Hands-on Encounter with History Helps Teens Envision A Future City

Local teacher Jeff Davidson had a vision for his summer workshop for teenagers. He wanted to share his fascination with city planning by teaching teens to look closely at the urban world around them, in order to understand how and why their city looks the way it does today.

So Davidson designed a fascinating role-playing curriculum in which each student would assume a role such as Chief Architect, Planning Commissioner, Sustainability Commissioner, or Engineering Director. Together, the teens would engage in active learning including guest talks from architects, a visit with the Little Rock city planning department, and a trip to look at historical maps of Little Rock in the CALS Roberts Library Research Room.

Teens work with historic maps of Little Rock at CALS Roberts Library

We caught up with the engaged bunch of teens as CALS archivists showed them huge old city maps and neighborhood records. For many of the students, the encounter with the historical materials was their favorite part of the project thus far. “I really enjoyed seeing the old documents,” Aiden said. “You don’t usually get to do that!”

Mr. Davidson knew that they had come to the right place. “I wanted them to experience local city planning and I knew the Roberts Library had lots of documents and maps. We’re studying how cities evolve and why, and what are the values of a city planner. In the process, we study aspects of architecture, environment, history and more.”

Learning to see the values behind a city’s design

Davidson’s course went much deeper than simply subject knowledge or career education, however. “The project teaches them to see the values at work in the city planning process, such as walking vs. driving, or individual vs. community,” Davidson said.  “We’re not telling them what to think, but instead helping them realize that there are so many different philosophies at work in city planning. Tomorrow, they will get to do their own digital city-building game!”

Student Maxx contemplated the old map in front of him. “It’s interesting to see how the city has changed.” he said. “What they’ve added or destroyed, and how they shifted away from the grid system. I think the I-30 bridge across the river was a good addition!”

Another young man discussed the values behind a controversial planning decision in Little Rock history: the building of I-630 that split apart a thriving African American neighborhood. “I don’t know if the people who planned the construction of I-630 had the best motives,” he said. “I don’t know if I would have stuck with that plan.”

Student Olivia was enthusiastic about the chance to work with the historical materials. “I like to see how the cities looked back then. It’s kinda cool how the city evolved. And I get to look at really cool things that are over a hundred years old!”

SLUFY enrichment program for youth uses library resources to spark teen learning

Mr. Davidson taught this workshop through the Summer Laureate University for Youth (SLUFY), a summer program sponsored by the UA Little Rock Jodie Mahony Center for Gifted Education, which this year celebrated a historic 40th anniversary.  This program encourages talented students to study unique topics with expert teachers as they interact with motivated peers.

The buzz in the library Research Room between students, adults, and CALS archivists was energizing– it was clear that thanks to the dynamic curriculum, these teenagers had seen the relevance of the past to the present and plugged into the city planning process.  As proof, we only had to overhear the student Planning Commissioner say to his friend with charming conviction, “The solution to traffic isn’t to make more roads—it’s to make better public transportation!”

Students and teachers from all schools and homeschools are welcome in the CALS Roberts Library Research Room, where trained archivists can help locate materials or give research tips. For more information or to set up a visit, call Heather Zbinden at (501) 320-5744. Lesson plans for K-12 are also available to assist teachers and students.

For more information about the SLUFY summer program, see https://ualr.edu/slufy/.

Not Forgotten: A Teen’s Mission of Thanks to Korean War Veterans

Reaching Out to Make Contact Through the Library’s Archives

Today’s world holds two Koreas: one, a free, democratic society, the other, a tyrannical dictatorship known for human suffering worse than any Orwellian dystopia. For many Americans, it may be easy to forget that a major reason South Korea exists in freedom today is because of the sacrifices of many of our citizens who fought in the Korean War. But for one Arkansas teenager, the veterans of the war will never be forgotten.


Victoria Hwang’s parents emigrated to the United States as graduate students in the 1990s, long after the Korean War ended. But Victoria can’t forget that the reason her parents could pursue their dreams, keep their cultural heritage, and even emigrate to the U.S.A. was because they grew up in a democratic South Korean society, with freedom bought at a steep price by those who went to war.

Victoria decided to let Arkansas veterans who fought in the Korean War know in a very personal way that she remembers them and is full of gratitude for what they did for her family and for South Korea. Her mission of thanks began with her first exposure to the significance of the war.

Inspired by Family History

“I first learned about the Korean War from my dad when I was in middle school,” Victoria said. “He told me how the war meant a lot to him because it allowed his culture to be preserved.”

Gatliff George Long Tom 1951 BC KWP 31_0232

In high school, Victoria learned more about the Korean War in history classes, as she studied the cause of the war and its global context. Then, she found new inspiration to do more for the veterans.

“Just recently, my dad started to work for the Army Corps of Engineers, because he wanted to give back to the country that allowed him to strive for the American dream when he first came here as an immigrant himself,” Victoria said. “I thought that was very inspirational—I wanted to also do the same, give back to this country, and thank those who were able to give me my identity and my family’s history.”

Finding History Online through the CALS Digital Collections

While researching, Victoria found the special online collection about the Korean War curated by the CALS Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. In 2008, the archivists at the Butler Center started a special effort to gather materials from veterans of the war in order to preserve their memories, letters, and photographs before time erased them. That online archive now contains a database listing a number of Korean War veterans from Arkansas. As Victoria browsed through the online collection, she realized this could be her chance to make contact.

“I thought this database could be a great tool to reach out to some of the veterans and thank them, before it’s too late, for everything they’ve done,” she said.


Victoria contacted archivist Brian Robertson through the website. Robertson arranged to mail her letter of gratitude to selected veterans on her behalf.

In her letter, Victoria included photos from her recent trip to South Korea. She labeled them to show the significance of what the Arkansas veterans had helped preserve and build: a 21st century democracy’s skyscrapers, beach resorts, shopping centers and lovely historical buildings. Most poignant of all was her photo of a number of political banners showing candidates for election in a free society.

A  Response to Remember

But the project didn’t end with Victoria’s letter and photos. Instead, some of the veterans wrote her back gracious letters thanking her in turn for the impulse behind her letters. Some of them described their war experiences in moving terms.

GatliffGeorge 1st foxhole BC KWP 31_0207 1951

One of her veteran correspondents was George Gatliff. Victoria had previously seen some of his materials and his story in the online archive, and his letter brought new insight. “It was very neat to actually hear about his story from his own perspective,” she said.

Like many veterans, George Gatliff was humble in his letter to Victoria about his own efforts, and also referred to the enormous sacrifice made by the Korean people during the war as they lost their homes and livelihoods.  He reminded her in eloquent words of the importance of what she was doing. “Please continue researching and recording your country’s history and culture before it is lost forever,” he wrote. “Every time you visit Korea make sure you have a recording device, and a note pad and pen. Talk to the oldest people you can find . . . hopefully, family stories have been passed down through the generations.”

Other veterans wrote her back with sobering details about their experiences: frostbite, illness, being held as prisoners of war. All were touched by her desire to remember them and thank them.

Knowledge, the Root of Freedom

Victoria said that her experience with the project and her study of the two Koreas has left an indelible impression on her. She has a new respect for knowledge when she thinks about the free flow of information in South Korea, compared to the suffocating propaganda of North Korea’s dictator. “Kim Jong Un is restricting [the North Koreans’] access to information and limiting them in what their world has to offer. He’s really trying to keep that under control before people start to get ideas and make their own choices. I think it’s a true image of how powerful knowledge is, because that’s what he’s trying to restrict in his country.”

Veteran George Gatliff commented in a telephone interview on his appreciation for Victoria’s project, noting the contrast between her attitude toward the war and its significance, and the current widespread lack of understanding or knowledge of the war or of North Korea’s cruel dictatorship.

He pointed out that the suffering of North Korea is visible even in images.  “If you look at Google Earth and check out the night view of Korea, you’ll see that everything south of the DMZ is lit up, but in North Korea, it’s all dark except for a couple of places. It’s something you can show kids: the good guys are here, in the light, and the bad guys are in the dark. You can see the DMZ as a very distinct line between them.”


Holding History in Her Hands

Victoria’s new attachment to knowledge and history was palpable during her recent visit to the CALS Roberts Library Research Room, which holds the actual paper copies of letters many of the veterans wrote home during the war.

She cradled one of the letters in her hands. “Seeing these letters in person is amazing. Before, I’ve always seen them under glass. And it’s so much better to reach out and make contact with these people in person. It means so much more than just learning about them out of a school curriculum.”

Victoria Hwang now knows the full meaning of her history: her family’s past is always with her, part of her selfhood, as a living web of human stories that connects her to others in ways she has richly explored. Her point of connection was the library’s archive, through which she could make contact with those living people in her area who had also been woven into the story of the Korean War. Her mission of thanks not only speaks volumes about this teenager’s insight and her character, but also shows how libraries and archives become meeting places across generations, where people find themselves in a greater story and learn empathy and respect for others. And as Victoria now joins all the others who learn from history to cherish human freedom and oppose tyranny, she becomes one more point of light on George Gatliff’s Google Earth map.

(Photos of George Gatliff from the George W. Gatliff Korean War Collection of the CALS Butler Center for Arkansas Studies.)

Find “Forgotten: The Arkansas Korean War Project” online here.

Artists Who Hold Space for You: Last Chance to View Sublime Exhibition “Part to Whole”

“I created spaces high up in trees to take refuge in . . .” Elizabeth Weber, artist

When you sit down to talk with artist Elizabeth Weber, the first thing you feel is a powerful sense of space opening around you, like a nest. Inside the nest, Elizabeth is present with you, simply present, in a place of stillness, calm, and maybe even transformation. There is no goal to be met, no agenda to follow. Just a space opening between two people that is a refuge from the rush of the world outside.


Nests are the center of Weber’s work in “Part to Whole: The Making of Art, the Artist, and the Artist Group,” a six-artist exhibition that has spent several months in the Galleries at Library Square and is closing after this Saturday, June 29. Like the work of the other five artists in the show (Mia Hall, Robyn Horn, Dolores Justus, Barbara Satterfield, Sandra Sell), Weber’s work is movingly drawn from nature. A walk through this gallery is like a childhood walk through the woods—at every turn, a novel and curious beauty is waiting.

A walk through this gallery is like a childhood walk through the woods . . .

Weber’s nests catch at the heart, enough to arrest you in mid-stride. Their blend of fragility, tenderness, and danger creates a tension also found in nature by the Romantic poets. They called that intense blend of qualities “the sublime,” by which they meant a work of nature or natural art so simultaneously beautiful and strange that it casts you out of rational, everyday thought and into an experience you can’t measure or put into words.

One of Weber’s nests, a white, paper-thin sphere made of leaf skeletons, is perched on a bed of thorns so long, black and sharp that they threaten to pierce you just for looking. But on the thorns, the nest-refuge floats, like a held breath, carrying a peace so light and strong it can’t be penetrated. This is the sublime.

Weber and the other artists of “Part to Whole” have opened this space for you.

If you ever loved the secret paths of the woods or fields, you need to see this exhibition before it closes on Saturday. These works will go with you after you leave. Because when you look as deeply and unflinchingly into Nature as these artists have—bright and dark, life and death—what you find is your own truth. And that is something you do not want to miss.


“Part to Whole: The Making of Art, the Artist, and the Artist Group” is showing at the Galleries at Library Square through Saturday, June 29. Admission is free. Visit us in downtown Little Rock, where Library Square serves as the headquarters of the Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) and includes Main Library, the CALS Roberts Library of Arkansas History & Art, the CALS Ron Robinson Theater, and the Bookstore at Library Square.

Name Change Coming to Our Social Media


Soon, the Facebook and Twitter accounts currently labeled as “CALS Butler Center” will have a different name: CALS Roberts Library! No worries: it’s still the same account and will give you all the news and information you want from this branch of our library system, including the latest from the Galleries at Library Square and the Butler Center.

We officially renamed and dedicated our CALS Bobby L. Roberts Library of Arkansas History & Art in April 2019 to recognize the contributions of the library’s former executive director. The name of this building has caused a lot of confusion over the years! Many people called it “the Butler Center,” which is actually a department housed inside the building. So, to make everything clear and help people find our many wonderful programs, we are going to make sure that all our social media accounts use the accurate name for this CALS branch library location. This change is coming soon!

Tina Oppenheimer: An Unconventional Life Expressed in Crocheted Art

Tina Oppenheimer is an accomplished and prolific artist in crochet. Her pieces are arresting, often several feet wide, and frequently employ floral and geometrical motifs drawn from the mandala tradition.

Contemplative beauty in handcrafted work

Mandalas were introduced to the West by famed psychiatrist Carl Jung, who felt that creating these circular, natural patterns originating from Buddhist and Hindu culture was a soothing and healing activity. Mandala-type patterns are found in nature and also appear in the art of many other cultures, such as Celtic knotwork and Native American art.

In Oppenheimer’s crocheted wheels of flowers and recurring patterns, made one knot at a time, the viewer is reminded that in nature, there is still order and balance and beauty.

Such a centered, contemplative artistic perspective has become increasingly rare and countercultural in the rush and noise of the internet age. It takes an unconventional spirit to choose an art form so deliberately slow and subtle. Oppenheimer’s life story shows her determination to forge her own unique way and choose her own values.

A young wanderer picks up her hook

Oppenheimer spent a tumultuous adolescence moving between homes. She was born in Chicago, and credits her parents for supporting her art there in her youth despite significant challenges in other aspects of her family life. She sees her childhood classes at the Art Institute of Chicago as a formative influence, along with an art-focused school that she was later able to attend in Birmingham, England.


Once she moved to Birmingham, her life became nomadic, as she wandered back and forth between the USA and Britain. At the age of 17, when she was living out of a Land Rover in Scotland, she began to crochet intensively for many hours a week. Back in New York the next year, in 1971, she entered her work in the first American Crafts Council northeastern show. For several years, she continued to live a migratory life, picking apples while still creating crocheted works. Finally, after picking apples in Vermont for eight seasons, she settled down in the Ozarks with a husband to raise cattle and her three children.

The livestock and parenting duties didn’t leave much time for her artwork, but in the 1990s, Oppenheimer earned a degree in mechanical drafting from Westark College (now University of Arkansas Fort Smith) and created her company called Ozark Cards based on her drawing talent. She also began crocheting again in earnest.

ByCynthia1BankexhibitionNow she lives in Fayettevillle. In February 2018, her textile work was exhibited at the Bank of Fayetteville, where it caught the attention of the Galleries at Library Square.

Mastery born of years of dedication

When asked what has led to her decades-long dedication to crochet, Oppenheimer described many benefits of the craft. “When I was younger, I could draw for hours at a time, but now I have adult-onset attention deficit disorder. So, I have to be doing something with my hands. Crocheting is socially versatile: you can do it in public while you talk to people, or you can do it in public and be solitary. It’s meditative and it’s calming.

Oppenheimer said that some of her works are planned, and some are not. “My work called ’YOU ARE HERE’ started as a doodle on an envelope, then got thicker. ‘8 Principles of Boobism’ was going to be a flat mandala, but then I realized I could make it more dimensional. So I know my plans, but they evolve, Or, I plan the middle, and the rest just happens, sometimes depending on what yarn I have around.”

The technique of her work also evolved based on the materials available. “At first, I would only use one kind of yarn in my work, but when people started giving me yarn, I started blending different types in one project. I also use a technique where I chainstitch the yarn before I crochet. This makes it thick, and it’s why the textures are so blended.”

Tina Oppenheimer’s work will be on display in the Underground Gallery of the Galleries at Library Square, beginning with an opening reception on Friday, April 12 from 5:00-8:00 p.m. for Second Friday Art Night. The exhibition, entitled “EMBRAID,” also includes the work of Brandon Bullette and Octavio Logo, two artists also based in Northwest Arkansas. Light refreshments will be served and live music provided by Dogtown Ukulele.


(Source for mandala history: 100mandalas.com)





Remembering Matt DeCample

With very fond memories, we honor our friend Matt DeCample, an immensely talented partner in our CALS podcasts and other projects of the Central Arkansas Library System. Matt was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2016 and passed away on March 3, having fought valiantly to the end with the tremendous heart and humor he was known for.

Though he was taken from us far too soon at the age of 44, no one will forget his characteristic blend of hilarious observations with deep kindness. He made a simple event like a CALS cosplay contest both side-splittingly funny and a spontaneous celebration of life. The generosity that led Matt to donate his time to good causes and helping others has also left an indelible record of his presence.

Matt served as a spokesman for Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe, and a reporter at KATV, later working as a consultant and spokesman for the Arkansas Cinema Society and the Little Rock Film Festival.  He was a founder of Improv Little Rock and appeared with The Joint improv comedy show in Argenta.

He will be greatly missed. We are all better for any time we were fortunate enough to have with Matt DeCample.

There will be a memorial service for Matt on Sunday, March 10, at 2:00 p.m. in the Great Hall of the Clinton Presidential Center.

“Part to Whole” Exhibition Brings Love of Nature to West Gallery

Bagworm nests hanging“Part to Whole” opens this Friday and is full of natural wonders! If you love art, nature, or both, this exhibition offers an experience not to be missed. Breathtaking works of sculpture and painting will be exhibited by six members of an artist group including Mia Hall, Robyn Horn, Dolores Justus, Barbara Satterfield, Sandra Sell, and Elizabeth Weber.

We got a sneak preview from Barbara Satterfield as she supervised the installation of her work “Bits of Sticks.” Because the “Part to Whole” exhibition focuses on the artistic process, it was a treat to hear Barbara’s personal insights about her work. She described this original piece as an artistic interpretation of bagworm nests. “I have 23 of them, and they are all individually coil-built and rolled sticks that are put on pieces. Those nests are going to hang up there from the ceiling, because bagworms hang from trees,” she said.

Barbarabagwormnests“The nests vary in size, and vary in their specific decoration, so some have thick sticks, some have thin sticks, some are done in a circular or rotational position, and some are straight down. So you wonder, how does that female bagworm know what to do? It’s not like they get together and have a meeting about who’s going to do which nests. And they have no arms, they’re blind, and they’re tiny. When I saw my first nest, I thought, what is this? I went and did a little research, and I thought they were so amazing. I have a thing about nests anyway: two of my pieces feature birds’ nests, and others feature dirt-dauber nests. So I’m a nest woman.”

See more striking pieces by all six artists at our West Gallery on Friday evening, when guests will enjoy free light refreshments and live music. This is an exhibition full of surprises and delights, so come explore for yourself on Friday, March 8th from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Saturday, March 9 will also bring an artist talk by all six artists from 2:00 – 4:00 p.m. A backstage look at the natural materials, inspiration, and inventive thinking that created this exhibition will make the talk valuable for art lovers and art students alike. Young artists are encouraged to join us and benefit from the insight offered by these accomplished creators.