27 May Arkansas, oh Arkansas
I’m back home after the most delightful short tour of Arkansas last week. The original reason for my visit was the opening at Stephano’s Fine Art Gallery last Thursday, which was a blast (so many fabulous people in Little Rock!). But equally compelling and enriching was the experience of visiting other artists there. I had planned to take a few days before the opening to travel to some of the spots I considered promising subjects for my Vanishing Roadside Americana series and everyone had told me I had to see Hot Springs and Eureka Springs.
So I got up at the crack o’ dawn on Monday (3:00 am really) and caught a 6:15 flight to Little Rock, arriving at 10:15 their time. Perfect! Rented a car and off I went on a fabulous little adventure. A week or so before a good friend told me of a good friend who lived in Hot Springs and happened to be an amazing artist who also shared my passion for “the vanishing roadside”. So we got in touch and he told me to “come on by”! His name is David Malcolm Rose and his work is just extraordinary. David’s hospitality was enormous and he took me on the loveliest tour of Hot Springs, including all the great signs and spots that haven’t vanished yet and some of the ones that have.
They originally had three great signs of diving girls and sadly now only have one – as one was torn down and the other one painted over. How someone could do this is just beyond me! David showed me pictures he had taken of the three signs and in looking closely at them you could clearly see that the diving girls were all in exactly the same position, which indicated to me that they must have been made by the same sign maker.
David also showed me a magazine published by an organization called The Society of Commercial Archeology – hey – these are a bunch of other afficianados like me! I fit into a “society” of people who love all the old signs, buildings, history, decline and fall of the roadside culture that we all knew and loved growing up. I can hardly wait to get my subscription going and who knows – maybe I’ll be writing articles for them one of these days. There was a fascinating piece on the history of neon signs after sputnik was launched and how many of the graphic themes of the 60’s came from our quest for space. David had also written an article on the history of Hot Springs, it’s rise and fall, and had documented a lot of the great signs and landmarks there as well.
The next morning I headed north on Route 7 for Eureka Springs, about a 5 hours drive. What a spectacular route! (I saw signs along the way that it’s one of the most beautiful roads in America). I had to stop at one of the world’s largest crystal stores and bring home a few gifts to wear and share with friends. Can’t come to Arkansas without bringing home a few crystals after all.
My route veered west on Highway 40 and then north again on Route 21 through the stupendous Ozark Mountains eventually arriving at the most charming vertical town of Eureka Springs – originally like Hot Springs, based on the healing waters. The town is home to many artists and musicians and has some fabulous shops! I had the honor of meeting another friend of a friend – artist, Adrian Frost who recently moved here from New York. I spent the evening with him, his sculptor neighbor and other friends – soaking in their love of this land, the people, the culture and again the hospitality. This place has really started to grow on me!
The trip back to Little Rock on Route 65 was less than beautiful as it wound through more commercial strip malls and I don’t think I saw one good sign for pics – but I did decide to stop and see the natural stone bridge, which was for sale along with 150 acres – the price wasn’t listed.
Highlights from the road:
- roadkill I’ve never seen before (3) armadillos (pretty sure)
- more Christian ministries than I ever knew existed anywhere
- billboards for Christian stores selling t-shirts
- lots of bbq joints with great local names
- many many many abandoned gas stations and run down buildings (if that were my theme I would have had many pictures for reference)
- lots of motels welcoming bikers with big signs out front
- wedding chapels (I guess Eureka Springs is the capitol of Arkansas)
- in mini marts lots of beef jerky, chewing tobacco, cigarettes and lighters
- big tobacco outlets