Fort Smith Regional Art Museum celebrates 75 years with Picasso exhibition

<br>Fort Smith Regional Art Museum celebrates 75 years with Picasso exhibition

On the list of Arkansas’ oldest museums, the University of Arkansas Museum dates back to 1873; The Clayton House in Fort Smith to 1882; the Fort Smith Museum of History to 1910; the Museum of Discovery in Little Rock to 1927; the Helena Museum of Phillips County to 1930; the Arkansas State University Museum in Jonesboro to 1933; and the Historic Arkansas Museum in Little Rock to 1941.

Notable on that list at No. 7 is what seems to be the first museum of visual arts, and it’s celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2023. It is known today as the Fort Smith Regional Art Museum.

“In 1948, a handful of dedicated citizens organized under the Arkansas Association of University Women and then in 1951 as the Associated Artists of Fort Smith,” Jackie Krutsch, president of the FSRAM Board, begins the story. “Their purpose was to bring art into the daily lives of Fort Smithians — through exhibits and through art classes. Using whatever space was available at the time, the group finally found its home in 1960 with the purchase of the Vaughn-Schaap House in the Fort Smith Historic District.

“In 1968 the Fort Smith Art Center was incorporated as a nonprofit organization and continued to expand offerings in the Vaughn-Schaap House until 2013,” Krutsch continues. “The small art center made a huge impact to the arts in this region, offering classes, programs, exhibitions and annual art camps. The permanent location allowed the Fort Smith Art Center to begin to accept and collect spectacular pieces into a permanent collection, including the extensive Boehm Porcelain Collection.

“Fast forward to 2009, Arvest Bank graciously donated what was the former Superior Federal Savings and Loan building on Rogers Avenue in downtown Fort Smith to the Fort Smith Art Center,” she goes on. “After a vigorous capital campaign, supported by the generosity of many, the building was completely renovated and opened as the Fort Smith Regional Art Museum — RAM!”

Turning 75 means an entire year of celebration for FSRAM, beginning this winter with an extraordinary exhibit, “Pablo Picasso: 25 Years of Edition Ceramics from the Rosenbaum Collection,” which will be on view through April 23.

“Through several special events, we are working to celebrate the people who have given their time, talent, and gifts over the past to make RAM what it is today; to celebrate with our current community; and to begin affecting more lives by welcoming more people to RAM,” says Julie Moncrief, the museum’s development director. “We celebrated [Picasso] with an opening reception Jan. 21 that resulted in a filled museum of thrilled people. Our other two kickoff exhibitions include a historic timeline of this organization — the people involved and the milestones — and a tremendous exhibition of our Permanent Collection with artworks collected over the decades.”

There will be a time capsule in the timeline exhibition that the community will be filling all year, Moncrief says. “We will bury it in December, and it won’t be opened until the next 75 years of RAM have passed.” Also scheduled are an artist appreciation reception; a board member reception for all who have served over the years; a 75th Anniversary Celebration Gala, “Evening in Paris,” on April 29; a block party in October; and a holiday party in December.

“Because of our desire to catch more people’s attention than ever before, and to thank the community and region for its support that has made RAM possible, we wanted a ‘blockbuster’ exhibition to kick off the year,” Moncrief says of the Picasso exhibit. “It is always a joy to bring a traveling exhibition here that excites our community, gives pride to parents as they show their kids what we have right here, and lights a fire in the creative and hopeful spirits of all. Not to say that our continual exhibitions of our region’s artists don’t do the same! We are all astounded and inspired at the talent that lives all around us.”

One of those artists is John Bell Jr., who died in 2013. FSRAM is now the keeper of more than 50 of Bell’s original paintings, watercolors, and sketches plus all of his studio equipment and personal career artifacts, a gift Moncrief calls “a tremendous addition to the RAM Permanent Collection.”

“Being the ‘new home’ of John Bell Jr. art has attracted many newcomers to RAM,” she says. “People love John Bell paintings, so many of which provide a historically accurate and beautiful vision of what places in Arkansas looked like at the turn of the 19th century. We received a supply of lithograph prints of more than 50 of Bell’s most popular works, and we sell those in our Museum Store and online, and a huge number of people have been so happy to be able to get their hands on their favorite one — or two, or three.”

But there’s more to Bell’s posthumous gift.

“Born with the challenge of never being able to walk, due to cerebral palsy — and with only limited use of one hand — and of pursuing his talent and passion for art, and becoming a renowned master painter, [Bell’s legacy] gives RAM a boost in succeeding in our mission of fostering art appreciation,” says Moncrief. “As we conduct educational programs based on Bell’s life and art, we can’t help but inspire people. Inspiring people means success to RAM.”

“The 75th anniversary is not just a time of reflection, it is a time for the RAM leadership to redefine the future for RAM,” adds Krutsch. “Art, like the world, is changing, but our motto is ‘Where the Spirit of Art Unites Us!’ The Board feels strongly about supporting the growth and expansion of diverse and inclusive offerings that unite us, both at the museum but also through programs that reach out into the regional community. We believe that by reaching out into the region, we will bring more individuals into the museum.

“This year we will begin the development of a five-year strategic plan which will allow us to assess our current work and offerings, gather feedback and input from our members, partners and the community as a whole,” she explains. “It will be a plan that will continue to use the ‘spirit of art to unite us,’ and it will also be an important document as we begin the challenging multi-year task of accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums.”

Whatever happens, Krutsch says, FSRAM’s success depends on “a team effort between the passionate support of many community members, and strong leadership,” the same way the journey started 75 years ago.



Fort Smith Regional Art Museum

WHEN — 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 1-5 p.m. Sunday

WHERE — 1601 Rogers Ave. in Fort Smith

COST — Free

INFO — 784-2787;



Picasso at FSRAM

Kicking off the 75th anniversary for the Fort Smith Regional Art Museum is a name everybody knows — but a completely different category of his art.

“Pablo Picasso: 25 Years of Edition Ceramics from the Rosenbaum Collection” opened to the public in January and features whimsical ceramics created by the legendary artist made when he partnered with George and Suzanne Ramie and the artisans at their Madoura Pottery workshop in Vallauris, Southern France.

Over the years, Picasso and the Madoura studio produced 633 different plates, bowls, vases, and pitchers in limited editions ranging from 25 to 500. From plates with faces to pitchers in the shapes of birds and people, the exhibition features 46 ceramic works designed by Picasso, including two original ceramic works, from between the years of 1947 and 1971. It also includes original posters from previous exhibitions and photo murals of Picasso at work at Madoura Pottery.

This exhibition will run until April 23 and is free to the public.

Categories: Galleries