River Valley Art Beat

Since March, many of us have spent time cleaning out closets, opening boxes, and thus, finding treasures ... objects we’ve saved because they tell a story of a certain period of our lives. Time stops as we look at the treasures and remember the past. At a time when life feels more unpredictable than usual, special objects give us a moment of connection — to ourselves in an earlier time, to people who have touched our lives — and the emotion that is evoked is ethereal.


In 1970, when the Fort Smith Art Center, now the Fort Smith Regional Art Museum (RAM), had been developing for 22 years, Casimir Rutkowski began a treasure box for Fort Smith. Hired as the first professional director for the art center, Rutkowski, a nationally known artist, initiated the center’s permanent collection of art. Today, the collection of more than 300 works is protected in the certified climate control of RAM. Each piece holds a story of the donor and the artist, as well as the added dimension that art provides: The chance for each of us to enjoy it in our own way.


Before RAM temporarily closed, the museum had recently received three objects from local artist Jon Williams: A painting entitled “Osage Homestead,” and two wood carvings: “The Long Walk in Winter, 1836,” depicting the Trail of Tears, and “Weeping Eyes,” a Native American bust.


Williams is Cherokee and had two art pieces accepted into this year’s Trails of Tears Art Show and Sale, now in its 49th year in Tahlequah, Okla.


“I wanted to donate the art to RAM because of the care I knew it would receive, and so that it can be in a place where people who appreciate art and community can see it,” Williams says. He treasures his history with RAM, from his Summer Art Camp experience at the first one in 1970, to the painting class he was enjoying when the pandemic began.


When RAM reopened June 2 (to ease into it, we opened first to members, who make it possible for RAM to be free for all), we had a symbolic “fresh start.” Fort Smith resident Cynthia Giss entered with a gift for RAM’s permanent collection: A sweet porcelain bunny made by the Boehm Porcelain Co. “Sitting Rabbit” will join the collection of flora and fauna by Edward Boehm (1913-1969) in the W.E. Knight Porcelain Gallery. This twinkling gallery on the museum’s lower floor opened last year, made possible by community donations and a gift in memory of Dr. Henry Udouj Jr. by his wife Linda. The gallery, with the collection that began in the 1970s, is a treasure box all in itself.


This column is produced by the River Valley Arts Coalition, whose mission is to inform citizens and visitors of the available fine art exhibition and education opportunities in Fort Smith and surrounding region. We also want to tell the stories of the people who make the local art scene such a vibrant and important part of our community. To send comments or for more information on the River Valley Arts Coalition contact lmeluso@fsram.org.