Curiouser And Curiouser

Curiouser And Curiouser

People who walk the historic halls of the Old State House Museum in Little Rock expect to see remnants of Arkansas’ political and cultural history. They generally don’t expect to come across the skull of a saber-toothed tiger.

And yet, through the fall of 2018, that’s what they’ll find in the museum’s “Cabinet of Curiosities” exhibit. From technological dinosaurs to actual dinosaur bones, the Old State House Museum is now temporary home to a collection of items that’s sometimes bizarre but always fascinating.

For many years, the University of Arkansas has been a repository for some rather surprising pieces of history: ancient artifacts, remains of the Hazen mammoth found in 1965 during the construction of Interstate 40, the first computer in Arkansas. In all, there are more than 7 million pieces stored away.

But, since the university’s museum closed in 2003, the collection has been mostly hidden, still taken care of, but only available for viewing by appointment.

The Old State House Museum’s executive director, Bill Gatewood, was aware the collection existed and saw an opportunity. Museum Curator Jo Ellen Maack explains: “He just always thought it would be such a wonderful thing to bring some of their eclectic collection to this part of the state so everyone could see.”

So, for the last few years, Maack and other staff members have been working to bring samples of the collection to their museum.

When Maack visited the storage facility housing the University of Arkansas museum’s collection, it was, she says, “like the scene from ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark.’ You didn’t know which way to turn.”

They sorted through millions of pieces, pulling out a representative sampling that should cover a wide range of interests. They brought the dinosaur bones and the old computer as well as American Indian pottery and basketry, Ming vases and Greek and Roman antiquities along with the saber-toothed tiger skull and a meteorite from Fayetteville.

“We wanted to bring things that people would [ask], ‘Why is this in Arkansas?’”

So far, reception has been “incredible,” she says. On opening night, Maack and other museum and exhibit staff stood in the gallery to answer questions: “It was probably one of the best nights I’ve had in my 22 years as curator. It was adults and children alike — their eyes were just wide and full of amazement. It was wonderful to see people that thrilled to see these things.”

Particular favorites have been the dinosaurs and meteorites and the antiquities as well as oddities like the elaborate costume that belonged to a Buffalo Bill-wannabe from the early 20th century.

“What I hear from people is that they’re so very proud that Arkansas has this type of collection in our state,” Maack says. “That they had no idea we had these things that can go up against what you can see in Chicago or New York.”



‘Cabinet of Curiosities’

WHEN — Through fall 2018;9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 1-5 p.m. Sunday

WHERE — Old State House Museum, 300 W. Markham St. in Little Rock

COST — Free

INFO — 501-324-9685;

Categories: Galleries