The Observer went in search of the Mifflin Gibbs exhibit at the Arkansas Studies Institute last week, and with the help of a kind person there found our way to a hidden mezzanine gallery. It's too bad it was hard to find ? though maybe it was our own ditziness that was the trouble ? because we discovered a nice little package of print and art that informed us about the prominent black citizen of 19th century Little Rock and we would hate for folks to miss it.
Mifflin Wistar (or “Whisker,” as a young student understood) Gibbs was more a citizen of the world, of course, which is what “Local History Goes to School: Traveling the World with Mifflin Wistar Gibbs” is all about. Gibbs students studied about and wrote up the text for panels about Gibbs. They wrote poetry and made drawings and clay figurines to illustrate the story of the man their school is named for. We knew next to nothing about Gibbs before we went to the exhibit, but the elementary schoolkids of Gibbs taught us a few things.
We learned that the native Philadelphian (born free in 1823, when Southern African-Americans were slaves, and mentored by the abolitionist Frederick Douglass), took a steamboat to California to make his living; then moved to British Columbia, where he made a fortune; and then moved to Little Rock in that brief enlightened period after the Civil War, where he practiced law. He lived, according to an Arkansas Gazette article of the time, in one of the finest houses in the city and was the speaker at a banquet held in President Ulysses S. Grant's honor. He was appointed consul to Madagascar in 1897 by President William McKinley.
The panels of information are punctuated by the students' relief prints of steamboats, pen and ink wash drawings of the First Missionary Baptist Church in Little Rock, stunning pen and watercolor scenes of the Madagascar jungle (see “Rainforest” by Evan Greenfield and “Mother Earth” by Julian Kresse), and, in a long-standing Gibbs' art class tradition, a wonderful banquet scene crafted in clay, with figures representing events and people in Gibbs' life ? Douglass, his family, Gibbs' dog, President Grant, at round tables set with little clay plates of clay food. The scene was a group project by Susan Purvis' fifth grade art students, another in a long line of terrific projects celebrating various cultures. Dr. Kristin Dutcher Mann, a mom who is also a history professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, wrote a grant for funding. Students, teachers, parents, art, history … there's some smart stuff going on over at Gibbs.
(Now, what was that you said about art education? That it's a frill? This exhibit will change your mind.)
Maybe it's the fact that The Observer became accustomed to (not to mention pretty good at) sliding across ice in order to navigate The Observatory driveway. Or maybe it's because we spent an inordinate amount of time behind a shuffleboard table in our old college days. Regardless, we've found ourselves strangely ? and helplessly ? drawn to Olympic curling over the last two weeks.
And it seems we're not the only ones. According to a press release by ad-buying firm Magna Global, curling was the most watched sport on cable television last week. This, thanks in very, very small part to the dedication of The Observer and neighborhood friends.
But our addiction to the sport may be getting out of hand. The more we watch the tense, hypnotic event, the more we want to try it for ourselves.
We called our Canadian friend who has extensive experience on the ice (and even more experience in the penalty box) for his take on curling.
“Oh yeah. I tried it once. We thought it'd be a blast, but after an hour my buddies and I were just sore and angry; our shoulders were inflamed from the sweeping and we were irritated with each other for not being able to land a single shot. You guys can't even drive in the snow, much less play shuffleboard on it. Stick to kickball, Arkie.”
We then reminded him that USA beat Canada 5-3 in hockey, but it was okay because they're a shoo-in for men's figure skating gold. Then he muttered a cuss word and hung up.
Next we called Arkansas Skatium on Bowman to see if they had any leagues. Or, for that matter, any interest in them as of late. They said there have been “a few” calls, but no curling leagues “yet.”
In the meantime, The Observer will invest a bit of hope in that well placed “yet.”
Watch out, 2014.