John Bell Jr. Park initial selection for name of Fort Smith’s Riverfront Drive Park

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 1,058 views 

The Fort Smith Parks and Recreation Commission is planning to name the Riverfront Drive Sports Fields after Fort Smith artist John Bell, Jr., but is open to other suggestions for one of the city’s newest parks.

The park, at 3700 Riverfront Drive near the Arkansas River and just north of downtown Fort Smith, has 51 acres with soccer fields and options for future expansion. An inclusive playground is in the design phase. The city of Fort Smith provided this document as background on selection of naming the park after Bell.

Public comments will be accepted until Jan. 11, 2021. All comments will be forwarded to the Fort Smith Parks and Recreation Commission for review before a final decision. Comments must be submitted in writing or hand delivered to this address:
Fort Smith Parks and Recreation Office
3301 S. M St.,
Fort Smith, Ark., 72903

Bell, who died in November 2013 at the age of 76 following a battle with cancer, grew up in Fort Smith and was a graduate of Northside High School in Fort Smith, and the University of Arkansas.

The artist had a muscle palsy and was confined to a wheelchair most of his life and had limited use of his arms and hands. Despite the disability, his art works are in many homes, businesses and art galleries around the country. He was invited to exhibit his works at one-artist shows in many cities, including Little Rock, Memphis, New Orleans, Omaha and Washington, D.C.

Bell also painted an image of Roy Acuff on special fiddle that was presented to the legendary country music entertainer. The fiddle is now is part of the collection at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville.

John Bell Jr. in his Fort Smith studio in 2009.

Bell was commissioned to do work for numerous individuals and institutions, including the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, the University of Arkansas, First National Bank of Fort Smith, Baldor Electric Co., and Subiaco Academy. Bell’s work was also a key element in a television documentary about War Eagle Mill that was produced by Larry Foley, an Emmy Award-winning professor of journalism at the University of Arkansas.

At the time of Bell’s death, U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., praised Bell for his perserverance.

“John’s impact on Arkansas will be long lasting. He brought the images of the region to life though his work. We are blessed by John’s wonderful art which will serve as a reminder of his determination, perseverance and achievements. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife Maxine and his family and friends during this difficult time,” Boozman said in a statement.

This profile of Bell was published by Talk Business & Politics (then The City Wire) prior to a September 2009 exhibition of his works in the main lobby of the Mullins Library at the University of Arkansas.