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  • Writer's pictureMargaret Wiseheart Anderson

Westward Woman

I traveled Thursday, June 24th out of Memphis (with its broken bridge and extremely large shiny object*) towards the Arkansas State line.

For this adventure capitalist, it's important to stay flexible with the plan...Plan A can easily be usurped by Plan B that I just made up. I learned early on in my travels, that once your heart is set on how something 'should' turn out, there's a chance it doesn't, so keep it loose and roll. Since the route from Memphis to Arkansas was now detoured to crossing the Mississippi River to the South, I decided that Little Rock AR would be my alternate lunch destination and Route 40 would get me there in a couple of hours.

While on the way to Memphis yesterday, I couldn't help but to notice the sign markers with the Purple Heart motif and words "The Trail of Tears". Yikes, what else didn't I really pay attention to in school? I vaguely remember Mr. Schwenk talking about this- I'm sure it was a snore and I was only thinking about getting to art class. I'm so grateful for Wikipedia. It makes it okay that I don't need to try to retain, recall, remember anything long term when it comes to history. Whew.

Here's the the Trail of Tears story in nutshell for those of you like me:

Somehow, Andrew Jackson got the stupid Indian Removal Act of 1830 through Congress which authorized the government to extinguish any Indian title to land claims in the Southeast. What a jerk! It was a horrible plight, and long, and drawn out over years of this imposed relocation. Five Native American tribes, the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee, and Seminole Nations were forcibly removed from their ancestral homelands to areas to the west of the Mississippi River that had been designated 'Indian Territory'. Many lives were lost needlessly and the suffering was immense. I never fully fathomed what happened on the Trail of Tears, or maybe I just had not had the life experiences to allow it resonate until now.

The story of what happened is here in this link from the National Park Service. It's very solemn, and I can't even I drove the miles there in honor of every soul who walked the Trail and hold Spirit in the Light for all First Natives and their descendants. Realizing that it took them probably 7 times as long to reach their destination if they did at all, I was humbled and grateful for Max my car, for infrastructure, and the folks who help us to never forget the past.

Approaching Little Rock, I was impressed with the system of highways and found it easy to maneuver. I decided to look for a stop on the outskirts so that I could avoid traffic. BUT, then I saw the exit for the Presidential Clinton Library and Museum, so I thought that might be a good place for a picnic. Picked up some stuff at a deli and drove to the beautiful campus of the Presidential Park. It is a most picturesque setting for an historic train station and an enormous and exquisite building made of glass with a pedestrian bridge over the Arkansas River!

Now wait a sec! (see previous post*) Another glass building and a broken bridge over a river in the middle of a city in the middle of nowhere? Okay folks. Who wore it best? Hands down Little Rock in my opinion! Sorry Memphis, you've got some work to do.

As much as I wanted to, if I were to enter the museum, I knew I would be spending the rest of the day until I couldn't look at another thing. And the research library for a non-academic like me would send my ADOS (Attention Deficit Oh Shiny) into full tilt if there were any books about fashion, art, costumes, architecture, Monika Lewinsky, lol... But, in calculating my time, and also my eagerness to get to Fayetteville to see my friend, I decided to have my lunch, walk around the beautiful property and sketch a little. Definitely plan to return when I have more time if the opportunity exists.

I walked out onto the pedestrian iron bridge for images with my Nikon. There a sign which detailed that this historic bridge and juncture of the railroad was almost lost to greed and demolition. I learned if it hadn't been for the hard work of some incredibly dedicated folks, and a foundation by the Clinton's, I wouldn't be walking on this historic bridge today. The former Station - a beauty of a brick building in a stately style of architecture where the Clinton School for Public Service is housed - would have been lost. In fact, Little Rock would probably have ceased to exist let alone become what it is today: a vibrant, contemporary, smallish city that's completely hip with a beat on track to an even brighter future. 3.9 if I were to rank it of places I've seen for a quick stop over. I'll be back.

One of the things I like about traveling in the summertime is to discover what art-themed sculptures have been created as community awareness projects. For instance in Catskill NY a few years ago, there were artsy fartsy cat statues on pedestals all up and down Main Street. So great! Here, scattered about the campus at the Presidential Center, there are 26 world globes that were each about @ 5 ft in diameter, and painted uniquely to the call for "Hot Ideas for a Cooler Planet". They are super cool and, quite honestly, to the artists who painted them, you ROCK Little Rock! Baseball one has to be my favorite one though. (go Phillies!) #CoolGlobesLR

Leaving Little Rock, I headed North and West towards Fayetteville on Rte 40. Here's where I started saying "oh wow. The Ozarks. wow nice wow." So sorta like the Poconos actually - gently rolling with the full emergence of greenery and summer in the air. Take it in now because the High Desert is only a few days away.

I completely understand the misconception that Arkansas has because it's like anywhere where people like to get away to quietness and solitude. But, with the likes of these businesses headquartered in NW Arkansas:

Walmart, J.B. Hunt, Tyson Foods, Coca-Cola, Proctor & Gamble, Motorola, Nestle, General Mills, Dell, PepsiCo, either as a primary business or a vendor of Wal-Mart.

...there's some big money and it's not that quiet. Also, the University of Arkansas trains some of the best engineers, nurses, and writers in the world it's been said. And, my friend Patty works there too!

I arrived to Patty's darling little country house to find her as she's getting her mail, home from work as a paralegal. The 15 years+ since she moved here to Arkansas has hardly changed her look since the early days of the Main St Theatre in Quakertown.

1994ish- Patty was the volunteer co-ordinator and I was resident costumer for the main stage. I offered to help out for the children's music series that Patty was coordinating. As my "volunteer uniform", she roped me into wearing lime green sequin suspenders with a dozen music themed buttons, and funky MC Hammer pants so I would "look fun to children". Yes really. I had to. She pulled rank on me this time, flipping what I usually tell the actors if I hear a complaint: You will wear it, you will love it, end of story. Smile.

Small world. That was also the day that Trout Fishing In America (TFIA) came into my realm of awareness with their song telling. And guess where they live? NW Arkansas. I think almost from that day on, Patty ended up working for TFIA first in PA selling concessions, then by moving to Arkansas to work in the office at headquarters.

Guess what band is playing Sat nite at the music venue at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art?

I know, it was sooo terrrribly unfortunate that Patty's husband was in Seattle and couldn't use the ticket to the concert on Saturday night, awwww, girls night! Yay for me! And, I get to see a world class art museum, too? WOW.

It was impressive at that. I would highly recommend a lengthy stroll through this interesting collection of contemporary and modern works. Beautiful building and curation. So completely worth going to Bentonville to spend the day and evening. Now a long walk to the Forest.

We arrived to the concert venue ahead of the general public and were able to catch up with Keith and Ezra after their sound check as they were chillaxing before the show. This is their 2nd live show since the whole Covid pandemic put the kibosh on their calendar. It's great to see them in their home state where they are super adored! First time meeting their lovely wives and sharing them with a few hundred of adoring fans.

These guys....honest to goodness, the real deal of great musicianship and song writing, marketing savvy extraordinaire and personality plus. Kathy O'Connell of Kids Corner radio WXPN Philadelphia was great in bringing them to the East Coast a lot, where we could enjoy their colorful style of creative folk with a bit of country bluegrass rock and fun stuff. Yeah, you know the type, right? No. They are unique. I just can't say enough about their work and dedication to making highly entertaining music for all ages AND performing for now what is about 4 generations. See, because if you take your kids to see a live performance, it's great if the adults really enjoy it too. So that's why Trout Fishing in America has 4 Grammy noms. Yo kids, take your parents to see them when they are around! But, get the CDs or download their music. You'll be glad you did.

We got our nearly front row and center seats set up with our chairs and got comfy waiting for the show to begin with a wonderful opening act of local folk artists Still on the Hill...they were amazing and so much fun.

Chowing down on a local food item-can't remember what it was called- a grilled ear of corn on the cob with a heaping helping of Hellman's mayonnaise and some spicy seasonings. I loved it. I was mid bite when two ladies approached and were about to be introduced to me.... oh my, really, now? Bloody corn in my teeth?

I'm trying to de-mayonnaise, de-corn myself and I stood up. Now I'm pretty tall. In front of me is a statuesque woman, very tall like 6'2 or something. She is clearly Native American and just stunningly beautiful to look at. The other lady is wearing a darling smile and outfit as cute as a button. She is the Director of the Crystal Bridges Native American Art Museum. And they are TFIA fans! So Patty invited them to join us- they pulled up chairs and we got down in the North Forest in Arkansas, to Trout Fishing In America folks!

Patty had just informed me that these days it's polite/correct to refer to a "Native American" as a "First Native". It was kind of hard to suddenly use that term correctly in context to the woman sitting next to me, but I winged it to strike up a conversation.

As it turns out, she is a Storyteller. Wow. First Native Cherokee storyteller sitting next to me. Double wow. I was a little tongue tied at first, but I mentioned to her that I just recently (yeah like effing hours ago) read up on the Trail of Tears and the real impact it's had for generations. I admitted I was a little embarrassed that at my age I didn't know much about it before I made the drive. I didn't mention that I prayed for her people on the way here. Although really, was it a coincidence that she put her chair next to mine?

Gayle Ross Storyteller. Of course I googled her as soon as I had the chance. Fabulous. And, someday when I've practiced portraiture a bit more, I must have her sit for me. And if there are any PYM Quaker Friends out there...Annual Sessions?

I was satisfied during the last few days that I saw what I needed to see to warrant making a working painting trip back to the area. Eureka Springs was really wonderful and reminded me a lot of Jim Thorpe PA. I was trying to channel Desha, a really awesome photographer friend, because she always knows how to capture light just right. I did manage to get some decent images with my Nikon but I really hate working from them entirely in the studio.

Eureka Springs

I sat on the balcony of the Basin Park Hotel with a brew of cider and a sketchbook. I use my rough sketches mainly to help me remember the impression of the light effect while I was there. And in doing so, I'm committing more to memory in the observation of all the relationships in the subject matter in values.

Adriano Farinella is an amazing artist from Easton PA who I took a couple workshops with who encouraged doing "Notan" sketches...just quick little 2-3 value thumbnails to record the impression and composition of the shapes. It's been one of the things that has helped me tremendously and keeps me moving quickly in the field to find a good spot to paint.

Yes, can you tell, I'm itching by now to paint plein air, and I haven't really had the weather or the opportunity. But my art gear backpack is always in stand-by and I think about it 24/7.

Next stop Tulsa and my favorite Okie!

Moi, Keith, Ezra, and Patty

PS: Here's the enchanting Trout song that I sang to my child for years, and now he sings it to his little girl: Lullaby

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