the Esse Purse Museum & Store (1510 Main. St.), one of a handful of galleries in the world dedicated to the art of women’s handbags and fashions.
At night there’s a range of options, including the Arkansas Repertory Theatre (601 Main St.), which, after suspending operations in 2018, has righted the ship and is launching a 2019 season; the renovated Robinson Center Performance Hall (426 W. Markham St.), which hosts performances by the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, Celebrity Attractions’ Broadway productions, traveling big-name musicians and more. Catch a film, a reading or a special event at the Central Arkansas Library System’s Ron Robinson Theater. Enjoy the city’s top community theaters, Studio Theater (320 W. Seventh St.) and The Weekend Theater (1001 W. Seventh St.).
Get out and stroll through the River Market district and other points downtown for the monthly 2nd Friday Art Night downtown. Look for art openings, live music and complimentary snacks and drinks at many venues. Among the regular highlights: The Galleries at Library Square (401 President Clinton Ave.), Bella Vita Jewelry (523 S. Louisiana St., Suite 175), the Bookstore at Library Square (120 River Market Ave.), Gallery 221 (221 W. Second St.), Matt McLeod Fine Art (108 W. Sixth St.), Nexus Coffee & Creative (301 President Clinton Ave.) and the aforementioned Historic Arkansas Museum and Old State House Museum.
Hillcrest Shop N Sip lands the first Thursday of the month along lower Kavanaugh Boulevard. Essential stops include Gallery 26 (2601 Kavanaugh), a longtime supporter of local artists; Box Turtle (2616 Kavanaugh), a clothing and jewelry store that celebrates upscale bohemian style and locally made items; women’s clothing boutique E. Leigh’s (2911 Kavanaugh); and Hillcrest Designer Jewelry (3000 Kavanaugh).
On the third Thursday of each month, The Heights hosts its night out, with special events at galleries, restaurants and shops. A few essential galleries to check out: Boswell Mourot Fine Art (5815 Kavanaugh), Chroma Gallery (5707 Kavanaugh), L&L Beck Art Gallery (5705 Kavanaugh), Local Colour (5811 Kavanaugh) and Stephano’s Fine Art Gallery (1813 N. Grant St.). Old Heights Corner Store (5919 Kavanaugh) is the place to get “LR” branded hats and apparel and Pinnacle Mountain “Arkansocks.”
Elsewhere in the city, Hearne Fine Art (1001 Wright Ave.) is a destination for African-American fine art, and Cantrell Gallery (8206 Cantrell Road) specializes in work by Arkansas artists.
The Green Corner Store & Soda Fountain (1423 S. Main St.) carries all-natural foods and locally made bath products, jewelry and more. South Main Creative (1600 Main) is a modern spin on an antique mall with vendors showcasing antiques, vintage treasures, locally designed and stitched women’s clothes and art. Argenta Bead Co. (1608 Main) carries all the goods you’ll need for jewelry making; work with other beaders and jewelry makers at the store’s Bead Bar. Electric Ghost (1218 Main) is a screen-printing shop and boutique that sells succulents, artisan jewelry, T-shirts and more. Shop records, vintage treasures, locally made T-shirts, tea towels, offbeat decor and more at Moxy Modern Mercantile (1419 Main). Reinvented Vintage (1222 S. Main) sells repurposed and renovated furniture and locally handmade products. Sweet Home Furnishings and Clement (1324 S. Main) are two excellent antique stores in one locale, and fun Inretrospec (1201 Center St.) has an eclectic offering of antiques and vintage clothing at all price ranges.
The options are growing when it comes to locally sourced and crafted specialty foods in Little Rock. Loblolly Creamery (1423 S. Main St.) partners often with local farms and brewers to make delicious from-scratch ice cream. In the Heights, LePops (5501 Kavanaugh Blvd.) sells crave-worthy gourmet ice lollies made from locally grown produce and herbs. In Hillcrest, nosh on small-batch, artisan chocolates, truffles and caramels from Izard Chocolate (623 Beechwood St.)
Find delicious fresh-baked goods at a host of beloved bakeries, including Boulevard Bread Co. (1417 Main St., 1912 N. Grant St. and other satellites), Hillcrest’s Rosalia’s Family Bakery (2701 Kavanaugh Blvd.), downtown’s Community Bakery (1200 Main St., also 270 S. Shackleford Road in West Little Rock), Old Mill Bread Bakery & Cafe (12111 W. Markham St. in West Little Rock) or downtown’s Dempsey Bakery (323 S. Cross St.), where everything is gluten-free.
In 2010, there were only four breweries in the whole of Arkansas. Today, there are nine in Little Rock alone. Taste them all! Head to the taprooms at Blue Canoe Brewing Co. (425 E. Third St.), Buffalo Brewing Co. (inside The Water Buffalo, a supply store for brewing your own beer, making your own cheese and more at 106 S. Rodney Parham Road), Rebel Kettle Brewing (822 E. Sixth St.), Lost Forty Brewing (501 Byrd St.), Stone’s Throw Brewing (402 E. Ninth St. and a new location coming on Markham in Stifft Station in 2019), Vino’s Brew Pub (923 W. Seventh St.) or Damgoode Pies Pizzeria & Taproom (500 President Clinton Ave.). If you’re looking for something stronger, take a tasting tour at Rock Town Distillery’s new location (1201 Main St.), where you’ll find the finest Arkansas vodka, gin, rum, whiskey and more.
Jennifer Perren, 27, doesn’t look like the kind of young woman who brings devils to life — she’s so shy she only reluctantly provided the portrait, an image of ginger-locked innocence, that runs with this story — but that’s what she does, in clay. Perren, who holds a B.F.A. in printmaking from UA Little Rock, began doing pottery in a class with Celia Storey at the Arkansas Arts Center, where she learned to push the clay around to make a face pot and added a lid. She added horns to the lids so they could be lifted, and the fat-cheeked-and-chinned faces that her pots embodied turned into devils.
“I just like to think of it as a Southern thing to keep putting faces on functional pottery,” Perren said, referring to the buck-toothed and scary face jugs of the Carolinas. Perren’s people aren’t grotesque; in fact, her jars’ fat faces have a certain kind of wicked charm. These are facetious devils.
Perren also creates bowls circled with her trademark plump faces. Some of her works have touches of gold enamel where she’s had to knock fired clay off the surface, a la the Japanese practice of kintsugi. Some of her face bowls are rubbed with spare applications of a rufous tint. All are as fetching as they are unusual.
Along with pots and bowls, Perren has been making doll parts — hands, feet and faces out of clay — to be added to soft sewn bodies. She also paints and draws, and is hoping for a two-year work-study residency at Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina. If she succeeds, that will take her away from Arkansas for a while, but if we’re lucky, she’ll keep doing the devil’s work and sending it back to Arkansas.
Find Perren’s work at the Bookstore at Library Square in the Arkansas Studies Institute., South Main Creative, the Historic Arkansas Museum and the Arkansas Arts Center. She’s also on Instagram (og_ojenn) and has a website, jenniferperren.com. — Leslie Newell Peacock