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Old State House opens Governors of Arkansas exhibit

Old State House Museum - Tuesday, March 03, 2020

 

On Sept. 13, 1836, James Conway became the first governor of the state of Arkansas. During his term, he worked in an office within the west wing of the stately structure now known as Old State House.

More than 180 years later, the west wing of the Old State House has been transformed into a gallery dedicated to interpreting the stories of Governor Conway and his 45 successors. The Governors of Arkansas gallery, which opens to the public Friday, April 10, immerses visitors in gubernatorial history with wall-to-ceiling murals and infographics, along with cases stocked with campaign memorabilia, historical documents and governors’ personal effects.

“We loved the idea of housing the governors’ exhibit in the actual location where our earliest governors served and worked,” said Bill Gatewood, director of the Old State House Museum. “That’s part of the charm of the Old State House Museum – you are learning about history in the very spot where history was made.”

The Old State House Museum opened its doors as a museum of Arkansas history in 1951 and began collecting artifacts belonging to Arkansas governors a year later with the acquisition of a portrait of Governor Jefferson Davis. Since then, the collection has grown to include more than 2,000 items ranging from Governor Winthrop Rockefeller’s campaign pins emblazoned with iconic “WR” logo and Governor Orval Faubus’s cuff links shaped like chickens to Governor Mike Huckabee’s duck call and Governor Mike Beebe’s shoes worn on the campaign trail.

Throughout the years, the collection has been showcased in different variations of the First Families of Arkansas exhibit, which also includes the iconic First Ladies of Arkansas: Women of Their Times. This latest update of the governors’ gallery has added a modern edge through interactive kiosks, including one that allows visitors to become a part of history by capturing photos of themselves that are integrated into newspaper images from some of the state’s most historic moments.

“Our team has been experimenting with the green screen, and we are sure our visitors are going to love it,” said Gail Stephens, exhibit director. “This feature transports visitors back in time to the Great Depression, the moment that Bill Clinton was elected as president and more.”

The flow of the Governors of Arkansas gallery has been redesigned as well. In the past, the gallery had sections for each governor chronologically with the current governor being in the center of the room. Now, the gallery features artifacts and images from different governors intermingled in sections that highlight different points along the governors’ journeys: origins, campaigns, inaugurations, terms in office and accomplishments after serving.

The educational value of the gallery has also been enhanced with an infographic explaining the gubernatorial election process.

“The education department is really excited about the possibilities available with the Governors of Arkansas exhibit reopening,” said Georganne Sisco, education director. “We are already planning the best ways to update our tours and add or expand programs.”

The Governors of Arkansas gallery will open to the public during 2nd Friday Art Night on April 10. More information about the gallery and the opening reception will be revealed soon on the Old State House Museum’s Facebook and Instagram pages.