Beauty Blog: Part One

Historic Arkansas Museum - Monday, April 20, 2020

By Carey Voss, Curator of Exhibits, and Victoria Chandler, Arkansas Made Researcher

Experiences of beauty provoke emotional and physical responses that allow us to escape uncomfortable feelings like boredom or suffering in the present moment. Before convenient distractions like television and the Internet, people attended musical performances, took in live theatre, and visited museums to contemplate artwork for the same reasons we binge-watch our favorite shows on Netflix.

Evening on the Arkansas River, Nicholas Richard Brewer, Little Rock (Pulaski County), oil on canvas, circa 1925, 31 ¼ x 38 ¾ in., Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council Grant Purchase, 2000.26

As we gaze north toward the bluffs at "Big Rock" (modern day Emerald Park), a steam shovel is visible in the foreground, and smokestacks puff away in the distance. Even though industry figures prominently in this painting, the muted light of dusk on the river imparts a slow, peaceful feeling. This atmospheric image transports me to the riverbank in winter; I imagine the artist as he studies the scene, working quickly against a cold wind to capture the subtle blues and purples of the fading light. Perhaps the rhythmic sounds of a freight train clank and rumble nearby, or a steam whistle signals quitting time at a factory across the river. This day is almost over, but Nicholas Brewer’s painting reassures us that dawn will break in the morning as surely as the Arkansas River rolls south to the gulf.

Armorel, Arkansas, Jacob Semiatin, Armorel (Mississippi County), watercolor on paper, July 1943, 22 x 15 in., Gala Fund Purchase, 2012.45.4

This bright scene of a barn in Armorel, Arkansas is transfixing and instantly transports me to the edge of this rural road. Irish-American artist Jacob Semiatin created a painting that perfectly encapsulates a hot, breezy July day. Through his brushstrokes, the wind and grass dance together to a rustling song. Sunlight flickers in through shadows and Semiatin’s saturation of color on the barn and cropland. He seems to be inviting the viewer to travel up the windy road to the barn. When I look at this painting, I immediately feel a warm summer breeze and the sun shining through the drifting clouds. Semiatin spent most of his life in Manhattan, but visited Mississippi County, Arkansas several times between 1942 and 1945. He captured many scenes in Blytheville and the unincorporated community of Armorel. Interestingly, shortly after his trips to southern Arkansas, Semiatin ventured into abstraction. The expressive brushstrokes in this watercolor foretell Semiatin’s eventual embrace of abstract art.

Connect: What artworks or decorative objects transport you to another place? What type of creative expression (art and decorative objects, music, theatre, film, dance, writing, etc) provokes the biggest emotional response?