UAFS Gallery gets definitive collection of Harold Keller artworks

UAFS Gallery gets definitive collection of Harold Keller artworks

The Fort Smith Regional Art Museum has John Bell Jr. as the signature artist in its collection.

The Gallery of Art and Design at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith has Harold Keller — now that its collection of Keller’s works has grown by more than 40 paintings, ceramics and finished drawings, two artist books and more than 300 of the artist’s working drawings.

All of the drawings, paintings and ceramics are on show in “Harold Keller: Portals,” on show through Dec. 16 at the gallery at 535 N. Waldron Road. The exhibition also includes paintings on loan from Keller’s daughter and other private collectors in New York.

“This is, indeed, a large show — and undertaking — for a university gallery such as ourselves,” says Matthew Bailey, gallery director. But it’s also huge in conceptual, not just physical, ways.

“First, acquiring such a large, unique donation speaks to the growing appreciation of the arts in Fort Smith and the prominence of the UAFS Gallery of Art and Design in that,” Bailey says. “It elevates our place in the art world, so to speak, since it expands our already prominent collection of contemporary art and makes our permanent collection the largest repository of Harold Keller’s work. [And] stylistically, it makes us an important repository of the kind of contemporary ‘magic realism’ he practiced as well.

“In curatorial terms, this also elevates the gallery since it gives us a chance to present a scholarly curated exhibit that places Keller and his work in historical and cultural context in ways that make it apparent that such an exhibit — and our gallery — is an academic endeavor,” Bailey adds. “Not all appreciate or realize that, but it’s our focus as a university art museum that serves both the campus and community.”

Keller, born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1928, came to Arkansas to study art at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Art and Philosophy in 1949, Bailey recounts, then taught at high schools in Ozark, Alma and Van Buren. In 1956 he was hired as professor of art at Fort Smith Junior College — now UAFS — where he taught until 1962 while also earning a Master of Arts in Art Education from New York University.

“Keller really transformed the art curriculum here, broadening it to focus on a wider variety of media along with art history and art criticism,” Bailey says. “At the same time he remained a practicing artist. Before and during his time here, he exhibited in shows in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Dallas, Chicago and New York, among other places.

“He was a very influential mentor to his students and very popular in the community — in fact, we know that many of his works of art were collected by families from the region,” he adds. “The artist’s daughter and I are hoping this exhibit not only sheds light on the breadth of his career and the importance of his art but also helps us locate some of these lost works!”


‘Harold Keller: Portals’

WHEN — Through Dec. 16; gallery hours are 9 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays

WHERE — UAFS Gallery of Art and Design, 535 N. Waldron Road in Fort Smith

COST — Free


Categories: Galleries