Crystal Bridges hosts ‘Gather Around the Radio’

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 129 views 

The iconic NBC xylophone tones sounded, the “On the Air” light switched on and two hundred guests wrapped up their murmuring conversations, and turned to the front stage to do a little time travel.

Gather Around the Radio, an evening that featured an old-style radio show, dinner, live music, dancing and art gallery strolls, took place at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art on Thursday with host Kyle Kellams, KUAF news director.

“We sold out last week sometime,” said Anna Vernon, the museum’s graphic designer. “People are really dressed to the nines, we’re excited.”

The event was a part of the museum’s Art Night Out series.

“Each event has a different theme, all based around the combination of art and entertainment. This was our first seated dinner event,” said Diane Carroll, media relations manager at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. “We won’t have another like it until 2013.”

Guests played the part, sporting big, pinned curls, cherry red lipstick, pearls and gloves. Gentlemen arrived in fedoras and newsboy hats, vests, bowties and two-tone wingtip shoes. They gathered at long, communal tables for servings of a traditional 1930s meal of beans and cornbread, filling their plates at a table where the rules are much like a big family meal. Wandering through the hall, you can hear people who were once strangers ask each other to pass the green beans or to cut a slice of that apple pie, will ya?

“We chose this meal because it’s a good comfort food,” said Case Dighero, director of culinary at Crystal Bridges. “It was a popular choice during the depression era because it lasted a long time.”

Dighero explained the popularity of the dish was its ease and convenience for homemakers to throw ingredients in a pot while doing other household chores and taking care of the children; the evolution of the flavor over the course of a few days; its longevity and low cost.

Other culinary options available were collard greens, pickled onions, Ozark shepherd’s goat cheese pie, well-water sweet tea, chickory coffee and Apple Jack lightning served in Mason jars.

Host Kellams and his panel of experts Case Dighero, director of culinary services, Manuela Well-Off-Man, assistant curator; David Huston, director of curatorial; Leo Mazow, University of Arkansas Associate Professor of Art History kept guests entertained with features on Will Rogers, Georgia O’Keeffe, Col. Thomas Hart Benton and more. Each of the subjects was critical to the national importance of this region and the growth of art history and education in the area.

“Will Rogers was the voice of America,” said Kyle Kellams. “We dedicate this night to him.”

Rogers early career consisted of working in circuses all over the place, including Australia. Once Rogers, an Oklahoma native, began appearing in silent films, he was on his way to becoming the most popular entertainer aside from Charlie Chaplin.

Rogers wrote a newspaper column and had a radio show that supplemented his fame. A total of 40 million people read the column, an audience that was approximately half the population of the United States at that time. Rogers also held an all-female aviation competition that Amelia Earhart attended. The contest was won by Louise M. Thaden, an aviation pioneer from Arkansas whom the Bentonville airport was named after.

“A lot of his humor is still relevant today,” Kellams said. “One of his most popular jokes is, ‘If there are pros and cons and we have progress, we also have … (audience answers: congress.’”

Col. Thomas Hart Benton made art popular to the public through radio, bringing light to the social value and education of it. A frequent radio host, he began the “Art for your sake” program. For the donation of a dollar, listeners would receive a re-creation of a piece of art in the mail, which they could examine during programs which discussed its merits and significance.

The Old 78s” was the first musical entertainment of the evening, featuring old-timey music of banjos and fiddles.

After the program, guests danced to jazz and swing tunes of a live “big band”, got group pictures next to an old radio and took leisurely strolls through the art galleries.