For breakfast on Saturday, I conquered the glossy red candy apple I'd insisted on bringing back from the Fair the previous evening and it was a delicious mess. Free lipstick! I topped it off with a tasty cup of coffee from the hotel lobby (remarkable!) and the five of us were soon checked out and headed over to Fort Worth to visit the Meteorite Museum at TCU. I'd made a previous visit and was determined to share this little jewel of a museum with my pals since we were in the vicinity. We made a quick but thorough tour, and then I left my cohorts to return to Austin while I myself cut a wide berth around the Cotton Bowl and high-tailed it northeast toward Little Rock.
I wanted to reach Little Rock well before dark so I could tour two parks on the north side of the city that I'd read about. Both settings contain concrete sculptures by one Dionicio Rodriguez, a gentleman I'll call El Regio Rustico, because I love an alliteration.
Dionicio Rodriguez was born in 1891, in Talupa, a town not far from Mexico City. He came to the United States at the behest of a doctor in San Antonio that appreciated his artistry and seems to have had no trouble getting commissions for work all around the United States in the ensuring years. There are several sites in Arkansas that feature Dionicio's work and I had plotted out two in north Little Rock to go by and investigate.
Footbridge, Old Mill Park, Little Rock, Arkansas
Dionicio's style is referred to as "faux bois" (say: foe-bwah) if you want to be all fancy and French or "rustico/trabajo rustico" (say: roo-stee-coe) if you want to get regional. One way or another, it's sloshing concrete on wire forms and making it end up looking like a real honest to goodness tree. Dionicio seems to have been the undisputed master of shaping and patterning cement like wood and apparently he protected his crown by working secretively out of the trunk of his car, hiding his ingredients and removing the labels so no one would know what he used.
Bench and railing, Old Mill Park, Little Rock, Arkansas
My first stop was the Old Mill Park in North Little Rock, Arkansas which contains one of the most extensive and varied collections of Rodriguez' work anywhere in the United States. The focal point of the park is a replica of an old grist mill, made entirely of cement (again, to look like wood) right down to the wood grain on the rafter beams and the shine like polished wood of the cement floor timbers. It's such a quaint little setting that in 1939, the exterior of the mill was filmed and added to the opening credits of the movie "Gone With the Wind" as an icon of the old South.
As I roamed over the paths and stairways and bridges of the park, a loud rustle sounded from the leafy canopy overhead heralding the arrival of a cool front. Leaves of brown and gold rained down into the tawdry turquoise water of the ponds surrounding the Mill, making for a gorgeous palette with the ruddy orange of the iron rich dirt. I can only surmise that the caretakers had made an ill advised attempt to beautify the color of the water, and this unnatural hue was the result. .
At the far end of the park sits a marvelous footbridge that is dotted with little faux cacti along the top and festooned with hand shaped stalactites on the underside. It's a blast to scramble over with its giant fake log hand rails and jungle gym style footpath. As I crossed over to the other side, snapping pictures furiously, two teen aged girls with wide eyes stammered, "Ma'am...I like your hay-uhr!" That they had summoned their courage to say so was both apparent and appreciated.
When I'd had my fill of the Old Mill, I dashed back to the car and hurried over to nearby Lakeshore Park so I could see a few more of Dionico's works before I lost the light. There were two pieces there I especially liked - one is the gazebo, for lack of a better descriptor, at right - a hollow log shelter with a lovely pair of curved benches inside for sitting and gazing out the knot holes. While I was busy snapping pictures, a young boy scrambled up the side and plopped onto the recessed roof, the best backyard fort ever. I asked him if he had any idea how old the tree was, that it was older than he might think and he replied, "I dunno - from the 70s???" like that was when dinosaurs roamed the earth, or something.
The other piece I particularly liked was a palapa that arched over a set of snaking tree roots. The detailing on the piece is so exquisite - the man was definitely a master of texture and line. It made me giggle a little to see a palapa in Arkansas - I liked that Dionicio had brought a bit of the border to this literal neck of the woods.
A single brief flash of golden orange shown in the sky before the sun slipped below the horizon. As I walked back to my car, whorls of cool air wafted leaves and other debris past me, off into the encroaching dark of evening. I got back in my car just long enough to locate a nearby Motel 6 which conveniently featured an adjacent Waffle House. I was too beat to do anything fancy for dinner, and my waiter rewarded me with the crispiest set of hash browns I've ever eaten in a restaurant. Yes sir, I was living large in Little Rock!