The architecture of Arkansas, the state located in the southern part of America, brings to mind familiar images of patrician houses built in neo-Classic style, similar to those promoted by movies like Gone with the Wind, the iconic production that has become an epitome of the southern culture ever since its release in 1939.
Indeed, the so-called Greek-Revival style that was fashionable in the 1860s and 1870s can be met throughout the entire state, in both west and east, for example, in cities like Fayetteville and Pine Bluff. The houses and mansions built in this imposing style celebrated the status of those that inhabited them, as they served both as living place and political office. The Greek-revival style was the visual accessory of the age just before the appearance of mass politics when the politician was seen more like a clerk in the service of the nation than as an aristocrat of the old times. The Greek-revival is an equally showy and elegant style as provided by the imposing richly decorated columns that sustain the house.
Another major influence in the Arkansas architecture is the Victorian one. This is to be expected since the public mind of the second half of the nineteenth century was still indebted to the view according to which British heritage was one of the most important contributors to modern American identity. These colonial undertones are visible in the impressive palaces that host the public administration, financial bodies or justice courts. These buildings are a mark of bigger urban agglomerations like the capital of the state, Little Rock. The building material (e.g. in most of the cases, stone), the towers, the multitude of windows conceived in various styles, which range from gothic to neo-classic, are all meant to suggest the idea of secular power, as represented by the federal government in the territory but also of individuality, as each state is a unique contributor to what makes the American identity.
Yet, other architectural influences, although not so marked, are those that make reference to the French styles of the time, namely eclecticism and, respectively, Art Nouveau. Houses that display a richness of ornamentations (usually made of wood, so a tribute paid to the local specificities), added to the house front (e.g. the pillars that sustain the patio) or to the windows, represent a tribute brought to the French influence on Southern culture. Yet, above all, these styles tended to illustrate the status of the house`s owner, most often a nouveau riche, an individual that acquired a name for himself via `non-patrician` forms of wealth like financial speculation or commerce. Naturally, these people wanted to set themselves apart from the traditional community, just the way Art Nouveau wished to contend with academism and other remnants of the `old times`. Some samples of eclectic and Art Nouveau features can be admired in some historical houses of Pine Bluff.
Text: Raluca Goleșteanu
Photos: Rod Jacobs