Tyson corporate art a ‘Springdale Hidden Treasure’

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 1,415 views 

Burl Ives, American flags, the Fayetteville square, a barnyard. Over the years, one company has been collecting these iconic souvenirs of life in the states and in the Ozarks, and this week, 60 people took a break from their workday to get a brief tour through it all.

"Springdale's Hidden Treasure," a discussion on the Tyson Foods Corporate Art Collection led by art curator Shannon Dillard Mitchell, took place at noon on Wednesday (July 17) at the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History.

“We do these (lunch-time) talks monthly,” said Susan Young, outreach coordinator at the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History. “With the opening of Crystal Bridges, the appreciation for art has skyrocketed. It’s heightened the enthusiasm for art.”

The Tyson Foods Corporate Art Collection began from the art collections of former Tyson Foods CEO Don Tyson. At first, it was just a piece or two here and there, things that he enjoyed and really ‘grew’ on him. Today, the collection includes more than 650 works: paintings, bronze statues, photographs by legends Ansel Adams, Andy Warhol and historical Native American images by Edward Curtis, drawings, models and larger-than-life installations.

The massive collection, housed in Tyson Foods Corporate offices, is not available for public tours, which is why the lunchtime slideshow and discussion was such a rare insight and treat for locals. The slideshow is not available anywhere online.

“Most all (of the art works) are out,” said Shannon Dillard Mitchell. “There are few in storage, mostly they’re (displayed) in the hallway.”

Images and art revolved on themes of the great, wild West, Americana and some cultural pop art.

“Contrary to popular opinion, the Tyson collection is not all chicken paintings,” Mitchell said.

Paintings captured iconic local places like the historic Fayetteville square, or familiar places like barns and farm scenes in Tontitown. Others focused on country scenes and farm equipment, such as barnyards filled with cattle and chickens; still life of tractor parts arranged to seem like faces or human forms and a statue of a man whittling. The statue had a special connection to Fayetteville already, being created by the same artist who’s responsible for the statue which sits outside of the Walton Arts Center, knitting.

The roots of an Arkansan past shone through with a shadow box piece entitled “Little Red Shoes,” a dangling pair of red Mary Janes next to a box from Rich’s shoe store, a business that once made it’s home in Springdale. Still, more works were tied to the south by their origin, such as one work created by a Camden resident who spent her years working in insurance sales and only later decided to pick up the brush.

Cow-Moo-Flage is arguably among the collection’s largest pieces. Rivaling the size of a living cow, the statue is a hybrid animal which on first glance seems to be a typical milk cow: white with black spots, but on further inspection has a beak and wings.

While works like the Cow-Moo-Flage made its way to Tyson very deliberately, others showed up quite literally on the doorstep.

“Slaughterhouse in Terre Haute,” a painting that crosses an expanse of six feet by eight feet arrived in a crate on the loading dock and no one at Tyson Foods Corporate had any idea of where it came from.

“Apparently someone decided we should have it,” Mitchell said. Eventually, “it connected us to (historians, curators) that we otherwise wouldn’t have.” In that way, Mitchell said, it became one of the collection’s most important pieces.

While official tours are not given, Mitchell admitted to audience members that special tours (of no more than two people at a time) are handled at the front desk of Tyson Foods Corporate upon request. Members of the Women’s Business Resource Group helped Mitchell with the research for the large collection and are on call for such tours.

Any large group would need to call (479) 290-4570 to make arrangements.