Department of English
333 Kimpel Hall
University of Arkansas
Fayetteville AR 72701
September 23, 2013
Professor Stephen Sheppard, Chair
Honorary Degree Committee
School of Law, University of Arkansas
Fayetteville, AR 72701
Dear Professor Sheppard and the Honorary Degree Committee,
I write to you today to nominate Anita Huffington, a highly accomplished, nationally lauded sculptor based in Winslow, Arkansas, for an Honorary Degree from the University of Arkansas.
In a story that has now been told many times, Anita and her husband Hank Sutter happened into the Arkansas Ozarks in the mid-seventies. They had left New York City and their life there a year earlier, hoping to find a new life of connection with nature, through which to continue cultivating their lifelong devotion to art. Anita, after a career in dance, had begun to realize that her interest in human form was moving in a new direction, influenced not only by her inspirational roots in classical Greek and Renaissance statuary but also by her immersion in the explosive and enriching art scene of New York in the fifties and sixties.
I heard this story from Anita herself, as a guest at Arkady, the clearing in the woods that has now been her home for more than thirty years. The original log cabin, which she and Hank refashioned into an abode of rustic elegance, is now reached by passing two studios—one for sculpting and one for thinking—and a pond where she swims with frogs. Arkady and all its contents are a record of Anita’s life in art: finished sculptures adorning niches in the buildings, standing guard at their entrances, watching over the pond; unfinished sculptures in and around the carving studio; photos of a young Anita in Merce Cunningham’s dance studio or in the company of a new generation of American poets and artists at the Five Spot Café. All this history is now being remade into and out of the Arkansas landscape.
When Anita moved to the land that would become her Arkady, she realized she had found the raw materials for her work: many of her sculptures are inspired by and carved from stones she finds on her property. It seems almost too-perfect a metaphor, given the nature of her work, that she would see, incarnate in the stones of this hidden-away place, a shared history of humanity.
I urge you to see pictures of her work on her website—www.anitahuffington.com—or, preferably, to visit the sculptures themselves. One is to be found in the landing of the Mullins Library spiral staircase, another very close to the entrance of Crystal Bridges. In addition to Ozark native stone, she works in alabaster, bronze and wood. Most of the sculptures show human torsos, rarely including faces or limbs. Most often, the places on her figures where the faces, limbs, even backs, would be, melt off into the rough-hewn rock, as if to suggest the sources of the sculptures, also our own sources, in earth and water—as if our essence alone were emerging from these elements. In this way, Anita shows us what is most often hidden: our physical and cultural origins, our physical and emotional centers. In some of the sculptures— “Moonrise,” for example, the alabaster sculpture that opens a book about her and her work (Anita Huffington, Photographs by David Finn; Ruder Finn Press, 2007)—the spiraling line of the body suggests an attitude of worship or ecstasy. The texture and light of the stone, brought artfully into play by Anita’s exquisitely measured work, suggest the vulnerability of veins and sinews, but also the trailing lines of maps, whether through some classical netherworld or through the Arkansas geography that leads to and from her work. In her bronzes, I sometimes see the elegance of a latter-day Brancusi. In all her work, I see a capacious human vision, delighting and grieving at once for what is most perfect and most fragile in us and in the earth from which we spring.
I became friends with Anita on arriving in Arkansas seven years ago. She is a model and inspiration, to me and to other young artists here: graceful, consummately generous, and very reticent to promote herself. She has led a life of dedication to art and place, to the creation of immortal works out of the Arkansas landscape. Her work is now housed in distinguished museums and private collections across America, yet, among the quotes from critics I perused as I assembled this petition, the phrase “shockingly under-recognized” stands out. This quote is highlighted on this “Heritage” page about Anita, on the website of the University of Arkansas chapter of Eta Sigma Phi, an organization dedicated to developing and promoting interest in classical study, as lovely a testament as any to the admiration she finds among scholars and artist at this university: http://www.uark.edu/rso/etasigma/heritage.huffington.html.
I hope you will see fit to remedy this under-recognition with a Honorary Degree from the University of Arkansas.
Because this narrative includes a biographical sketch, I have included with it, instead, a selected list of exhibitions and awards. It is a couple of years out of date, and because the guidelines for nomination stipulate that the nominee cannot be informed of the nomination, I wasn’t able to ask Anita to update it for me. I do, however, think it gives a sense of the breadth and depth of her accomplishments. Another letter of support for this nomination will be sent under separate cover by Bethany Springer, Associate Professor in Sculpture at the University of Arkansas.
Please don’t hesitate to contact me if I can provide any other information.
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