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Fort Smith Regional Art Museum

The Fort Smith Regional Art Museum (RAM) is an art museum with exhibits, art classes, and a studio art school for children and adults. It serves as a regional center for art education and appreciation in the greater Fort Smith (Sebastian County) area.

What today is RAM began in 1948 as the Arkansas Association of University Women (AAUW). In September 1950, the AAUW held its first exhibit at the KFPW Studios Fine Art Gallery in Fort Smith. The AAUW also formed a sketch class at Fort Smith Junior College, now the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith (UAFS). In 1951, the AAUW became the Associated Artists of Fort Smith (AAFS) and began exhibiting art and holding classes across the city. In 1960, after obtaining a tax-exempt status, the AAFS bought as its home the Vaughn-Schaap House, built circa 1855–1857 in the Victorian Second Empire style by Ethelbert B. Bright, an Osage agent and businessman. Restoration of the home was completed in three phases from 1960 to 1985, and it was the first structure restored in the Belle Grove Historic District, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on July 16, 1963.

In 1964, motivated by a $3,000 donation from the Junior League of Fort Smith, the Affiliation of Fine Arts (AFA), as the AAFS had become known, mortgaged the Vaughn-Schaap House for $13,000 to build additional exhibit space and purchase adjacent property. In 1968, the AFA incorporated as the Fort Smith Art Center. On June 28, 1970, the center's board of trustees hired the institution’s first full-time director, Casimir Rutkowski, who was a well-known artist and teacher. The art museum’s Friends of the Arts organization was founded three years later. Another affiliate, the Photographic Alliance, had its premiere show and sale in 1977. The alliance has continued its monthly programs and exhibits in the stairwell and upstairs galleries, and it co-hosts an annual competition and sale along with the museum. The Fort Smith Art Center was renamed the Fort Smith Regional Art Museum (RAM) in 2010.

RAM hosts the Boehm Porcelain Gallery, which constitutes one of the largest collections of Boehm porcelain on display in the state, numbering 134 pieces. RAM galleries, including the Polly Crews Memorial Gallery, are utilized monthly with children’s and adult art classes and in individual and annual exhibits and competitions. The Polly Crews Memorial Gallery was named for the fifth director of the center, who directed the center for twenty years. The RAM permanent collection features the lithographs of Joan Miro, Marc Chagall, and Charles Banks Wilson. Other collections include the wooden toy soldiers of internationally known wood carver Patrick Jacobs, Ginny Crouch Stanford’s oil on canvas 200 Years a Hard Row to Hoe, and Noel Rockmore’s acrylics Wailing Wall III and Market Israel. Art students at UAFS exhibit annually and sell their artwork in RAM galleries. The Gift Shop Gallery represents over 100 area artists and artisans in the media of paintings, watercolor, pastels, photos, pottery, baskets, jewelry, sculpture, textiles, woven art, sculpture, and woodcarving.

Programs sponsored by RAM are varied. The museum annually co-hosts, along with the Center for Art and Education in Van Buren (Crawford County), high school and grade school student art exhibits and competitions. Various artists give lectures, known as ArtTalks, periodically in the Polly Crews Gallery. The Children’s Christmas card design and competition is held each year for first through eighth grades. African-American artists and educational programs are featured each year during Black History Month. Each week, RAM's outreach program furnishes supplies and an artist/teacher to residents of area nursing homes and for at-risk youth.

On June 14, 2009, Arvest Bank donated a branch facility building to RAM. The donation was contingent upon the center raising $200,000 by June 1, 2009. In August 2009, Williams/Crawford Properties purchased the Vaughn-Schaap House, allowing the center to remain in the house rent free for one year as RAM's new facility was renovated.

Staff members began moving into the renovated building in September 2012, and it opened officially in January 2013. The renovation cost about $2.3 million; the museum raised about $3 million from donors as of 2012. Because the renovated building meets climate control standards for national art museums, it will be able to host more traveling exhibitions. 

For additional information:
Fort Smith Regional Art Museum. (accessed July 7, 2014).

Hammersly, Lisa. “Fort Smith Museum Set for Big Move: Old Art Center’s Treasures to Go to Newly Spiffed-up Former Bank Building.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, September 29, 2012, 7B.

“Making Memories.” Times-Record [Fort Smith]. November 15, 1999, 1D.

Shropshire, Lola. Fort Smith and Sebastian County. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 1998.

Lola Shropshire
Fort Smith Art Center

Last Updated 7/7/2014

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