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 Fort Smith Art Center was renamed the Fort Smith Regional Art Museum (RAM) in 2010.

RAM hosts the Dr. W. E. Knight Porcelain Gallery, an exhibition made possible through the generosity of Linda Udouj in memory of Dr. Henry Udouj Jr., which constitutes one of the largest collections of Boehm porcelain on display in the state, numbering over 130 pieces. Two of the favorite pieces in the collection include Female Wood Thrush with Young and Barn Owl. RAM galleries are utilized monthly with children’s and adult art classes and in individual and annual exhibits and competitions. The RAM permanent collection features the images of international award-winning photographer Catriona Fraser and abstract oils of Michael Colpitts, among other works. Other collections include 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 artists and artisans in the media of watercolors, pastels, photos, pottery, baskets, jewelry, textiles, woven art, sculptures, and woodcarving.

RAM offers numerous programs. Various artists give lectures, known as ArtTalks, and African-American artists and educational programs are featured each year during Black History Month.

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. In 2019, the museum received a $12 million endowment from the Windgate Foundation.

For additional information:
Fort Smith Regional Art Museum. http://www.fsram.org/ (accessed July 23, 2020).

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: 07/23/2020