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Art in its Natural State

April 28, 2018 · 9:00 AM – Mar 1, 2019 · 5:00 PM


Arkansas is the “Natural State,” and Petit Jean Mountain makes it easy to see why. From towering pines to open fields to sparkling lakes, Petit Jean offers stunning vistas at every turn. The Art in its Natural State competition is a regional competition for the creation of 10 temporary, outdoor artworks to be displayed among that natural beauty here at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute and Petit Jean State Park.

The Kickoff

The 10 installations will be installed in late April, with a kickoff event scheduled for Saturday, April 28, that will be a celebration of the arts in Arkansas. During that event, which will begin at 9 a.m., the artists responsible for the 10 pieces will be on hand for scheduled artist talks. Also part of the kickoff event will be demonstrations, performances and interactive opportunities related to art that will be provided by a host of partner organizations, including Arkansas Arts Center; Arkansas Arts Council; Arkansas Public Media; Arkansas State Parks; Arkansas Symphony Orchestra; Arkansas Tourism; Arkansas Shakespeare Theater; Bonnie Montgomery; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art; and the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville School of Art. In addition, there will be food trucks on hand to add to the festival atmosphere.

Admission to the daytime event is free and open to the public, though we ask that those planning to attend register in advance through the "Register" link above.

The evening of April 28, we will host a special reception in which attendees will have an opportunity to meet the artists, enjoy food and beverages and be entertained by the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra's Rockefeller Quartet. The reception will culminate with a performance by renowned country/folk artist Bonnie Montgomery. Ticket options for the reception are also available through the "Register" link above.

Our Partners

Arkansas Arts Center

Arkansas Arts Council

Arkansas Public Media

Arkansas State Parks

Arkansas Symphony Orchestra

Arkansas Tourism

Arkansas Shakespeare Theater

Bonnie Montgomery

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

University of Arkansas, Fayetteville School of Art

The Artists

The winning artists for Art in its Natural State competed by submitting a design mock-up, build plan and artist statement created specifically for one of the 14 sites that were considered between the Institute and Petit Jean State Park. All works were considered and judged by a panel of representatives from the Arkansas Arts Center; Arkansas Arts Council; Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art; University of Arkansas, Fayetteville; University of Arkansas at Fort Smith; University of Arkansas at Little Rock; and representatives from the Institute and the Park.

Whatever work was conceptualized, we challenged the artists to work in harmony with the chosen sites, either through complementing the natural landscape of the mountain or highlighting the environment’s beauty with aesthetically pleasing contrasts. Both approaches required careful thought and consideration for each of the unique worksites.

Proposals from artists across the South were judged in September 2017, and the winning artists were selected and will be awarded $5,000 to cover materials and costs related to transporting and installing their work.

The winning artists are:

Monica Dixon, Kansas City, Mo.

Monica Dixon is a visual artist as well as a yoga, movement and meditation facilitator living and working in Kansas City, Mo. Monica’s studio practice encompasses installation, sculpture, collage, costuming and movement workshops. Pervasive throughout the various forms her work takes is a fascination with exploring the elusive, seemingly intangible elements of personal reality (memory, emotion, beliefs, etc.) through sensual experience. She constructs images, objects, spaces and events meant to embolden people to accept and acknowledge what is present and more fully engage with the physical world. Monica graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute with a Bachelor of Fine Art in painting in 2011. She has exhibited locally as well as internationally. Recently, she was the recipient of the 2017 Art in the Loop Public Art Commission.

Heather Joy Puskarich, Houston, Texas

Heather Joy Puskarich is an interdisciplinary artist whose work focuses on the contradictory nature of beauty, time, aging and our consumptive culture. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally at venues such as Glasmuseet Ebeltoft in Denmark, The Kinsey Institute and the State Museum of Pennsylvania, where she received several awards in photography and sculpture. Her work was selected for the Corning Museum’s Publication, New Glass Review 36, and she was named one of the 20 Women of Power in Maniac, Pittsburgh's Fashion Magazine. She is currently the cultural arts director for The Woodlands Arts Council in The Woodlands, Texas, and is a faculty member at Sam Houston State University, where she teaches contemporary art history and graphic design classes. She has a Master of Fine Arts degree from Alfred University in sculpture and dimensional studies and a Bachelor of Arts in film studies. She currently lives in Houston. 

Lee and Betty Benson, Jackson, Tenn.

Benson Sculpture, LLC was created in 2005, successfully combining the talents of Aaron Lee and Betty Jane Benson into a team that had, for 30 years, created sculpture and public works around the globe. Both bring a unique set of talents and skills that have allowed them to build a family business into a formidable sculpture enterprise. They work mainly in mixed media, stone, timber, wood, clay and 24k gold producing large-scale architectural forms as well as figurative, narrative monoliths. They have four earned degrees, including a Master of Fine Art in ceramics/sculpture from the University of Tennessee.  They have four grown children, Aaron Tennessee, Mary Elizabeth, Zachariah Chyanne and Sarah Blessing, three of whom are now professional artists with master degrees in fine arts, and all four regularly help in the family business. Lee and Betty make their home in Jackson, Tenn., where they maintain two studios. They have produced works from the Dakotas to Australia and have had wide public recognition. They have also recently developed a relationship with Habitat for Humanity and Habitat for Humanity International to use materials used in their sculptures to be recycled into homes for low-income families. 

Phoebe Lickwar (collaborating with Laura Terry), Fayetteville, Ark.

Phoebe Lickwar is founding principal of Forge Landscape Architecture, a research and design practice dedicated to creating enduring landscapes of cultural and ecological significance. Her work reveals the power of landscape architecture to forge intimate connections between people and place, synthesizing art and ecology to strengthen local culture and support healthy communities. In 2015, Phoebe was selected as the landscape architect on the winning team for the National World War I Memorial at Pershing Park in Washington, D.C.

Phoebe teaches advanced design studios and seminars in urban agriculture and fieldwork methods at the University of Arkansas Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design, where she holds the rank of associate professor of landscape architecture. In 2016, she was selected as designer-in-residence at the Fuller Center for Productive Landscapes in Waverly, Penn. She holds degrees in visual and environmental studies, education, and landscape architecture from Harvard University, Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Rhode Island School of Design. Her recent scholarship on urban agriculture includes “Toward a Future Agrarian Urbanism” published in Places Journal and a forthcoming book Farmscape: The Design of Productive Landscapes, which examines the integration of agriculture and landscape architecture through history. Her award-winning photographic work has been featured in notable juried exhibitions across the United States, including the 56th Annual Delta Exhibition at the Arkansas Arts Center, the 6th and 8th International Juried Plastic Camera Shows at Rayko Gallery in San Francisco, and Grit: The Urban Landscape at the Copley Society of Art in Boston.

Laura Terry (collaborating with Phoebe Lickwar), Fayetteville, Ark.

Laura Terry grew up in Georgia, where she developed a love for the Southern landscape and Southern writers. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in environmental design from Auburn University’s College of Architecture, Design and Construction and earned a Master of Fine Art degree in painting from the Savannah College of Art and Design. Since 1998 she has been teaching the beginning design studios in the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design at University of Arkansas, where she holds the rank of associate professor of architecture.

For the past 20 years, Laura has explored the relationships between the built and natural landscapes in her abstract paintings. In 1998, her paintings were selected for inclusion in the Southern edition of New American Paintings, a juried publication. Her work has been included in notable juried competitions including the ArtFields 2016 in Lake City, SC, the 57th and 54th Annual Delta Exhibitions at the Arkansas Arts Center and the 3rd Annual National Juried Exhibition at the South Arkansas Arts Center. A one-person exhibit of her work “14 WORDS” is planned for January 2018 in the Smith Gallery at the Steven L. Anderson Design Center. Her work has been exhibited nationally in Los Angeles, Denver, Minneapolis, New York, Atlanta and Savannah.

Karina Pais (collaborating with Edwin Penick), Miami, Fla.

Karina Pais is a Miami-based multi-disciplinary artist working in painting, drawing, photography, installation, performance and interventions. Her work is often developed through projects that engage with the public as an experience involving some type of interaction or participation. Some of these projects are conducted using ordinary objects and materials to create durational performance pieces, ephemeral art installations and art interventions in public spaces.

Recent exhibitions include Gritty in Pink at Bailey Contemporary Arts, Pompano Beach, Fla.; Opposing Futures and THE NERVE 2017: Annual Performance Art Festival at The Projects Contemporary Art Space, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.; Public art interventions: Miami Dade College, Homestead, Miami, Fla., 2017. DRESDEN PUBLIC ART VIEW / International Billboard Exhibition, Dresden, Germany, 2014; and Billboard Text Art - EMERGING WOR(L)DS, Tina B. – The Prague Contemporary Art Festival, Prague, 2008.

Edwin A. Penick (collaborating with Karina Pais), Miami, Fla.

Edwin Penick has lived and traveled in various parts of the United Sates and several countries. Working in exhibition design and the design/build fields has had a tremendous influence on his work.

His work began with traditional painting and montage, focusing on complex relationships in a two-dimensional plane that grew into using nontraditional techniques. He then progressed to architectural and three-dimensional work.

Having always worked in a large-scale format, over time it was natural for his work to grow into more three-dimensional physical and spatial concepts.

Penick received his Bachelor of Fine Art degree at Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C., and his Master of Fine Art degree at the University Of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He received an emerging arts grant in North Carolina after graduation and has shown extensively throughout the southeastern United States with shows at the North Carolina Museum of Art, The Chrysler Museum and the Ashville Art Museum. 

Sabine Schmidt, Fayetteville, Ark.

Sabine Schmidt is an award-winning photographer, mixed-media artist and writer. She was born in Wiesbaden, Germany, and came to the United States to attend graduate school. She holds a Master of Fine Art degree in literary translation from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. Her work has appeared in publications in the United States and Germany, including Whitefish Review, L.A. Times Online, Audi Magazine and Rolling Stone Germany. Schmidt has translated books by Wynton Marsalis and Henry Chancellor and translates articles for the German edition of National Geographic.

Her photography has been shown in more than 40 regional and national group exhibitions, including PhotoSpiva, the Delta Exhibition, the Arkansas Arts Council’s Small Works on Paper touring exhibition and the River Valley Invitational at the Fort Smith Regional Art Museum.

She received Artist Registry Awards from the Arkansas State Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts for 2015-16 and 2017-18. The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette named her one of Ten Artistic People to Watch in 2016. After living in Hamburg, London, Memphis and New York, she is now based in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Schmidt photographs in color and creates formal compositions of landscapes, city settings and staged scenes that feature residential, public and commercial buildings. Her images are informed by the cultural history of vernacular architecture as well as personal and philosophical ideas of what “house” means. She often works in rural areas, looking for structures built according to simple utilitarian principles, such as farmhouses, churches and schools. They reflect shapes and uses that can be recognized by viewers from many different places.

In a three-year collaboration with photographer Don House, Schmidt created a series of images showing the past and present of the Wichita Mountains of southwestern Oklahoma. Some of the last Indian wars were fought there. The first national wildlife refuge was created in the Wichitas to save the bison. They are the home of the Army’s Fort Sill, the location of a gold rush and the final resting place of Native American leaders Geronimo and Quanah Parker. Photos of farmhouses, amusement parks, schools, summer camps and other sites of human interactions with the landscape link human experience across geography and time.

Schmidt’s long-term paper house project is a visual exploration of the house as object and symbol. Handmade miniature houses highlight the familiar features of vernacular buildings. The artist places the paper houses in environments that carry historical or emotional meaning. Some of the houses seem protected by their environment, others appear isolated or damaged. Most are photographed using only natural light. Viewers are invited to let the photos remind them of real or imagined places they know and to respond with their own thoughts on place, home and belonging.

Don Wilkison (m.o.i. aka The Minister of Information), Kansas City, Mo.

As much civil servant as artist, Don Wilkison’s work is informed by his scientist background. As m.o.i. aka The Minister of Information, his art work, and the methods used to create that work, evolve from the problems at hand. This is an art practice rooted in active experimentation uncovering how human actions intersect with the world. Recently his practice has been informed by the use of color-field theory as a placeholder for environmental markers, be they representations of contaminants of concern or the relationship of the built environment to water-quality issues. We seek to transform the mundane into the profound and to erect bridges between tangible materials and the deeper, underlying metaphorical implications that support them. The metaphor, rather than the medium, is often the message.  A frequent collaborator, m.o.i. is also one-half of Father-Daughter Confessional, an inter-generational collaborative team with Sarah Star (the daughter) who produce interactive sculptural and civic engagements examining economic, environmental and social justice issues and the sins of middle-class America.

Russell Lemond, Little Rock, Ark.

Russell Lemond began creating art in earnest out of a sense of “self-preservation” in 2010 when he found himself without a job at the age of 55. Having always had a creative streak in his character coupled with a strong entrepreneurial desire and an MBA from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, he started making aluminum contemporary “industrial looking” furniture and selling it on his website

Once he discovered the properties of aluminum he realized it afforded him a new world of creative opportunities with what has become his medium of choice. Encouraged by friends, family and a few contacts in the Little Rock art community, he re-directed his efforts to sculpting, which he says “opened up an entire new chapter for me.”

His work is always three dimensional in character, and the swirling technique he employs adds a holographic effect when viewed under the right lighting conditions. As he states, “I like to engage the viewer from every possible angle.” 

Russell has recently started employing mathematical principles in many of his pieces and is fascinated by how they lend themselves to an outcome that can become very artistic with such a “hard-science” foundation. Equally rewarding to him is the naming of the piece when it’s finished because he rarely starts something new with a particular outcome in mind. “It tells me,” he says.

His work has been juried into several regional competitions with “Little Rock Skyline” taking a national first place from Contemporary Art Gallery Online in 2013. Central Arkansas Library System has several of his pieces in their permanent collection and his art can be found in homes and businesses across the nation and in Europe discovered via gallery outlets and private commissions.

Looking to the future, Russell has stated he wants to begin creating more work that is larger in scale.  “I want people to not only be able to look at it; I want them to be able to get inside it. It’s almost like allowing them to be able to get inside my head. A place you might find it interesting to be—at least it is for me.”

Nathan Pierce, Cape Girardeau, Mo.

Nathan was brought up in the Midwest, where his father, a third-generation stone mason, taught him the value of craftsmanship. From this experience grew an appreciation for the working man, as well as a passion for building things with his hands.

His sculptures reflect not only his personal interest in architectural forms, but also a belief that communication plays a fundamental role in our perceptions of the world we live in. His work has always dealt with the conflicts of confinement and freedom and exploring catalysts between the two: building or destroying communication. “The material I use and the process of my work is directly influenced by experience. I come from a Midwest, blue-collar family that has been in the construction business for four generations, and the idea to create sculpture from those same materials seemed natural and permanent. My decision to utilize the benefits of structural steel in my work also comes from being inspired by the fabrication process. I enjoy the dedication and commitment that is required with this material; it helps build character.”

His work has been displayed extensively in juried exhibitions and outdoor sculpture programs across the Midwest, including the Chicago Sculpture Exhibit, Sculpture Walk Sioux Falls, SPACES Sculpture Invitational in Huntsville, Ala., and the recipient of the 2013 Lewis C Weinberg Award at Skokie North Shore Sculpture Park.

Marshall Miller, Hot Springs, Ark.

Marshall Miller is an Arkansas native who has spent his adult life working in the construction industry. As a lifelong student and lover of art, Marshall has sought an understanding and an application of knowledge relating to sculpture and graphic art. In retirement, he pursues sculpture full time. Miller is married and resides with his wife, Jeanne, in their home in the Ouachita Mountains.