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Tucked quietly along the banks of the Arkansas River is a veritable treasure trove of sculpted and cultivated artwork. Located just northwest of the bustling shopping and dining district that is the Little Rock River Market, the figures and gardens of Sculpture at The River Market (SATRM) hosts more than 90 sculptures that grace the area between the Marriott hotel and the First Security Amphitheater.
Ten years ago, Dr. Dean Kumpuris of CHI St. Vincent hospital worked with SATRM Board Chairman Jane Rogers, and several others to put in motion a plan to create a public space for artists and patrons of the arts, and the natural setting of the Little Rock riverfront area provided the perfect backdrop for artists to showcase their work while also making it easily accessible to the general public.
In October 2007, the SATRM hosted their first Show & Sale. The exhibition included more than 400 sculptures and helped fund the installation of the first seven sculptures in the space that would be dedicated as the Vogel Schwartz Sculpture Garden in October 2009.
The opening of the Vogel Schwartz Sculpture Garden was funded in part by a donation from the Vogel family and the Vogel Schwartz Foundation, an organization established by Rose Vogel Schwartz and Dan Vogel as a way for the family to give back to the community. The foundation is now run by their decedents and continues to support SATRM.
Each year, SATRM hosts a public art sculpture competition that features a $60,000 commission for the winner whose work will be added to the collection. Other pieces have been added by the Vogel Schwartz Foundation or by donations from other sponsors and patrons of the arts.
The art collection housed within the Vogel Schwartz Garden currently includes 70 sculptures, and another 20 sculptures adorn the Riverfront area east of the garden. The sculpture collection is also beginning to include the area to the west of the garden, with three pieces having recently been added to the newly dedicated Margaret Clark Adventure Park. The Adventure Park is a play area geared towards pre-school aged children and is located just west of the Marriott.
While the sculptures are undoubtedly one of the main attractions in the Riverfront Park area, there are many other things for tourists and locals to see and do.
The pavilion includes placards that describe the rich history of central Arkansas and the Little Rock settlement as well as housing an Indian Head statue carved by artist, Peter Toth in 1975. Toth carved similar sculptures in all 50 states in tribute to Native Americans.
Visitors will want to check out the small rock outcropping on the south bank of the Arkansas River noted in the journals of explorer Jean-Baptiste Benard de la Harpe in 1722. The “La Petit Roche,” not to be confused with his description of the “Big Rock” on the north bank upstream, is visible from the plaza and is name-sake of the Natural State’s capital city.
The Junction Railroad Bridge connects Little Rock to North Little Rock and has been a part of the city skyline for more than 100 years. Completely renovated and opened to the public as a pedestrian and bicycle bridge in May 2008, it is a beautiful photo-op as well as a great vantage point for taking in the sites along Riverfront Park.
With art being added to the Vogel Schwartz Sculpture Garden and Riverfront Park regularly, there is always something new to be discovered. Factor in the changing seasons and weather, and the look and feel of the gardens are constantly changing and evolving, making each visit a new and exciting experience.
SATRM’s 2019 Show & Sale is scheduled for May 3-5, 2019 and will feature 40 artists and approximately 700 pieces of sculpture. Artists interested in participating have until January 15, 2019, to apply. A Sculpture Preview Party, where attendees can get a first look at the artwork and cast their vote for the public monument sculpture winner while also enjoying a bevy of delicious food and drink is planned for May 3rd.
Be sure to visit Sculpture at the River Market online or on their Facebook page to stay informed about current events and activities. Garden tours are available to the public and school groups with advanced reservations.
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