Winter-themed works from the Arkansas Arts Center Foundation Collection offer a journey to a winter wonderland.
The Arkansas Arts Center and Ballet Arkansas have a shared history that dates to 1974, when the Arkansas Arts Center’s dance classes became so popular, they formed a whole new department dedicated to ballet. The Arkansas Arts Center partnered with Donald and Lorraine Cranford, founders of the Little Rock Civic Ballet, to form the Arkansas Arts Center Ballet Academy. Four years later, the Academy went on to become the non-profit organization, Ballet Arkansas under the guidance of Lorraine Cranford. The Arkansas Arts Center and Ballet Arkansas have continued their partnership, supporting one another innovatively throughout the years. This Winter Wonderland experience is one that is timely and showcases the merging of visual and performing arts. In this program, participants will view vignettes of the beloved Nutcracker story performed by Ballet Arkansas and see creative sets designed by artists of the Arkansas Arts Center. Before you go on your journey, take some time to learn more about the Nutcracker storyline and view a selection of artworks from the Arkansas Arts Center Foundation Collection that are sure to get you in a wintery mood.
Winter Wonderland is supported by a grant from the City of Little Rock, in collaboration with Ballet Arkansas.
Clara Stahlbalm’s family hosts an extravagant Christmas party every year, bringing friends and family together for dancing, games, and gifts around their magnificent Christmas tree. Clara’s godfather, Herr Drosselmeyer, is always a very welcomed guest, using magic tricks and dancing toys to entertain all the children. This year Herr Drosselmeyer gives Clara a beautiful wooden Nutcracker soldier which she loves dearly. After the raucous party, Clara creeps out of bed, worrying over her lonely Nutcracker. With her Nutcracker in arm, she falls asleep on the sofa. There enters Herr Drosselmeyer who casts a bit of magic. Clara awakens to find everything in the house growing. The family’s Christmas tree is now towering over her and her beloved Nutcracker is just her size! A colony of giant mice led by the evil Mouse King appears, and her Nutcracker leads a group of toy soldiers to fight them off. In the end, Clara manages to distract the Mouse King, allowing the Nutcracker to win the fight.
The Nutcracker transforms, revealing himself to be the Young Prince who takes Clara through the magical land of snow to share the news of the Mouse King’s defeat. The Snowflakes celebrate with them in the Pine Forest before Clara and the Young Prince travel onward to the Land of Sweets. There they regale the Sugarplum Fairy and her subjects with the tale of the victorious battle. The regal Sugarplum Fairy commemorates the momentous occasion with a party for Clara and the Young Prince. Subjects of the Kingdom of Sweets – Chocolate, Coffee, Tea, Marzipan, Peppermint, Gingerbread, and others – dance in their honor.
When the celebration has ended, Clara finds herself at home once more. Did she ever really travel through those magical lands with her beloved prince? Or was it just a dream?
Now that you have been reacquainted with the story of the Nutcracker, take a visual tour of these carefully curated winter-themed artworks from the Arkansas Arts Center’s Foundation Collection. Each work has been specifically chosen to enhance the visual experience of this Winter Wonderland journey.
Dale Nichols, Symphonic Silence, 1965
Painter and illustrator Dale Nichols, best known for arcadian landscapes, particularly loved painting snow-blanketed settings. In Symphonic Silence, a lone wayfarer (found in the lower left corner of the painting) treks through the snow as massive mountains rise before him. The work is filled with peace and quiet, but the swell of the very environment is indeed a symphony of sights.
The tiny traveler in the monumental landscape makes one feel very small. As viewers, we are reminded of the scene in the Nutcracker when the Christmas tree seems to grow, though in actuality it is Clara who is shrinking to the size of her beloved Nutcracker. The mice come in, looming over her, the tree towers like this gigantic mountain range. It can be intimidating to be in the presence of something so large.
Andrew Wyeth, Snowflakes, 1966
Andrew Wyeth, realist painter from Pennsylvania, painted what he saw around him – the people and the settings. The man in this watercolor was vagrant World War II veteran, Willard Snowden, who lived with Wyeth for several years. When creating artworks, Wyeth was most interested in the light and shape of a subject. For him, narrative took a back seat to form.
In this work, a man stands outside in the cold wearing a light jacket with a hood. The blank white of the background leaves the viewer feeling rather like they are somewhere far away from shelter, out in the wilderness. It is strangely peaceful. Indications of snowflakes dot the foreground over the subject. They dance and drift in the lonely wilds, just as the beautiful Snowflakes danced the dark and magical Christmas Tree Kingdom during their Waltz of the Snowflakes in the Nutcracker ballet.
Chris Doyle, The Falls III, 2014
Animator and artist Chris Doyle’s work, The Falls III, is part of a larger series centered on the idea of nature, water, and the evolving environment as it is affected by seasons and by mankind.
The amazing detail and realism with which this watercolor is rendered tempts viewers to step inside the scene. Banks of snow gather over clear, dark ice. A frozen waterfall stilled in time forms majestic, rolling mounds and regal columns, creating a beautiful fantasy land. Too perfect to be real, one can imagine enchanted creatures calling this place home. Mysterious, yet welcoming, this magical setting would make an ideal backdrop for the Kingdom of Sweets.
John Marin, Small Point, Maine, 1920
John Marin enjoyed drawing and painting cityscapes, though he did not like the crowds, with people bumping into him as they passed or asking him questions about what he was drawing. He tended to do his painting back in the studio where it was easier to handle the paint without interruption. In 1914 Marin took a summer trip to Maine and loved it so much he returned with great regularity. He even bought a small island off the coast of Small Point, Maine. There he could take his time drawing and painting out in nature without anyone around to bother him. Marin wrote to a friend, stating that the untamed places and animals “gives the heart a warmy, warmy feeling.”
This piece, Small Point, Maine, features a great evergreen rising from the rocky landscape. It seems to shine like a Christmas tree with all the colorful, natural “decorations.” In the Nutcracker, Clara’s home also features a grand, towering tree – and the warm glow and colorful adornments provide a sensation of joy and anticipation for the coming holiday. It is a commanding backdrop, both for the festive gift-giving scene as well as the thrilling battle with the Mouse King. A tree so magnificent is sure to give the viewer a holiday feeling as well.
Grandma Fran, A Snowy Winter Day, 1997
Elementary teacher Frances Louise Currey Brown, lovingly referred to as Grandma Fran, began her art career late in life. She started by painting simple, narrative pictures on postcards for her 2-year-old granddaughter. An artist passing through happened to see some of the postcards and suggested to Fran that she sell her work.
A Snowy Winter Day would make a perfect Christmas card for one of the children at the Christmas party during the beginning scenes of the Nutcracker. This artwork shows a snow-covered rural community with people going about their daily lives. Horse-drawn carriages and sleighs are everywhere. Boys and girls ice-skate and sled on the frozen river while others build a snowman in the yard. The scene is richly filled with detail which invites the viewer to explore this winter wonderland for long, reflective moments. One might begin to feel they are participating in this idyllic world as well! It certainly seems a gift, with just a spark of magic, that Herr Drosselmeyer might give.
Will Barnet, Silent Seasons, Winter, 1969
In Silent Seasons, Winter, Will Barnet’s use of color is reminiscent of a mood rather than an effort to capture the photographic likeness of the setting. Barnet once said that color to him is more representative than literal in his art. His almost austere composition features mostly dull, desaturated colors, evoking memories of cold, overcast days of wintertime.
The woman leans on the table, paying only the barest of attention to the parrot tugging playfully at her string. She seems distracted, contemplative – a thoughtfulness in her expression. What could she be daydreaming about? Are you reminded of Clara after she crept out of bed, worried over her precious, lonely Nutcracker? As she tenderly retrieves him and lies back down to sleep, her dreams manifest the raucous events of the evening, aided by a little bit of magic from Herr Drosselmeyer.
Theresa Chong, Aput (Snow), 2009
Gradual, calm, meticulous – Theresa Chong creates artwork that reflects what she values most: solitude and a slower pace of life. Chong’s background as an accomplished cellist is influential in her work – she feels her cello playing teaches her to make “critical choices” while making art. The title, Aput (Snow), refers specifically to snow that has fallen on the ground in the native language of Inuit people of Alaska, where she grew up. The white dots connected with thin white lines spatter over a dark background. From a distance it appears chaotic, but up close it looks mathematical, delicate, and precise.
There indeed is something peaceful and calm in this work. This is not a literal landscape; it is an idea and a mood of a place. The musical sensibility of the artist’s hand conjures the memory of Clara and the Young Prince after the battle. The snowy setting is quiet and dark; the Snowflakes have not yet begun to celebrate. Clara and the Prince dance joyfully in this tranquil clearing in the Pine Forest in Winter scene from the Nutcracker ballet.
– Lindsey Knight, ArtsReach Coordinator