Sequoyah National Research Center celebrates 30th anniversary
Art admirers walked around the Sequoyah National Research Center’s Native American art exhibit at the Governor’s Mansion, captivated by the pieces. “I am enthralled by this piece, just by the wisdom in it, and how the artist shows that as she is swirling her apron, she is becoming a quality of the animal she is envisioning. It shows us how we can transform ourselves through dance,” said Virginia Crow. The gallery was full of similar remarks by other visitors. The center celebrated its 30th anniversary with a fundraising dinner and art exhibition Nov. 12.
The SNRC is home to an enormous variety of archives of Native American artwork and writings. In fact, its collection is one of the largest in the world. It was founded in 1983 by Daniel Littlefield and James Parins, both faculty members the English department. While working on a research project about the publishing histories of newspapers and periodicals by Native Americans, they collected an extensive amount of publications from various institutions and decided to create an archive from them. Native American artwork became part of the archival collection in 2008, and now it has expanded to house collections such as the Dr. J. W. Wiggins Collection of Native American Art.
“The mission changed from collecting just newspapers and periodicals to also collecting personal papers and special collections of Native writers, artists, librarians, journalists and other professionals,” Littlefield said. Nowadays, the center attracts researchers from the local community, state, nation and across the globe.
The SNRC hosts three to four art exhibitions of rotated Native American Art collections each year. The center also serves the UALR community by sponsoring student interns who can gain a rich experience working on various research projects for credit.
The intern experience has in fact inspired some to become part of the institution itself. One such example is Erin Fehr. Fehr interned with the SNRC’s Native American Student Summer Internship Program in 2010. In 2011, she applied for a job as an archivist and was hired.
“I was impressed by the breadth of materials – newspapers, books, manuscripts, art. I was expecting a small archive but was surprised by the volume of information contained within the collection,” Fehr said. Working with the SNRC opened her eyes to the great importance and reputation of the center, she said.
“I have been surprised by how many people outside of Arkansas know about our collections and travel long distances to conduct research in our archives. We receive calls on a weekly basis from researchers across the U.S., Canada and the world that are interested in our collections,” Fehr said.
“I was staggered by the depth and complexity of the material available. It was as though every folder contained a major research paper just waiting to be written and every box would have enough data for a Ph.D. dissertation,” said Tony Rose, assistant director of the SNRC. Even with such an expansive collection on hand, the center does not have any plans to slow down.
“The center will continue to grow through the expansion of the archival and art holdings, and the university has promised to build an archival building for the center in order to better preserve the collections and to serve the public,” Littlefield said. The center also plans to increase its experiential and service learning education and expand its internship programs. The SNRC hopes to provide access to its expansive archive collection in a more accessible format by making all its collection accessible online, allowing long-distance research to increase.
Although the SNRC is home to a rich, vast collection of archives, not many people are aware of the great resource just within their back yard.
“I wish that UALR faculty knew what wonderful resources were available for their students here and I wish that the central Arkansas population knew that UALR had such a unique facility,” Rose said.
Addition: Jim Parins, an English professor associated with the SNRC, died Nov. 17, Trey Philpotts, English department chair, said in an email. In the message, Philpotts said Parins was “instrumental in establishing and maintaining the Sequoyah Research Center.”