Last week, we shared the story of the large painting The Observer's son rescued from oblivion after spotting it by the dumpster behind his school a few years back. We're happy to report that we received quite a bit of interest in the painting — including a minutes-too-late e-mail from the art acquisitions person for the Central Arkansas Library System. When the dust cleared, it was adopted by quick-on-the-keyboard Hester Criswell, an assistant attorney general for the state. After The Observer helped shoehorn the big painting into her Honda Accord (she had to fold the back seat down, shoot the canvas through the trunk, and slide the front seats so far forward that her knees were rubbing the dashboard — that's an art lover, folks) she ferried it back to her home in midtown, where it's currently hanging in her dining room. She's already calling it "The Capitol Painting."
We also were very pleased to hear from the artist of the piece, Tom Sarlo, who passed along quite a bit of information about its creation. An art teacher who has worked at Booker Arts Magnet for 28 years, Sarlo and his family had just moved to Little Rock in 1985 when he got a commission to do a mural-sized painting for treatment room No. 20 at the Central Arkansas Radiation Therapy Institute. We'll let him tell the rest:
"The models for the two young men crossing the State Capitol grounds are my son, Aaron Sarlo, and a friend of his from school. My son and I had just moved back to Arkansas from the Chicago area in 1985. I was originally from Little Rock and remembered the 1957 Central High School crisis. The painting was to depict how far we have come since the '50s. The two young men of different races were crossing the lawn, arm in arm, with attitude and determination in their step. They appear to be going to a fight with every intention of winning. This type of attitude seemed appropriate in a room where people were fighting a dreadful disease."
Sarlo remembers that he was well paid for the painting, and has no idea how it went from CARTI to a date with the dumpster. Is there anybody out there who can help solve this artistic mystery?
Soldiers and statesmen and more, Archibald Yell and Albert Pike would have been colorful figures in Arkansas history even if there'd been no Mexican War, but the war enhanced their sparkle. Especially Yell's.
"Try Us: Arkansas and the U.S. — Mexican War" at the Old State House Museum through Oct. 31 is not a large exhibit, confined to one room. This wasn't a large war, not when compared with later American wars in terms of casualties. In other terms, it was huge. Mexico's muscular and restless neighbor had invaded it for the first but not last time, and a vast chunk of North America changed hands as a result. And, as the informative and well-written brochure points out, the war still influences relations between the two countries.
Like any good war exhibit, this one has swords and hats and epaulettes, maps and explanations of battles, portraits of principals. The Observer had rather hoped that Gen. Santa Anna's wooden leg would be on display, but the Illinois National Guard still has that in custody.
The exhibit notes the service in Mexico of American officers who would fight a much bigger war, against each other, some 15 years later. Doubtless tired of unflattering comparisons, former Gen. and former President U.S. Grant would write in his autobiography that because he'd served with Col. Robert E. Lee in Mexico, he knew that his Civil War adversary, Confederate Gen. Lee, was only human, not the near-divine figure that some thought him to be.
Oh, and Archibald Yell, for whom Yell County and Yellville (Marion County) are named? He was killed by Mexican lancers in the Battle of Buena Vista. A painting of that event is in the exhibit.
More conflict is covered at the MacArthur Museum of Military History, which has an exhibit "In Search of Pancho Villa: The Mexican Punitive Expedition of 1916" that is also part of Central Arkansas's celebration of Mexican history and culture. Among other things, there's a great film explaining why the bandit and revolutionary was such a hero to his countrymen. He was something of a heroic figure in the USA too, until he crossed the border to raid Columbus, N.M., and President Woodrow Wilson sent troops into Mexico to capture or kill him. The soldiers couldn't do either, and Villa was even more celebrated than he'd been before. For a time.
The exhibit ends Dec. 31.