Iconic Innovators: Founders of Eureka Springs art scene recalled

Iconic Innovators: Founders of Eureka Springs art scene recalled

As far as artist John Rankine is concerned, the rest of Northwest Arkansas is just playing catch up. Eureka Springs was the first community in the region to showcase visual artists, and he can prove it with his most recent curatorial effort, “Gone But Not Forgotten: Eureka Icons,” at Brews.

“Elsa Nude,” oil on canvas by Louis Freund, circa 1940s. “Whether it was a mural like the one off of Main Street or any one of dozens of paintings, strength was the subject. Forthright and bold, his artworks used thick, layered strokes to convey the importance of his classic, religious or historic scenes. All contrasted to the man. Louis was tall and thin, courteous and gentle.” Freund died in 1999.

“One of the earliest pieces in the exhibition is a 1917 Ozark scene painted by Fred Swedlun,” says Rankine, who curates all the exhibitions at Brews. “We used to be the only game in town, but it’s great to see Fayetteville, Bentonville and Springdale stepping up their art cred.”

Rankine says he was at a friend’s house, admiring the collection of art on their walls, “and thought how lucky I was to see this — that the majority of people in this town would probably never get to see. This exhibition would not have been made possible without the generosity of local art patrons and collectors who loaned their works for the show.

“I think everyone I asked knew the importance of what I was trying to do, and that was to pay tribute to these men and women who had a major influence on the art scene in Eureka.”

The artists included in “Gone But Not Forgotten” are Mary Sims, Elsa Freund, Miriam McKinnie, Ken Addington, Glenn Gant, Gary Eagan, Louis Freund, Julie Traxler, Max Elbo, Tommy Thomas and Jack Miller, along with Glenn Swedlun and his father, Fred Swedlun, who worked for many years as “Ernest Fredericks, an inversion of his given names, to avoid the prejudice towards Swedes when he was young.”

Rankine, who moved to Eureka Springs from Key West, Fla., in 1996, feels fortunate to have known many of these artists, whom he considers legendary, himself.

“Tribute to Frida Kahlo,” oil on canvas by Jack Miller, 2002. “He looked like a wild west cowboy, which made everything about him a big surprise. Quite disciplined, Jack worked daily in his studio on paintings and prints. Cheer emanated from much of his work, some bordering on animation. His many works celebrating his beloved New Orleans were like the city—sassy, evocative and recognizable. Alive and dreamy were his canvases, soft and tolerant was his demeanor.” Miller died in 2014.

“I remember meeting Louis and Elsie Freund for the first time. They were like Eureka Springs royalty,” he says. “They were both so charming and interesting and obviously so talented. I was especially drawn to Elsie’s work. Her exquisite jewelry and watercolors were so feminine, especially compared to her husband’s very heavy and masculine [Works Progress Administration] style murals and paintings.

“I was lucky to be invited to visit Mary Sims in her studio, something I found out later was a very rare thing to be asked,” Rankine goes on. “Mary was as quirky, charming and delightful as one of her paintings. I’m very excited that a 6-foot-by-4-foot show-stopping acrylic painting is included in the exhibition.

“I had the privilege of photographing Max Elbo for various projects. Max was the very best graphic artist. It’s hard to believe that the work was all done in pen and ink years before the invention of Photoshop. We have on loan several originals that are absolutely stunning.

“And Gary Eagan was a dear friend and an amazing ceramic artist. He and his partner Steve Beacham were some of the first people I met in Eureka.

“It’s important to not forget our rich cultural history,” Rankine says. “These 13 artists are just the tip of the iceberg. I am already working on ‘Gone But Not Forgotten: Part 2’ for the new year to include people like Reed and Stella Larson, Shuggie Tucker, Lynn Williams, James Corner and Janet Alexander, to name a few.”

“Marilyn,” pen and ink by Max Elbo, circa 1990s. “Picturing Max, a tall, lanky image of Ichabod Crane might come to mind, for he was that distinctive. To say he was soft-spoken is an understatement. To know him was to meet gentle. And with dots, lines or strokes, his exquisite pen and inks revealed magic that continues to delight.” Elbo died in 2017.

While Rankine says he thinks Eureka Springs “will always be a place that artists and people who love art will congregate,” he adds that he wishes “our city would make some long-term investments in its arts infrastructure.” And he’d especially like to see the rest of Northwest Arkansas take note.

“I would love the people at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art to come, have a beer or coffee and see this show,” he says. “These artists were the pioneers of the art scene in Northwest Arkansas. So Alice, if you are reading this, give me a call! I would love to help curate a similar exhibition in your exquisite museum.”


‘Gone But Not Forgotten: Eureka Icons’

WHEN — Until Aug. 24

WHERE — Brews, 2 Pine St. in Eureka Springs

COST — Free

INFO — Email johnrankine69@gmail.com

Categories: Galleries