The “Dovetails/We Fit Together” exhibit opens Feb. 11 as part of Historic Arkansas Museum’s (HAM) 2nd Friday Art Night celebration from 5-8 p.m. The exhibit will be on display in the Trinity Gallery through May 22.
“The HAM has this wonderful archive of furniture that they don’t often get to show,” said Peter Schedit, assistant professor of furniture and woodworking at UA Little Rock. “This partnership has been a wonderful experience for my students to show their personal creative work off campus, to network, to learn how a professional gallery operates, and to learn the business side of the art world. The curators enjoyed having students in a space that isn’t typically open to the public, and the students enjoyed seeing some pieces that a lot of people don’t normally get to see.”
The collections of the Historic Arkansas Museum hold rarely seen treasures made by Arkansas woodworkers over the past two centuries. These include functional ladderback chairs, hand-carved headboards, and wooden furniture. Over the past 200 years, skilled artisan trades like joinery and cabinetry have been in decline. Fortunately, many people still feel connected to wood as an artistic medium, and they aspire to build unique and durable objects.
To support these makers, the museum teamed up with UA Little Rock’s Applied Design program for a semester-long collaborative exhibit. Scheidt’s beginning and advanced woodworking students toured Historic Arkansas Museum’s extensive collection to draw inspiration from historical objects such as a bootjack, a fancy chair, a corner cupboard, and more.
“Historic Arkansas Museum is delighted to have this special opportunity to collaborate with woodworking students in UA Little Rock’s Applied Design program,” says Carey Voss, curator of exhibits for Historic Arkansas Museum. “By providing access to the museum’s collection, we’re able to bring Arkansas’s creative legacy full circle. Our curatorial staff is so impressed with the woodworking students and their unique interpretations of historical objects.”
Some students discovered the benefits of incorporating traditional joinery techniques to produce exceptionally strong and stable connections, while others amused themselves by examining items with unfamiliar forms and strange functions.
Andrew Myers, a junior from Little Rock, created a looming cabinet that was partly inspired by a piece on display at Historic Arkansas Museum that incorporated stone into wooden furniture.
“I’ve been wanting to make a hanging piece of furniture for a while,” Myers said. “My cabinet is made out of African mahogany, white oak, and a piece of marble. The inspiration for craft style and traditional joinery was taken from what I saw at the HAM. I am trying to blend traditional craft with more modern forms and shapes.”
Displayed at every stage from concept to completion, UA Little Rock woodworkers created pieces for this exhibit that include historical elements while reflecting their contemporary cultures, visions, and skills.
Advanced woodworking student Kim Arcega, a senior from Hot Springs, found inspiration from a cast iron boot jack, a small tool that aids in the removal of boots, she saw at the museum. She created a jewel-encrusted boot jack based on the look of maquech, a live beetle jewelry accessory widely sold in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.
“We were allowed to see a lot of period woodworking pieces, and I enjoyed seeing the early 19th century craftsmanship,” Arcega said. “You usually only get to see these pieces in books. The amount of work that went into some of these pieces is inspiring.”
UA Little Rock students were excited to have the opportunity to view and create unique interpretations of the historic items found in the museum’s collection, while also showcasing their work in a professional exhibit.
“It’s a great opportunity to showcase our work, and it’s a really great opportunity for new artists,” Myers said. “You usually spend a little more time in the trade before you end up with work in a museum. I encourage people to come out and see our show at the Historic Arkansas Museum.”
In the upper right photo, Historic Arkansas Museum curators Victoria Chandler and Carey Voss look over a student’s woodworking design plan as he prepares for an upcoming exhibit at the museum.