state capitol

State Capitol Exhibits

War, Collections, Memory: The Great War in the Arkansas State Archives

When, in 1917, the United States entered the world war, Arkansans in all walks of life stepped forward.  Over 70,000 Arkansans, black and white, served in uniform. By war’s end, nearly 4,000 had died or were seriously wounded.

Within months after the Armistice, the World War became the stuff of memories; the Arkansas History Commission (today’s Arkansas State Archives) partnered with Louis C. Gulley, an enthusiastic battlefield collector, to assemble a significant array of artifacts, memorabilia, documents and curiosa related to the war. This trove, augmented by government documents, personal papers and other artifacts, remains one of the Archives’s largest and richest collections. 

For many years, items from the Gulley collection were displayed in the Arkansas Capitol as the “Museum of the World War.”  This spring, the Great War returns to the Capitol: “War, Collections, Memory” features significant and memorable artifacts, photographs and documents from the State Archives related to “the war to end war.”  The exhibit is not a comprehensive history of Arkansans in the war; instead, it samples the materials collected and preserved in order to preserve the stories of the conflict.  These range from predictable battlefield trophies such as bayonets and helmets, to fragments of buildings damaged by shell fire and items sewed by Arkansas women for the American Red Cross.  A bullet-riddled helmet, mess cup and iron body armor attest to the dangers of facing modern small-arms fire, while playing cards and a chess set improvised by German prisoners of war represent soldiers’ attempts to set aside the horrors of the field, if only for a little while.  The home front is represented by a box of bandages rolled by Arkansas women for use in field hospitals overseas, and by identification photographs of resident German nationals who were required to register as enemy aliens in 1917.

Nearly a century has gone by since the cease-fire of November 11, 1918, but in the Arkansas State Archives and, through August, the halls of the Capitol, the echoes of that heartbreaking conflict remain.

“War, Collections, Memory: the Great War in the Arkansas State Archives” will remain on display in the first floor galleries of the Arkansas Capitol through August 2018.

Mixed Company: When Dolls Come Out To Mingle

Hoxie: Right in '55

From its founding in the 1880s until ten years after the end of World War II, the northeast Arkansas town of Hoxie was an agricultural town, a railroad town, a cotton market town.  Its greatest assets were its location, at the junction of two railroads, the fertile farmland around it and its children, served by a school system that was a source of community pride.

In July 1955, however, Hoxie and its schools became objects of national attention. After the local school board moved to end racial segregation, acting on moral, legal and practical considerations, Hoxie became the object of attempts by outside forces to influence its path. “Remember Hoxie” became a rallying cry for proponents of states' rights and continued segregation: the incident spurred a surge of white activism and helped boom the political career of James D. “Justice Jim” Johnson. In the end, though, the Hoxie schools stayed the course and remained integrated.  Over time, Hoxie’s notoriety faded, especially as the events of 1957 in Little Rock, which had been foreshadowed by the Hoxie controversy, unfolded.

“Hoxie: Right in ’55,” The Arkansas Capitol’s fall exhibit, recalls the saga of how this Arkansas town dealt with changing law and changing times, and what came of it.  Vintage images and memorabilia of Hoxie and its schools, as well as documentary materials from the Arkansas State Archives, tell the stories of the town and the main actors in what one historian styled “the Hoxie imbroglio.” The exhibit ends by suggesting some consequences, including current efforts by Hoxie community members to preserve, interpret and help spread understanding of what happened in their town.

Today, more than six decades and more since Hoxie’s minutes of fame, community members of the Hoxie: The First Stand committee are working to create a museum that will preserve memories of the Hoxie desegregation and interpret the story for future generations. In 1955, the Hoxie school board, students, staff and, ultimately, the town, chose the right.  That choice would create echoes far beyond the bounds of the Hoxie school district.  In “Hoxie: Right in ’55,” we remember the events of 1955 and salute those who would preserve those memories as a legacy for the Hoxie of days to come.

Let’s Ride: Mountain Biking in the State Parks of Arkansas

Once upon a time, all bicycles were, really, “dirt bikes.”  In cycling’s earliest days, wheelmen—and women--followed uneven gravel roads and rough paths, both to get from point “a” to point “b” and for the sheer joy of the ride.  Today, many cyclists have rediscovered the fun and challenges of unpaved riding, and Arkansas’s state parks offer a variety of such opportunities. This summer, the Arkansas State Capitol’s first-floor galleries feature “Let’s Ride: Mountain Biking in the State Parks of Arkansas,” a celebration of adventurous cycling around the Natural State.

Created by the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism in collaboration with the Secretary of State’s office, “Let’s Ride” highlights the state parks’ connection to the beginnings of mountain biking in Arkansas: two staffers at Devil’s Den State Park helped organize the state’s first mountain bike gathering, the Ozark Mountain Bike Festival, at Devil’s Den in 1989.  Today, state parks feature mountain bike trails for cyclists of all skill levels, ranging from beginner routes to rocky advanced-level “technical” trails. The Delta Heritage Trail, a state park venture, is a crushed limestone rail-to-trail path that when completed will offer a nearly eighty-five mile “gravel grinding” ride through the historic and scenic heart of the state’s southeastern quarter.

The exhibit includes scenes from trails statewide, as well as examples of the two-wheeled technology suited for them: one cycle, a 1980s-vintage GT “Karakoram,” is a veteran of the original 1989 Devil’s Den event.  Others, loaned by area cycle shops and distributors, illustrate the variety of modern-day mountain cycles. A fourth is “all business”: a law enforcement-spec bike used by Arkansas park rangers.

To learn more about mountain biking opportunities in the state parks, visit: https://www.arkansasstateparks.com/biking/.

Previous Exhibits

Accountable for Treasures

The Auditor of State is one of the seven constitutional officers of Arkansas’s state government.  The post was created in the Constitution of 1836 and acts as the State’s general accountant, keeping track of fund and appropriation balances of all state agencies and writing warrants or checks in payment of the liabilities of the State, including paychecks of state employees. The Auditor also carries out other responsibilities; the best-known of these is managing the state’s Unclaimed Property program.

“Accountable for Treasures,” the Capitol’s autumn exhibit, affords visitors a rare look at a rich sample of items which have been “left behind.” Unclaimed property is any financial asset, held for a person or entity that cannot be found.  It may consist of bank account balances, uncollected wages, securities, refunds or checks of many kinds, but safe deposit box contents are the most varied and most evocative. These lock boxes may contain money but often, more personal items are left behind, including personal papers, awards and decorations, collections with high intrinsic value (such as rare coins or stamps) and others with value mainly to the men or women whose obsessions they reflected.

“Accountable for Treasures” features an assortment of items removed from safe deposit boxes from across Arkansas and sent to the Auditor’s office in hope that owners or their heirs will claim them.  Highlights include extensive coin collections, silver ingots, military medals, family photographs and letters, jewelry and souvenir trinkets. One collection consists exclusively of Beanie Babies plush toys, another encompasses watches, belt buckles, ID bracelets, books, numerous men’s rings and a bottle of vintage champagne while yet another combines Beatles LPs with VHS copies of films featuring Sean Connery as James Bond.  A pair of police service revolvers, once the property of a Pine Bluff patrolman, are displayed near an accumulation of pocket knives both pristine and well-used and a silver trinket box containing a gold teddy-bear ring.

The exhibit also features a rare relic of the office’s history: a letter book preserving the official correspondence of State Auditors beginning in 1836 and continuing into the 1870s.  The letter book is featured through the courtesy of the Arkansas State Archives, which acquired the book on Arkansas’s 180th birthday, June 15, 2016.

Finding Your Adventure

On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed into law a measure creating a new agency within the Department of the Interior, charged with managing an assortment of over thirty places already set aside by the federal government. That agency, the National Park Service, would grow both in size and in responsibilities carried. Today, as it approaches its 100th birthday, the National Park Service oversees more than four hundred sites encompassing more than 84 million acres spread across the United States, its trust territories and protectorates.

Finding Your Adventure, the Arkansas Capitol’s summer exhibit for 2016, is a birthday salute to the National Park System (NPS) and a “sampler” of its Arkansas sites. They are distinguished by their variety: in them, one may take a hike, sink into a thermal bath or float a river. One can stand where battles raged in the Civil War and in the Civil Rights Movement, explore an historic courthouse or a U.S. President’s childhood home and much more.

The exhibit features artifacts and images selected by staff members from each of the seven NPS sites within Arkansas. Architectural details and bath house memorabilia represent Hot Springs National Park, while Fort Smith National Historic Site’s offerings include a court document pertaining to notorious bank robber Henry Starr, signed by famed “hanging judge” Isaac Parker. Buffalo National River is represented by a half-canoe, crafted from a wrecked watercraft by park staff, while the William J. Clinton Birthplace and Home contributes a Little Golden Book once the property of a young Billy Blythe, the future president.

For 100 years the National Park Service has protected the nation’s natural and cultural treasures, preserved its stories and provided opportunities for recreation, learning, discovery and awe. These are your public lands and in this Centennial Anniversary year, the Capitol, along with the NPS, encourages visitors—natives and out-of-staters alike—to seek and find adventure in a national park in Arkansas.

Finding your Adventure will remain on display through Labor Day.

Ghost Signs of Arkansas

Beginning in the mid-Nineteenth century and continuing into the Twentieth, a new kind of graphic blossomed across America: outdoor advertising, in the form of signs painted on building walls or roofs or even natural features. Many of these advertised local concerns but also were “privilege” signs—ones promoting regional or even nationally-branded products such as Coca-Cola, patent medicines, tobacco products or cigars. Painted with care and stylistic flair by lettering artists who earned the appellation “wall dogs,” these signs boomed the products and enterprises of a growing, diversifying American economy.

Such signs once covered almost any flat building side. With the spread of billboards and other advertising media, the vogue for wall signs faded; many signs were obscured as new buildings went up, others were covered over with paint or plaster and many were simply left to fade away. The wall dogs did good work, though; across Arkansas and the nation, these graphics (many created using tenacious lead-based paint) survive as “ghost signs,” persistent reminders of our business past.

In the 1990s, the Arkansas Historic Preservation program, a division of the Department of Arkansas Heritage, began documenting Arkansas’s ghost signs. This project led to “Ghost Signs of Arkansas: Off-The-Wall Relics,” an exhibit which made its debut at the Old State House Museum in 1994. The exhibit featured photographs by Jeff Holder and text by Cynthia Haas, both of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. The images recorded fading wall signage from Trumann, Fordyce, Conway, Pine Bluff, Prescott and other towns across the state; many of the signs had outlasted the products they publicized. In 1997, the University of Arkansas Press issued Ghost Signs of Arkansas, in which Haas and Holder expanded on the exhibit. The exhibit itself graced the offices of the Arkansas Senate for many years, then went into storage.

This summer, however, Capitol visitors will be able to enjoy these “ghosts” once more; Ghost Signs of Arkansas is on view in the Capitol’s lower-level gallery through August. The images are more than two decades old and the survival rate of the signs depicted is unknown, so for this outing the exhibit is doubly “ghostly”: the signs recorded were shades of their original selves, and their images may virtually preserve the shades of things that have disappeared altogether.

 

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Permanent Exhibits

A Capitol in Progress

This exhibit, located in the Lower Level elevator lobby, features rare photographs taken at a crucial time in the construction of the Arkansas State Capitol. The work of Little Rock photographer Thomas B. Rayburn, the image document the condition of the structure in 1910 as a new governor and a new architect took charge of the struggling project to guide it to completion.

Building Forever: The Construction Story of the Arkansas State Capitol

Featuring historical photographs, blueprints, cartoons and newspaper articles, this exhibit chronicles the construction history of the Capitol, along with a look at 20th century governors and their impact on state and national events. The exhibit is located in the northwest hallway of the third floor.

Call of Duty: Arkansas at War

Explore Arkansas’s role in Major U.S. Conflicts and discover stories about our state’s heroes. View memorials to Desert Storm and Pearl Harbor veterans. The exhibit and memorials are in the fourth floor east corridor.

Legislative Photo Composites

Looking for a relative who served in the Arkansas legislature? Composite photographs of each legislative session since 1911 are located on the third and fourth floor hallways. House of Representative composite photographs are on the north ends of the third and fourth floors; Senate photos are on the south ends of both upper floors. Photos are in chronological order with the newer photos located on the third floor and the older photographs on the fourth floor.

Mentors & Models

This exhibit highlights the lives of social justice and civil rights advocates Daisy and L.C. Bates, and the making of Testament, a monument on the Capitol grounds honoring the Little Rock Nine. It is located in the north foyer on the first floor of the State Capitol, overlooking the monument.

Standing for Arkansas

Learn the history behind the official symbols of Arkansas. Located in the west corridor of the fourth floor, this exhibit is fun for allages.

Through the Years By the Numbers

See how the state’s people and industries have changed from territorial days to today. A timeline of major events in Arkansas history is coupled with population s changes since the 1820s. The timeline and narrative depict landmark events since Europeans first explored the region in the 1500s, how Native American cultures shifted and the progression of agriculture and industry through today. Located in the southeast corner of the Capitol’s fourth floor.