Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
UALR’s Windgate Center showcases its collection, two new art galleries
It still feels a little surreal to Brad Cushman. Standing in the gallery that bears his name on the ground floor of the new Windgate Center of Art + Design at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Cushman gazes around the sleek new space, filled with selections from the university’s permanent collection of art.
“It’s a beautiful space, more intimate than our former space,” he says of the 1,800-square-foot main gallery. “We also have a second gallery of 1,020 square feet downstairs.”
Gallery director and curator since 2000, Cushman is responsible for organizing and interpreting original exhibitions, programming a gallery schedule that includes touring exhibitions and student and faculty shows as well as programs such as lectures and symposiums, and he also heads a committee that determines new art purchases for the university’s collection.
He is eager to talk about the university’s art collection and a newly published catalog (Highlights From the Permanent Collection) and thrilled with the art and design department’s new building. Cushman hopes the new parking lot next to the building will encourage more people to attend the shows and programs.
“We are pushing close to 1,600 objects in the permanent collection,” Cushman says. “The mission of this collection is to be a teaching tool and provide good examples of work being made by artists. Everything we do in the classroom is mirrored in the collection.”
UALR’s collection includes drawings, paintings, fine art prints, photographs, graphic illustrations, political cartoons, sculptural objects, ceramics and contemporary crafts.
It is fitting that the new gallery’s first exhibition is “Building a Collection: Recent Acquisitions Made Possible by the Windgate Charitable Foundation.” In the lower level gallery, “Discovering Kate Freeman Clark” presents paintings by a gifted, little known Mississippi-born painter. Cushman was introduced to Clark’s work while showing his own at a gallery in Water Valley,
Miss. Both shows continue through March 11.
“Building a Collection” includes Delita Martin’s mixed media Standing in the Night, one of the works that was in Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art’s “State of the Art” exhibition in 2014.
“A majority of the works on display were purchased with Windgate Foundation grants,” Cushman says.
Also displayed are the collection’s first egg tempera painting, Marianela de la Hoz’s intriguing Your Reflection Into Mine; Ester Hernandez’s socially and politically charged screen print Sun Raid; Dustin Farnsworth’s poplar wood, fabric and polychrome sculpture Heavy the Weight; Heidi Hogden’s liquid and powdered graphite work Resurgence; and Sylvie Rosenthal’s basswood, poplar wood and paint piece Beacon.
Notables represented in the university’s collection include painter Robert Rauschenberg, influential photographer Edward Steichen, German expressionist Kathe Kollwitz, writer and photographer Eudora Welty, wood sculptor Stoney Lamar, illustrator F.R. Gruger, Texas outsider artist Ike Morgan and blacksmith and Penland School of Craft instructor Elizabeth Brim.
Arkansas artists in the permanent collection include retired UALR art professor Win Bruhn, Warren Criswell, Dominique Simmons, Timothy Hursley, Dennis McCann, Adrian Brewer, Neal Harrington, Katherine Strause, Aj Smith, Marjorie Williams-Smith, Robyn Horn, Al Allen and Emily Wood.
Political cartoons by John Deering of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette are also in the collection.
While the art department’s roots can be traced back to the artists Louis and Elsie Bates Freund, the permanent collection was not established until 1972 with the purchase of two geometric abstractions by respected regional painter David LeDoux. LeDoux was professor of painting at Middle Tennessee State University from 1956 to 1994. A Donaghey Foundation Grant funded the purchase.
“Louis Freund helped establish art at this institution in 1940 when it was Little Rock Junior College,” Cushman says. “There was no art department; they offered art classes. He and Elsie had a presence in Eureka Springs and Conway; they developed programs across the state. The Freunds placed their work in institutions around the state; among the gifts we received were his 1950s drawings in Mexico and a lovely oil portrait of Elsie from 1950. We also have a watercolor abstract of Elsie’s.”
The collection, Cushman says, “shaped itself.” His introductory essay to the catalog discusses each decade and how earlier gallery directors, chancellors and provosts, local art collectors and foundations contributed to its growth and direction.
■ Robert Sherman of Little Rock donated rock ’n’ roll handbills and posters he and the late Susan Pfeifer collected in San Francisco in the late 1960s. The collection was part of a national tour.
■ Robyn and John Horn of Little Rock donated a Stoney Lamar wood sculpture, Waltzing for Dreamers.
■ Lisa and Darrell Walker donated nine pieces from their African American art collection, including Herbert Gentry’s Separation II.
■ The Wilma and Jack Diner Art Acquisitions and Awards Endowment was established in the 1980s to buy student art. ■ The Windgate Charitable Foundation gave a $20.3 million grant in 2015 to construct the new art and design building, providing studio and lecture classrooms, two galleries, collection storage, exhibition preparation space and offices. The art department was previously housed in three buildings.
■ Two illuminated manuscript pages from two different Books of Hours (devotional aids from the Middle Ages) and a signed woodcut, circa 1919-1920, by Kathe Kollwitz are historic works added in 1991 thanks to the support of Chancellor James Young, who sought to expand the teaching aspect of the permanent collection.
■ The Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resource Commission awarded $500,000 to conserve the Joe Jones mural The Struggle in the South, which the artist painted at Commonwealth College near Mena in 1935. “It is a significant part of our collection,” Cushman says. The mural is expected to be displayed later this year at a space inside Central Arkansas Library System’s new parking garage and office building on President Clinton Avenue just north of the main library.
The UALR collection is not just one person’s vision, though Cushman’s directs it. He works with a gallery committee, which also includes Nathan Larson, the assistant curator; Carey Roberson, chair of the department of art and design; and two full-time faculty members who change every year.
“This new space gives us a focus, a stand-alone facility that will strengthen what we do. I hope the Windgate Center becomes a destination when people come to see the Arkansas Arts Center, Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, the Clinton Library. We will plan events — speakers, symposiums, unique exhibitions — to bring people to us. We sometimes coordinate with other institutions and what they are doing, but we also may do some things others aren’t, such as video installations.”
The catalog, Highlights From the Permanent Collection, was three years in the making. On its cover is a multimedia work by former UALR teacher Delita Martin, Standing in the Night. The catalog was underwritten by the Windgate Charitable Foundation.
“Seven years ago, Windgate awarded us a grant to stage exhibits, conserve some pieces of art, purchase work and digitize our collection,” Cushman says.
That grant made it possible to photograph and digitize the entire collection; about 220 works are in the new catalog. Cushman organized it by discipline — painting, drawing, contemporary craft, graphic design and more. Along with Cushman’s introduction, UALR colleagues present focused writings at the end of each section.
“I put professional and student art side by side,” he says. “I wanted the art to speak for itself. Against the pros, the students hold their own.”
The catalog is art-driven rather than text-driven. And that’s what Cushman wanted.
“I tried to show variety, in terms of techniques and artists represented and some intuitiveness in organizing the catalog. I had to see how pieces responded to each other on facing pages, meditate on it, look at it again and move things around if it didn’t work.”
The catalog also is a point of reflection, Cushman says.
“I’m still excavating the collection. I think there will be more catalogs to come.”
Also an artist, Cushman won the Grand Award at the annual Delta Exhibition at the Arkansas Arts Center in 2002 and was the subject of a retrospective in 2016 at the University of Arkansas Pulaski Tech’s Windgate Center. He is represented by Boswell Mourot Fine Art.
Now, how did Cushman’s name wind up on the gallery?
“Jackye and Curtis Finch were approached by the university about their interest in donating to the gallery,” Cushman says. That donation included naming rights.
“They are great patrons in our community. When they agreed, I thought ‘Great, we’ll have the Finch Gallery.’ I was out of town and got a call from Joe Lampo, a UALR development officer. He told me that Curtis Finch had signed the contract and wanted to name the main gallery the Brad Cushman Gallery. I thought Joe was kidding me. It’s an amazing honor.
“After the shock wore off, I called Curtis and thanked him. It was very nice.” (Cushman was curator for the Finches’ Face to Face exhibition in 2014 at the Arkansas Arts Center and edited the catalog with then-registrar Thom Hall.)
In Highlights From the Permanent Collection, Cushman includes a quotation from LeDoux, the first artist whose works were added to the collection. His comments seem particularly apt: “a painting should be inventive, striking, challenging, etc., no matter what the media … my work offers itself to the imagination of others and where their imaginative life is determines what they see in it.”
Referencing that quote, Cushman says, the gallery’s collection “holds work that is inventive, striking, challenging … That’s what I hope people take away when they visit here.”