Once-lers Anonymous

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TradeWind Games rallies area gaming community (Final Draft)

Gamers drove from Springdale and even Siloam Springs to play Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 at TradeWind Games, one of the only stores in the area that regularly hosts video game tournaments. They leaned against the black concrete walls of the game room, dubbed the “Bunker,” as they waited for the new business’s third tournament to begin.

The Bunker -- the video game room where tournaments are held at TradeWind Games.

Justin Kelsey, the 30-year-old co-owner of the store, joked casually with the players watching the game as they waited for their chance play.  Even those eliminated in the early rounds lingered to see who would win.

Hunter Wentz, a 19 year old from Springdale, heard about the tournament at TradeWind from friends. “I like that it’s locally owned,” he said. “I never felt that some of the [other game stores] were as personable.”

The popularity of the tournaments surprised Kelsey, because he and his brother Brian Kelsey, 24, opened their store at 2335 N. College Ave. less than a month before, on Oct. 22.

Like at many other entertainment retail stores, customers can buy used movies, video games and video game systems at TradeWind Games. However, what sets them apart from their competition doesn’t come from the products on their shelves, but the owners’ attitudes toward their customers and passion for the video gaming community.

“We have an intangible product,” Justin Kelsey said, “[the idea] of having a store that treats their customers well, provides products that people want and services that people desire.”

“Really, I just thought we could do better,” said Brian Kelsey, who worked at the Game X Change on Martin Luther King, Jr., Boulevard for two years. Other stores seem to have the outlook that they don’t have to try and please customers because they sell products people want, he said. At TradeWind, they put out a special effort to make customers feel welcome in the store and give them a place to interact at the tournaments.

A representative from GameStop could not be reached for comment.

In the Bunker, each player has his or her own console and TV, and an equal chance to win prizes such as store credit or brand new games, Brian Kelsey said. Players keep the noise level low, and their language family friendly, a sharp contrast to the foul language heard in many X Box Live games. “First and foremost we want players to have fun,” he said.

From Atari to Xbox 360 games, customers have their choice of used titles at TradeWind. Brand new copies of recent releases enshrined in the glass counter tempt customers as they nostalgically browse old game cartrides, and the Kelsey brothers know what they are talking about when they make recommendations.

Justin and Brian Kelsey grew up playing video games in the small town of Mena, more than 100 miles south of Fayetteville.

At four-years-old, Brian Kelsey helped Jumpman rescue Lady from Donkey Kong on Atari. By 10, he was fighting zombies with members of the Alpha team on Resident Evil.

“I remember when we first got [Resident Evil for PlayStation 1], we played it all night long,” said Brian Kelsey. “It’s one of those games where if you played it in the dark it kept you on edge. …It was probably the first game I played where I was legitimately frightened by the game.”

Justin Kelsey spent sixth grade staying up all night at his friends’ homes, playing any of the Mario games and the Simpsons.

“For me, gaming is a very social kind of thing,” he said. “It compounds the amount of fun you have by the number of people there.”

Even in high school, Brian Kelsey would finish his typing work as quickly as possible to beat the DOS version of Prince of Persia in one class period, but he never thought he would end up owning a gaming business. “Not in a million years,” he said. “We talked about it for several months before we decided, we can do this.”

Justin Kelsey has always been interested in being a business man – he owns rental properties in the area and is pursuing his bachelor’s in business administration – but  he hadn’t considered opening a store location until they began planning TradeWind Games.

Business is going even better than expected, although they have only been open for a little more than a month, Justin Kelsey said. “It’s easy to get your hopes up.”

Seven out of ten new employer businesses survive at least two years, said Patrick Morris, media manager for the Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy. Only half make it to the five-year mark, and a mere 25 percent endure for more than 15 years.

“It’s intimidating,” Brian Kelsey said, “but at the same time, we wouldn’t have even started a business if we didn’t think we had something to offer. …We really want people to have fun being here compared to a typical game store.”

Because of the nature of their business, they aren’t worried about the economy, and plan to eventually open more stores in the Northwest Arkansas region.

“The entertainment industry in general thrives, even in harsh economic times,” Brian Kelsey said. Twelve to fifteen customers come through the store on a given day, which meets their expectations for such a young business, he said.

Once the tournaments steadily attract 50 players each, they would like to set up series tournaments. These tournaments would have entry fees as well as a points system rewarding players for participating and placing. They would take place over the course of several months, he said.

In the future, they plan to develop a monthly membership program, similar to a gym membership. Members would be able to utilize the Bunker to play any game in the store, allowing them to preview games before buying them.

The Bunker will also be enhanced to include more video game systems and additional larger TVs, Brian Kelsey said. Groups will be able to rent the Bunker for private events, and some student groups from the University of Arkansas have already held events at TradeWind.

The level of positive interactions with customers through the TradeWind Games Facebook page surprised Justin Kelsey in the beginning. Players and customers ask questions about upcoming tournaments or different products and are answered quickly, sometimes in as little as ten minutes. Deals are announced at a moment’s notice, buy one and get one free on certain products, or a challenge to come play one of the owners. Customers can also get involved in polls to choose the games for future tournaments.

Chris Upton, 15, was excited when he found out that TradeWind Games was opening next to his dad’s store, C & E Lock & Safe, Inc.

“The prices are good. I like their tournaments,” he said. Upton has been playing video games since he was five, because games allow you to do things you couldn’t, or shouldn’t, do in real life. A competitive player, the tournaments give him the chance to interact with other gamers and see their reactions as they play.

Gaming tournaments have been gaining popularity around the country for years, leading to the formation of Major League Gaming in 2002, but little was available that was specific to Northwest Arkansas.

Wentz has played in online MLG tournaments with higher stakes than the free tournaments at TradeWind. However, before the Bunker, he couldn’t experience events like the Call of Duty tournament in person, he said. He plans to come back to TradeWind for other tournaments, and to buy games in the future.

“Oh, that was a good kill!” Wentz praised his opponent. The final round of the tournament pitted Wentz against a much younger boy. His friends laughed as he became increasingly nervous. “This kid is scaring me. …I feel like the volume got turned up. My heart is pounding,” he said.

The crowd remained tense until the final kill replayed: Wentz had won. He and the boy smiled and shook hands, complimenting each other on the game.

“The way I feel about it, anyone, regardless of skill, can win in gaming,” Brian Kelsey said. “It’s whoever is having fun.”

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All photos provided courtesy of TradeWind Games.

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TradeWind Games rallies area gaming community

Justin Kelsey, 30, commands his troop of 25 gamers with a booming voice and a clipboard. “You have a few seconds to adjust your controls. No one moves until I say move,” he orders.

He assigns a gamer to each of the seven flat-screen TV and Xbox 360 stations set up in the middle of the “Bunker,” the video game tournament room at TradeWind Games. At 8:00 p.m. on Sat., Nov. 19, 25 players are eagerly awaiting their turn to play in the business’s third free tournament, this time a free-for-all on the new Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. More players trickle in as the first 10 minute round continues. The top three players from each will be allowed to continue and play for the top prize, a brand new copy of the game, or equivalent store credit.

Kelsey patrols the room, keeping an eye on the gamers about to play and talking with others he remembers from previous tournaments. As the round begins, the chatter drops to a murmur, pierced by cries of outrage from the participants.

“Oh, come on, really?”A  marine yells. “I’ve been killed by my own care package!”

Another player shouts in alarm as his controller warns him his batteries are about to die. Kelsey rushes across the room, pulling a pack of AA batteries from his pocket.

Groans and cheers fill the room as the round ends. The final kill is replayed on all the screens in slow motion and the final scores are revealed.

After a year of planning, Kelsey opened TradeWind Games at 2335 N. College Ave. with his younger brother Brian Kelsey Oct. 22.

Like many other stores, they sell used movies, video games and video game systems, from Atari and the original Nintendo Entertainment System games to computer and Xbox 360 games. The glass cases forming the counter house a few brand new copies of recent releases, such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, a mix of gaming accessories and game cartridges for the early video game systems that have outlived their packaging.

However, what sets them apart from their competition doesn’t come from the products on their shelves.

“Really, I just thought we could do better,” said Brian Kelsey, 24, who worked at the Game X Change on Martin Luther King, Jr., Boulevard for two years. Other stores have the attitude that they don’t have to try because they sell products people want, he said.

“We have an intangible product,” Justin Kelsey said, “[the idea] of having a store that treats their customers well and provides products that people want and services that people desire.

Justin and Brian Kelsey grew up in Mena, a small town more than 100 miles south of Fayetteville.

Brian Kelsey has memories of playing Donkey Kong on Atari at the age of four, and playing video games on the original PlayStation throughout his childhood.

“I remember when we first got [Resident Evil for PlayStation 1] we played it all night long,” said Brian Kelsey, who was around 10 at the time. “It’s one of those games where if you played it in the dark it kept you on edge. …It was probably the first game I played where I was legitimately frightened by the game.”

Justin Kelsey remembers being in the sixth grade, staying up all night at his friends’ homes, playing any of the Mario games and the Simpsons.

“For me, gaming is a very social kind of thing,” he said. “It compounds the amount of fun you have by the number of people there.”

Brian Kelsey wasn’t looking to start a business. “Not in a million years,” he said. “We talked about it for several months before we decided, we can do this.”

After completing two years of general studies at a community college, he came to Fayetteville for more opportunities and to help with his brother’s rental properties.

Justin Kelsey, who is in the process of completing his bachelor’s degree in business administration, has always wanted to open a business, but hadn’t considered opening a store location before they began working on TradeWind Games.

Business is going even better than expected, although they have only been open for a little more than a month, Justin Kelsey said. “It’s easy to get your hopes up.”

More than just trying to build a strong business, the Kelsey brothers are trying to build a community of gamers.

“We really want people to have fun being here compared to a typical game store,” Brian Kelsey said.

The initial popularity of the tournaments was unexpected, Justin Kelsey said. Players have driven from as far as Siloam Springs to play in the tournaments, each featuring a different game, and are usually held every other Saturday. He was also surprised at the positive interactions they have been able to have with their customers through Facebook.

Chris Upton, 15, was excited when he found out that TradeWind Games was opening next to his dad’s store, C & E Lock & Safe, Inc.

“The prices are good. I like their tournaments,” he said. Upton has been playing video games since he was five. He likes how games allow you to do things you couldn’t, or shouldn’t, do in real life. A competitive player, he likes how their tournaments allow him to see the other players’ reactions in person.

Friends told Hunter Wentz, 19, about TradeWind Games and the tournaments. He drove from Springdale to participate in the Modern Warfare 3 tournament. “I like that it’s locally owned,” he said. “I never felt that some of the other places were as personable, the employees weren’t as happy to be there.” He plans to buy his games from TradeWind from now on.

Wentz has played in Major League Gaming tournaments with higher stakes before, finishing in the top 12 in three bracketed tournaments, but those tournaments were played online. Before the Bunker, there wasn’t a LAN center in the area that allowed gamers to play Xbox 360 or other systems together in one location, Wentz said.

In each tournament, one player is assigned to each TV and plays using default settings. No entry fee is charged, and winner receives prizes ranging from store credit to new copies of recent releases. Games are usually played following close to Major League Gaming rules, which vary from game to game, Brian Kelsey said.

Players are asked to stay below a certain level of noise, so they don’t interfere with other players’ experiences., and to keep their language clean for a family friendly atmosphere that everyone can enjoy, he said. “First and foremost we want players to have fun.”

Participants sign a form to play, agreeing to a certain standard of behavior. Parents also have to sign a release form for their children to join in on the games.

In the future, they plan to develop a monthly membership program. Members would be able to utilize the Bunker to play any game in the store any time, allowing them to preview games before they buy them.

The Bunker will also be enhanced to include more video game systems, and additional TVs. Purchasing larger TVs would allow more than one person to use each console. Most people don’t enjoy playing with a split screen on a 20 inch TV, Brian Kelsey said.

Groups will be able to rent the Bunker for private events, and several student groups from the University of Arkansas have already set up events at TradeWind.

Once the tournaments steadily attract 50 players each, they would like to set up series tournaments. These tournaments would have entry fees as well as a points system rewarding players for participating as well as placing and would take place over the course of several months, he said.

Eventually they plan to open new locations in the northwest Arkansas region, Justin Kelsey said. Because of the nature of their business, neither one of them is worried about the economy.

“The entertainment industry in general thrives, even in harsh economic times,” Brian Kelsey said.

As the rounds of the tournaments progress, most of the players stay and watch. They comment amongst themselves, arguing about different aspects of gaming strategy or plausibility.

An awed silence falls over the crowd as the final two contestants, Wentz and a younger teenage boy, face off.

“Oh, that was a good kill!” Wentz compliments him after being caught by surprise. His friends laugh as the match continues, and he begins to get nervous. “This kid is scaring me. …I feel like the volume got turned up, my heart is pounding.”

The crowd remains tense until the round ends and the final kill plays, Wentz has won. He and the boy smile as they shake hands, and complement each other on the game. Wentz’s relief is evident.

“The way I feel about it, anyone, regardless of skill, can win in gaming. It’s whoever is having fun,” Brian Kelsey said.

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Flying Possum Legacy Lives On, Transforms (Final Draft)

The signs of the March fire that damaged Flying Possum Leather, and caused the death of owner Bruce Walker, are beginning to disappear. The burnt wooden shakes on the awning at 526 W. Dickson St. and the plywood covering the doors are the last remnants of the ordeal.  Messages from the passerby of Dickson Street have filled the boards with condolences, but soon they too will be removed.

You "Left" but it will be all "Right"

“Bruce, you will always be a true legend to Dickson,” reads one of the many messages.

“I miss you Bruce! Put in a good word for me!”

“Thanks for being a good friend!”

“R.I.P. Bruce. I will miss you. Dickson will never be the same.”

Soon, those messages will be removed as renovations continue on the building. This week, Bruce Walker’s older brother Bob Walker, 64, finalized the details for a new idea, the Flying Possum reborn as a saloon.

Folloiwing his brother’s death, Bob Walker relocated to Fayetteville from Chico, Calif. He had contemplated reopening Flying Possum Leather, but the money wasn’t there to continue the venture.

“We didn’t really feel like Bruce would have wanted us to,” he said. “I think Dickson Street has been trying to leave Bruce behind for years.”

The bar would be open by January at the earliest, Bob Walker said.

“I’d like to have space to clear out and put a dance floor,” he said, but it is more important that what they put in the space works. He has taught different types of dance from swing to salsa for 18 years.

They hope to decorate the bar with Bruce memorabilia that people would recognize. The signature-filled plywood may be used on the patio, he said.

Bruce was known for his custom sandals styled like Birkenstocks, as well as his guitar straps.

“He made the best custom sandals. I’ve had four pairs over the last 35 years because they last a long time,” said musician Jed Clampit, 63, a friend of Bruce Walker since 1975. He still uses the guitar strap Bruce Walker made him in 1976, one of many musicians including Willie Nelson and Neil Young.

*    *    *

Bruce Walker was born six years after Bob Walker, in Searcy, Ark. They grew up greeting the public at their family’s grocery business, just a few doors down from their home.

Bruce Walker looked up to Bob Walker, his fellow renegade and the family musician.

“I won a lot of attention and awards through my music in school. …Bruce went on to be a very good singer, guitar player and drummer,” Bob Walker said.

“When he came to [visit me in] California, boy he was wide eyed,” said Bob Walker. In his late 20s at the time, Bob Walker had came to Chico with friends from the Navy.

He owned part of a bookstore in downtown Chico before he picked up leatherworking from another man working in the area. He later became a custom shoe and boot maker and was the first vendor in Chico to sell Birkenstock sandals.

Bruce Walker got his first experience with leatherwork and his first pair of Birkenstocks in that shop in 1973, Bob Walker said.

After his visit, Bruce Walker returned to Searcy and made his first few pairs of shoes.

“I’m not sure it was by design, but he found his way into the business,” Bob Walker said.

After moving to Northwest Arkansas in 1974, Bruce Walker worked at Blanchard Springs Caverns as a tour guide for the U.S. Forest Service. While walking down Dickson Street on a weekend visit, he noticed a help wanted sign in the recently opened Nelson Leather Co.’s window.

“He walked in, told them he made the shoes he was wearing, and they said, ‘you’re hired,’” Bob Walker said.

A year later, Nelson Leather Co. moved to Eureka Springs. Bruce Walker leased the half-unit and the 35-year reign of Flying Possum Leather began.

He leased the rest of the unit once it became available, even though it quadrupled his rent.

“He had already made up his mind that he was going to expand,” Bob Walker said.

Times weren’t always easy for Bruce Walker financially. He was often “dancing to the right and dancing to the left [maintaining his finances], but it never occurred to him to leave Dickson or get a smaller shop,” Bob Walker said. “Dickson Street, the Flying Possum, his dog [Bugsy], his craft, that was his persona. It didn’t have to make sense business wise. It was who he was.”

Bugsy, Bruce Walker's Dog

Bruce Walker was a hard person to describe, said Bil Jett, a long time friend who also worked on Dickson Street. “He was easy going for the most part, but if you ever made an enemy of him, by God he never forgot it.”

After Bugsy was taken from Bruce Walker’s side by emergency crews, Jett was one of many Fayetteville residents vying to give him a home.

“I just felt it was the right thing to do, one way I could honor Bruce,” he said. “I’d known Bugsy since he was a baby, and knew he was a really good dog.” Bugsy stays with Jett now, spending his days at work with Jett on Dickson Street.

Jett doesn’t have any problem with a bar replacing Flying Possum Leather. “To be honest, I didn’t think they could replace Bruce in there anyway.”

“[He was] more of an artist than a business man,” Clampit said. “He was just one of those unique guys that we have the opportunity to meet a few times in our lives.”

*   *   *

Bob Walker arrived in Fayetteville three days after the fire, but his grieving didn’t begin until he returned to California for two weeks.

“That’s where my connection [with Bruce] was, at home, in California,” Bob Walker said. He and his brother were close, talking on the phone late at night two to three times a week.

Support poured out for Bruce Walker’s family after the fire and during the clean-up.

“We had pages of people who signed up, and dozens of people who showed up [to help clean],” Bob Walker said. “It’s hard to name a few people, there were so many who gave so much. …No shortage of heroes in Fayetteville.”

Grown men have come up to Bob Walker, telling him stories of how they came to Fayetteville as freshmen, a little bit scared and a little bit homesick. They would walk into Flying Possum Leather, and leave two or three hours later feeling more at home, he said.

Four nights after the fire, 20 bands had signed up to play at a memorial service at George’s Majestic Lounge, across the street. The owner, Bruce Walker’s long-time friend Brian Crowne, may make it an annual event and donate the proceeds to non-profits that support things Bruce believed in. He would be blown away by the public outpouring, Bob Walker said.

Crowne could not be reached for comment.

“When my brother died, he left a void in many ways here on Dickson Street. Left a location, left a desire for something Bruce, something possum,” Bob Walker said. The family wanted to continue something in Fayetteville, so Bob Walker decided to leave his life in Chico as a semiretired dance instructor, and take a chance.

“You never know what’s coming for you,” he said, quoting “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”

The community has been very supportive of the decision not to reopen as a leather store, Bob Walker said. “Nobody is going to do it like Bruce did, so I’m glad we’re really not even trying.”

Bob Walker has developed friendships with many of Bruce Walker’s friends, and community members who didn’t even know Bruce Walker, but wanted to be involved in the clean-up. “I’ve met more people on a fairly deep level than I could have in years living here.”

One of those people is Amy Clark, an invaluable volunteer after the fire, Bob Walker said. Now she is like a daughter to him; he visits her at work on Dickson Street. During this week’s thunderstorms, he made sure she would have transportation other than her bicycle.

“I feel really inclined to do what I can to help those who have helped me,” Bob Walker said.

He and his partners are still figuring out the particulars of the bar, but he has a good feeling about it.

“I just feel like the pieces of this puzzle are as right as they’re going to get,” Bob Walker said. “How much control do we have anyways?”

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Flying Possum Legacy Lives On, Transforms

The building at 526 West Dickson St. in Fayetteville looked like it had seen better days. The damaged and worn wooden shakes on the awning and bare brick face above look out of sync with the neighboring Mediterranean grill and sushi restaurant adorned with neon signs and bright white paint.

But now the space was starting to show new life; the glass has been replaced in the large front windows and quickly decorated with flyers for local concerts and events.

Yet two sheets of plywood covering the former doors, filled with messages written in black, silver, red or whatever color marker passerby had on hand, garner more attention than any of the bright flyers in the windows.

“Bruce, you will always be a true legend to Dickson,” one weathered inscription reads. Hundreds have stopped by the boarded door to write their condolences.

You "Left" but it will be all "Right"

“I miss you Bruce! Put in a good word for me!”

“Thanks for being a good friend!”

“RIP Bruce. I will miss you. Dickson will never be the same.”

After more than 34 years of housing Flying Possum Leather, an early morning fire on Monday, March 7, damaged the building and led to the death of owner and Dickson Street legend Bruce Walker. Emergency crews responding to the blaze found him on the store floor, his dog Bugsy staying close to his side.
“That was his family, Dickson Street and his dog,” said his older brother 64-year-old Bob Walker, who relocated to Fayetteville from Chico, Calif. following Bruce Walker’s death.

“I had hoped to continue the leather shop,” Bob Walker said. He had been in talks with one of Bruce Walker’s former employees, but the money wasn’t there to continue the venture.

“We didn’t really feel like Bruce would have wanted us to,” he said. “I think Dickson Street has been trying to leave Bruce behind for years.”

Next week, Bob Walker will find out if his next venture will become a reality: Flying Possum Saloon.

The bar would be open by January at the earliest, Bob Walker said.

“I’m probably a little older than most people in the bar business,” he said, but he has two younger and very creative people in mind to be his partners.

They hope to decorate the bar with lots of Bruce memorabilia that people would recognize, he said.

Bruce was known for his custom sandals styled like Birkenstocks, as well as his patented acoustic guitar strap used by Willie Nelson, Neil Young and many others.

Bob Walker also hopes to have a small dance floor in the Flying Possum Saloon, possibly offering free dance lessons at happy hour. He has been teaching all forms of dance from salsa to swing.

“I’d like to have space to clear out and put a dance floor,” he said, but it is more important that what they put in the space works.

*    *    *

“When he came to [visit me in] California, boy he was wide eyed,” said Bob Walker. In his late 20s at the time, Bob Walker worked as a custom shoe and boot maker in downtown Chico, Calif., and was the first vendor in Chico to sell Birkenstock sandals. “[He] thought what I was doing out there was cool. …He looked up to me.”

Bruce Walker got his first experience with leatherwork in Bob Walker’s shop in 1973. That was also the year he received his first pair of Birkenstocks, probably as a gift, Bob Walker said after a little though.

Bruce Walker returned to Searcy, their home town, and made his first few pairs of shoes.

“I’m not sure it was by design, but he found his way into the business,” Bob Walker said.

After moving to Northwest Arkansas in 1974, Bruce Walker worked at Blanchard Spring Cavarns outside of Mountain View as a tour guide for the U.S. Forest Service at the time. While walking down Dickson Street on a weekend visit to Fayetteville, he noticed a help wanted sign in the recently opened Nelson Leather Co.’s window.

“He walked in, said he made the shoes he was wearing, and they hired him on the spot,” Bob Walker said.

A year later, the owners of Nelson Leather Co. took advantage of an opening and moved their business to Eureka Springs. Bruce Walker leased the space and in 1975, the 35-year reign of Flying Possum Leather began.

When he first opened, half of the unit was split with a jewelry story. He leased the entire unit as soon as the jewelers moved out, despite the jump in rent to quadruple his former rate.

“He had already made up his mind that he was going to expand,” Bob Walker said, although times weren’t always easy for Bruce Walker financially. He was often “dancing to the right and dancing to the left” to maintain his finances, “but it never occurred to him to leave Dickson or get a smaller shop,” Bob Walker said. “Dickson Street, the Flying Possum, his dog, his craft, that was his persona. It didn’t have to make sense business wise. It was who he was.”

Bugsy, Bruce Walker's DogBruce Walker was a hard person to describe, said Bil Jett, a long time friend who also worked on Dickson Street. “He was easy going for the most part, but if you ever made an enemy of him, by God he never forgot it.”

After Bruce Walker’s dog Bugsy was rescued from the fire, Jett was one of many Fayetteville residents vying to give him a home.

“I just felt it was the right thing to do, one way I could honor Bruce,” he said. “I’d known Bugsy since he was a baby, and knew he was a really good dog.”

Jett doesn’t have any problem with a bar replacing Flying Possum Leather. “To be honest, I didn’t think they could replace Bruce in there anyway.”

*   *   *

Support poured out for Bruce Walker’s family following the accident.

“We had pages of people who sign up, and dozens of people who showed up [to help clean],” Bob Walker said. “It’s hard to name a few people, there were so many who gave so much.”

The people of Fayetteville have been the silver lining of the ordeal, Bob Walker said, describing it as a humbling experience. “[Bruce] would be blown away.”

Grown men have came up to Bob Walker, telling him stories of how they came to Fayetteville as freshmen, a little bit scared and a little bit homesick. They would walk into the Flying Possum, and leave two or three hours later feeling like they’re more at home.

Four nights after the fire, 20 bands had signed up to play at a memorial service for Bruce Walker at George’s Majestic Lounge, across the street. The owner, a long time friend of Bruce, plans to make it annual event and donate the proceeds to non-profits that support things Bruce believed in like Springfest, a music and food festival held on Dickson Street each year, Bob Walker said.

The owner of George’s Majestic Lounge could not be reached for comment.

If plans come together with his partners, Bob Walker said he is almost certain they will be successful. However he will not proceed without the right partners, showing a bit of the frank spirit for which his brother was known.

“Bruce was a person who would tell you what [was on his mind],” Bob Walker said. “He was no shrinking violet.”

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Shooting increases security concerns – Final Draft

Since the Washington County circuit judge’s office moved from the main courthouse to the historic courthouse last August, trial court assistant Kasey Hassell has worried what would happen if an angry intruder came in.

“When you have a husband and wife going through divorce, you never know what could happen,” Hassell said. “Things get ugly.”

The 31-year-old has worked for the county for two years, sitting at her desk outside Circuit Judge G. Chadd Mason’s office and greeting visitors with a smile.

Hassell’s fears were validated on Sept. 13 after a shooting occurred 50 miles away at the Crawford County Courthouse. She was shaken after the security footage was released, showing a woman from a judge’s office running from the gunman.

“It hits close to home,” she said.

Mason had already helped initiate a reexamination of security at the historic courthouse and the Washington County Courthouse Annex before the shooting occurred. After, the sheriff began paying deputies overtime to provide temporary stopgap security at both buildings, said Chief Deputy Jay Cantrell.

People have become more conscious of the issue since the Crawford County shooting, Mason said. “It becomes more pressing.”

Around 3:30 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon, James Palmer entered the Crawford County Courthouse in Van Buren, Ark., with an assault rifle and two handguns. During his 12-minute assault, Palmer fired between 70 and 90 rounds, shooting Vickie Jones – a case coordinator for Circuit Court Judge Gary Cottrell – in the leg, according to police reports.

“It was a relatively calm day,” said Elaine Stanfield, an administrative assistant to Crawford County Judge John Hall. An unusually small number of people were visiting the courthouse. Stanfield was at her desk on the first floor when she heard a noise like extremely loud firecrackers, then screaming, she said.

Stanfield yelled for the women in the adjoined office to hide in the closet, and dialed 911 as she saw the shooter coming down the hallway through the glass door.

Stanfield dove under her desk, clinging to the wall as bullets flew through the door and into the empty desk next to her. Glass crashed around the office.

“You really didn’t have time to think about anything,” she said. “You reacted.”

Rubbing alcohol, from a bottle sitting on the corner of her desk, splattered onto Stanfield.

“I didn’t know what it was,” she said, “if it was me, or him, or somebody else or what it was.”

Palmer continued shooting as he exited the building. He was shot twice by law enforcement on the courthouse lawn, and died later that day.

“The worst part, for me, was not knowing what had happened to everyone else,” Stanfield said. The woman who sat at the desk next to Stanfield was down the hall turning in paperwork, but Stanfield didn’t know then that she had been able to take cover in a vault.

The Washington County Circuit Court judges G. Chadd Mason and Joanna Taylor were in contact with Washington County Judge Marilyn Edwards and the county sheriff’s office to improve the level of security at the Historic Washington County Courthouse and the Washington County Courthouse Annex before the shooting occurred.

The historic courthouse, located at 4 S. College Ave. in Fayetteville, handles civil, domestic and drug cases. With three entrances on two floors and an elevator with unrestrained access to each floor, the lone bailiff and few security cameras weren’t enough to keep those in the building safe, Mason said.

Although constructed with security in mind, the annex, located at 123 N. College Ave., also relied on a single bailiff and limited security cameras. The Circuit Court located in the annex handles civil, domestic and some criminal cases.

The main courthouse, located at 280 N. College Ave., has one public entrance, protected by a magnetometer – commonly identified as a metal detector — parcel and bag X-ray device and surveillance cameras. Two to three deputies and a corporal are responsible for monitoring the surveillance cameras, operating the X-ray device and patrolling the building, Cantrell said. Civil, criminal, domestic relations and probate cases are handled in the courtrooms there.

Mary Ann Gunn was the Circuit Court judge in the historic courthouse when renovations were made and security issues were explored. “[She] really liked that building, and was adamant about staying there, even if it meant no security,” Cantrell said.

Because Gunn wasn’t concerned with the lack of security, no efforts were made to improve security at the historic courthouse or the annex.

Although there have not been any incidents at the main courthouse, Bill Miller, corporal supervisor of security, said the security measures are important. “It’s a show of force and a deterrent.”

“Someone that really wants to [cause an incident] is going to do it no matter what,” said Johnny Larkin, judicial security inspector for the U.S. Marshals Service. “[Added security] may make them think twice.” A similar incident occurred in Las Vegas, but the gunman encountered security officers as he entered the building, he said.

On Oct. 13, the Quorum Court approved an allocation of more than $300,000 to bring the same level of security to each building.

“I don’t think we could do without the security,” said Justice of the Peace Eva Madison. “It’s not my favorite plan, but it was the only one presented.”

“We definitely need security at the courthouse,” said Justice of the Peace John Firmin, the only member of the Quorum Court to vote against the allocation. “I’m concerned about the efficient use of the space.”

Madison and Firmin both want to see more thought put into a consolidation plan.

“The population in Washington County is going to continue to grow,” Firmin said. “It would be nice to have a longer term plan.”

The decision to move offices from one building to another falls to Washington County Judge Marilyn Edwards, who indicated during a Quorum Court meeting that she had no intention of moving all the courts to the main courthouse.

Four deputies have been hired, and a new sergeant position will be filled in the coming weeks as the security devices are installed, Cantrell said. “The potential is there [for an incident], especially in the kinds of cases these people deal with,” he said. “They’re matters of the heart.”

A U.S. Marshall is scheduled to analyze security at all of the courthouses, Edwards said. “It’s when we become complacent that we get in trouble.”

“I don’t think they overly committed themselves,” Mason said. “It’s going to be very expensive to secure this building. …If we go too far in allocating money, and end up having to make a change, we are going to be wasting money,” he said.

Although her experience causes Stanfield to stop and think, she isn’t afraid to continue working at the Crawford County Courthouse. “I like my job and I’m going to be here, God willing,” she said.

Hassell will feel safer when the all of the new security measures are in place in the historic courthouse, she said. The newlywed of six months will be protected at her post, ensuring that her life will continue to be described more by the word “beautiful,” tattooed in script on the side of her right hand than “disaster” on her left.

Below is limited security footage from the Crawford County courthouse. Elaine Stanfield’s experience  is not shown.

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Shooting causes security concerns

Since the Washington County circuit judge’s office moved from the main courthouse to the historic courthouse last August, trial court assistant Kasey Hassell has worried what would happen if an angry intruder came in.

“When you have a husband and wife going through divorce, you never know what could happen,” Hassell said. “Things get ugly.”

The 31-year-old has worked for the county for two years, sitting at her desk outside Mason’s office and greeting visitors with a smile. After marrying Blake Hassell six months ago, Hassell’s life has been depicted more by the word “beautiful” tattooed in script on her right hand than “disaster” tattooed on her left.

But, on Sept. 13, an incident about 50 miles away caused everyone who worked in the courthouse to think about their safety.

Around 3:30 p.m. that Tuesday afternoon, James Palmer entered the Crawford County Courthouse in Van Buren, Ark., carrying an assault rifle and two handguns. During the 12-minute assault, Palmer fired between 70 to 90 rounds, shooting Vickie Jones, a case coordinator for Circuit Court Judge Gary Cottrell, in the leg, sheriff Ron Brown said to the Times Record.

“It was a relatively calm day,” said Elaine Stanfield, an administrative assistant to County Judge John Hall. Only a few people were visiting the courthouse, which was highly unusual. Stanfield was at her desk on the first floor of the courthouse when she heard a noise like extremely loud firecrackers, followed by loud screams, she said.

Stanfield yelled for the women in the adjoined Disabled American Veterans office to hide in the closet, and dialed 911. When she looked through the glass office door, she saw the shooter coming down the hallway.

Stanfield dove under her desk, clinging as close to the wall as she possibly could as bullets flew through the door and into the empty desk next to her, and glass crashed around the office.

“You really didn’t have time to think about anything,” she said. “You reacted. You didn’t analyze what was going on.”

Rubbing alcohol, from a bottle sitting on the corner of her desk, splattered onto Stanfield.

“I didn’t know what it was. If it was me, or him, or somebody else or what it was,” she said.

The rapid fire continued as the shooter left the courthouse, where he was eventually shot by law enforcement.

“The worst part, for me, was not knowing what had happened to everyone else,” she said. The other woman who works in the office had gone down the hall to turn in some paperwork, but Stanfield didn’t know if she had been able to take cover.

Since the shooting occurred, the metal detector from the second floor has been moved to the first floor, where the number of public entrances was reduced from six to one, and an armed deputy is now stationed there.

In Washington County, the circuit court judges G. Chadd Mason and Joanna Taylor had already been in contact with the county sheriff’s office and Washington County Judge Marilyn Edwards to improve the level of security at the Historic Washington County Courthouse and the Washington County Courthouse Annex to match that of the main courthouse.

People have become more conscious of the issue, Mason said. “It becomes more pressing.”

The Historic Washington County Courthouse had three entrances on two levels and an elevator with unrestrained access to the entire building. The only security was a bailiff and a few security cameras that could only be accessed in a few rooms, Mason said. The bailiff had many responsibilities that kept him busy around the courthouse, and there were times when the bailiff was not present at all. Individuals walking to and from the parking lot also had no protection, he said.

The annex also had one bailiff and limited security cameras.

The main courthouse has one public entrance, protected by a magnetometer – commonly identified as a metal detector — parcel and bag x-ray device and surveillance cameras. One deputy monitors the surveillance cameras, a corporal interacts with the public while operating the x-ray device and another deputy roves the hallways to make sure everything is in order as well as relieving the others as needed, said Chief Deputy Jay Cantrell.

Although there have not been any incidents at the main courthouse, Bill Miller, corporal supervisor of security, said the security measures were important. “It’s a show of force and a deterrent.”

The Quorum Court voted Oct. 13 to approve the allocation of $301,202 from the general fund to improve security at the two buildings. The funds will pay for the purchase of a magnetometer, x-ray device, additional security cameras and handheld metal detectors for each site, as well as the uniforms, salaries and benefits of the sergeant and four deputies that will be hired.

“The potential is there [for an incident], especially in the kinds of cases these people deal with,” Cantrell said. “They’re matters of the heart.”

A U.S. Marshall is scheduled to analyze security at all of the courthouses, and if he has additional recommendations, they will look into it, Edwards said. No building can be completely secure, however, “it’s when we become complacent that we get in trouble,” she said.

Until the new equipment is installed and the U.S. Marshall’s inspection is completed, the Sheriff is supplying additional deputies to serve as stopgaps and secure the buildings, Mason said.

The annex will be easier to secure, because it was built with security in mind, whereas the historic courthouse was constructed in the early 1900s, Cantrell said. Although it will be a lot of work, it is important to have adequate security, not just the illusion of it, he said.

Although all the members of the Quorum Court agreed on the importance of provided secure facilities to all of the county employees and members of the public in the court buildings, not all supported the allocation of funds.

“I don’t think we could do without the security,” said Justice of the Peace Eva Madison. “It’s not my favorite plan, but it was the only one presented.”

In the future, Madison would like to see consideration given to consolidating the courthouses into one or two locations, to reduce the number of public buildings that would need the high-level security.

“We definitely need security at the courthouse,” said Justice of the Peace John Firmin, who was the only member of the Quorum Court to vote against the allocation. “I’m concerned about the efficient use of the space. We have vacant space in both [the annex and the historic courthouse]. …The planning department, the road department, those areas don’t require security and that saves tax payer money by not providing that.”

The decision to move offices from one building to another falls to County Judge Marilyn Edwards, who indicated during a Quorum Court meeting that she had no intention of moving all the courts to the main courthouse.

“The population in Washington county is going to continue to grow,” Firmin said. “It would be nice to have a longer term plan.”

Mason felt that the Quorum Court made a good decision.

“I don’t think they overly committed themselves,” he said. “It’s going to be very expensive to secure this building.” Because it is a historic site, a limited number of things can be done to the building. “If we go too far in allocating money, and end up having to make a change, we are going to be wasting money,” he said. He expects the new security to be in place by the beginning of next year at the latest.

The hiring process for the new deputies and sergeant has already begun, Cantrell said. The sheriff’s department tries to hire from within, and has already began accepting letters of interest for the position. Interested applicants have until Wednesday, to submit their letters.

Those chosen will begin training right away, and the deputies from the main courthouse will provide assistance and onsite training at the annex and historic courthouse.

Hassell will feel safer when the new measures are in place, she said.

Although the incident causes Stanfield to stop and think, she isn’t afraid to continue working at the Crawford county courthouse. “I like my job and I’m going to be here, God willing,” she said.

Below is limited security footage from the Crawford County courthouse. Elaine Stanfield’s experience  is not shown.

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Human-made spaces

The bed huddled under the low-vaulted ceiling. Books peaked from under the bed skirt like lost treasures, accidentally kicked across the polished wood floor. The bed was made with a purple and green floral quilt, faded like the family member who had made it two generations before.

The walls of the staircase pressed inward on the space, threatening to overtake the stairs. The thick layer of blue carped failed to mute the creak caused by each step, like a warning to anyone who would enter. Splintered wood and exposed nail heads stuck out like claws to discourage trespassers.

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Students Travel for Inspiration, Education

Amanda Neely, a third-year architecture student at the University of Arkansas, leaned back from her desk strewn with sketches, incomplete models and a pineapple cup. “What scale are you doing your model in?” she asked a student a few desks away.

At 11:20 p.m. on a Thursday, it is just another night that won’t end until 2 a.m., spent with half of the other third-year students in Field House, the temporary home of the architecture studio while their normal location, Vol Walker Hall, is under construction.

Huge time commitments, such as working on architecture studio projects for days straight, are now an understood cost of being an architecture student. So spending the university’s first fall break on a class trip to Boston is just another weekend of long hours for the third-year architecture students.

“I’ve been wanting to go for a while,” Neely said, smiling at the mention of Boston.

Grace Smith, 20, perked up from her desk across from Neely’s. They had been discussing and planning what to pack since they found out about the trip, she said.

As well as its magnificent architectural sites, faculty chose Boston because of its proximity to Wells-Lamson Quarry in East Barre, Vt. Students will design an artist complex for the site during the spring semester, to compete for thousands of dollars in travel money from the Lyceum Fellowship.

The Lyceum Fellowship, founded by architect Jon McKee in 1985, seeks to “advance the development of the next generation of talent by…stimulating perceptive reasoning and inspiring creative thought in our field,” according to the fellowship’s website. Travel awards of $12,000 and $7,500 are awarded to the first and second place winners respectively, while the third place winner receives a $1,500 grant, the site reported.

“As a young man in college, [Jon traveled],” said Jennifer Sweet, a former architect and member of the Lyceum Fellowship’s board of directors. “It broadened his design insights tremendously. The effect of seeing a notable structure…is something you have to experience, the scale of a building, the way the light hits the building, the way the forms interact…all those aspects of design come alive when you are in person experiencing something.”

Each year no more than 15 schools are invited to compete for the Lyceum Fellowship, including the University of Arkansas, the University of Cincinnati and the University of Nebraska at Lincoln this year.

Sweet, who has been involved with the fellowship since its creation, said they originally picked schools where they thought students might not have had as many travel opportunities as those at others.

However, over the years they have also sought geographic variety and included other schools who expressed an interest in participating.

The University of Arkansas has received an invitation every year since 2008, after Marlon Blackwell, head of the university’s architecture department, served on the Lyceum Fellowship jury and then wrote the program students addressed with their designs in 2007.

Neely plans to spend the summer completing her study abroad requirement in Mexico City, which she chose for its emphasis on hand drawing over computer-aided design. However, if she won she would like to complete both programs. Traveling to other places is especially important because there is not a lot of architecture to see in Northwest Arkansas, she said.

The university’s first fall break will provide third-year architecture students the chance to visit Boston, Wells-Lamson Quarry and other architectural sites in the area.

“We probably would have taken [the trip] at the same time, but maybe not for as long,” said Russell Rudzinski, an adjunct assistant professor since 2000.

After flying to Massachusetts, the group of 40 students will spend two nights in Lowell, Mass. Their first full day will be spent almost three hours away in Vermont, exploring the competition site on the edge of an abandoned granite quarry, he said.

The 2012 program was written by Peter Bohlin and co-authored by his associates Ray Calabro and Denis Schofield. Bohlin received the 2010 Gold Medal from the American Institute of Architects, and his work ranges from Seattle City Hall to Apple Stores around the world, according to Architectural Record’s website.

For the program, students must design a structure that is integrated with and reflective of the site, Wells-Lamson Quarry. The structure must have an educational pavilion, artists’ studios and residences as well as a memorial for quarry workers who lost their lives in the name of the industry, according to the fellowship’s website.

“Seeing the site will give them a chance to experience it with all their sense,” Rudzinski said. Walking around the site allows the students to experience its expansiveness and the scars of the quarry in a way they couldn’t with a few photos. It will also increase their understanding of the quarry, by allowing them to see the cutting and finishing of granite, he said.

The next day they will visit the famous Phillips Exeter Academy Library, designed by Lou Kahn in the ‘60s, according to the Phillips Exeter Academy website. The building was recognized in 1997 with the American Institute of Architects’ Twenty-Five Year Award for being artistically ahead of its time.

The remaining two days will be spent in Boston, Rudsinski said, touring fabrication labs at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as other sites around the city.

If other options had been presented, Clark would probably still have chosen Boston, he said. “These trips are valuable. …Boston is a really unique city.”

“It’s kind of the general philosophy of the school that we should try to get our students out to real live architecture as often as we can,” Rudzinski said. ““We live in a world that is headed towards globalization,” so students need to be exposed to it, he said.

With 15 schools competing, there can be around 200 entries, most of which will be very strong, Sweet said.

A UA student received a merit award in 2008, recognition that at least one aspect of the project was exceptional, and another received second place in 2011.

“It definitely makes [winning] a realistic and achievable goal,” said third-year Michael Clark.

Architecture students are required to study abroad either during the summer in Mexico City, or for a semester at the UA Rome Center.

“If I won, I would probably look at [both] Mexico City and Rome,” Clark said. He plans to spend the fall 2012 semester studying in Rome.

“You just have to treat it like any other project,” Neely said. “If you get too hyped up about it you’ll overwork yourself.”

Regardless of the project, they are used to putting in as much time effort as it takes.

“Pretty much every opportunity you get, you [should spend] a good amount of it in studio,” said Clark, who spent around nine hours working in the architecture studio on Thursday alone.

“Our students will do the best work they can, and will hold their own,” Rudzinski said. “They are well prepared to do it and do it well.”

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Students Travel for Competition, Experience

When the University of Arkansas’s third-year architecture students found out their fall trip would be to Boston, Mass., their excitement was evident.

“I’ve been wanting to go for a while,” said Amanda Neely, 21. At 11:20 on a Thursday night, it is just another night spent with half of the other third year students in Field House, the temporary home of the architecture studio while Vol Walker Hall is under construction.

Grace Smith, 20, perked up from her desk across from Neely’s at the mention of Boston. They had been discussing and planning what to pack since they found out, she said.

The trip, though exciting, comes with a daunting price tag for many students of around $800.

“It’s going to be legit, but that’s a lot of money,” said Michael Clark, 20. “If I really wanted to, I could go there for three or four days and come back for $300 to $400.”

“It’s kind of a lot of money, but it’s worth the opportunity to go,” Smith said.

Students are informed of the large financial requirements of the program when they join. The Fay Jones School of Architecture’s website encourages students to set aside at least $500 a semester for project materials.

The students were given an estimated price range for the fall trip during the spring semester, said Russell Rudzinski, an adjunct assistant professor since 2000. “Once the (site for the upcoming Lyceum Fellowship competition) was revealed, Boston really became the only option…. You could get some cursory sense for a building or a city from images on your screen or in a book, but being there is a full immersion experience.”

The students of the University of Arkansas’s Fay Jones School of Architecture  was invited were among those selected to compete in the Lyceum Fellowship for the fifth year in a row. Fifteen schools, including Boston Architectural College, University of Miami and University of Nebraska at Lincoln, were selected to compete for the travel fellowships, according to theLyceum Fellowship’s website.

Each year students from the selected universities work individually to create structures that meet specifications developed by leading architects to “advance the development of the next generation of talent by…stimulating perceptive reasoning and inspiring creative thought in our field,” according to the Fellowship’s website.

The first prize entry is awarded a $12,000 for six months travel abroad, the second prize entry is awarded a $7,500 for three months travel abroad, and the third prize entry is awarded a $1,500 grant, according to the Fellowship’s website.

Joseph Weishaar, received second place last year, the first time a UA student has placed, according to the Fellowship’s website.

The 2012 program, written by Peter Bohlin and co-authored by Ray Calabro and Denis Schofield, asks students to design a complex designed for artists that is integrated with and reflective of the site, Wells Lamson Quarry in East Barre, Vt. The structure must have an educational pavilion, artists’ studios and residences as well as a memorial for quarry workers who lost their lives in the name of the industry, according to the Fellowship’s website.

The U of A’s first fall break will provide third year architecture students the chance to visit Boston the site at Wells Lamson Quarry, as well as other architectural sites in the area.

“We probably would have taken (the trip) at the same time, but maybe not for as long,” Rudsinksi said.

After flying to Massachusetts, the group of 40 students will spend two nights in Lowell, Mass. Their first full day will be spent almost three hours away in Vermont, exploring the competition site on the edge of an abandoned granite quarry, he said.

The next day they will visit the famous Phillips Exeter Academy Library, designed by Lou Kahn in the ‘60s, according to the Phillips Exeter Academy website. The building was recognized in 1997 with the American Institute of Architects’ Twenty-Five Year Award for being artistically ahead of its time.

The remaining two days will be spent in Boston, Rudsinksi said, touring fabrication labs at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as other sites around the city.

The trip should be easier than last year’s trip to Chicago, Smith said, because there are only 40 students, rather than 60.

Even if other options had been presented, Clark would probably still have chosen Boston, he said. “These trips are valuable….Boston is a really unique city.”

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A Painter at No Loss for Words

Megan Chapman walked confidently through the groups of people in her gallery. She smiled warmly as family friends stepped up to congratulate her on the new collection, “Sometimes I Love You and Other Stories.”

Small groups attending First Thursday, a monthly art event in the Fayetteville Square, slowly worked their way through the 22 paintings adorning the white walls of the Fayetteville Underground, a nonprofit art gallery in an old bank building. Women teetered on high heels as they crossed the unfinished concrete floors.

An older man stepped up to Chapman as she finished talking to a group. “Did you make these paintings?” he asked.

He grabbed her hand, and pulled her across the gallery. The man pointed his hand at one of the paintings. Tears welled up in his eyes. He shook his hand at the painting. He tried to speak.

The words nestled on a small-yellowed page on the right side of the canvas, underscored by graphite lines and floating in streaks of grays and whites.

Not of the past but of the future

You sing in my ear

I am alone and you are asleep

But

Still your voice is so close

And I am no longer alone.

“That’s my wife,” he said softly. She had recently died.

“It’s like a curse,” Chapman said in her tiny studio in the Fayetteville Underground. “I don’t have a choice in this. I can’t stop making art.”

Chapman has become a staple of the local art community. She had considered leaving Fayetteville for artistic opportunities in other cities when the Fayetteville Underground opened in April 2009. Within the first month, Chapman rented a studio and has remained there ever since.

“I wanted to do (this) because as artists our work is done so completely alone and you can get really wrapped up in your own head,” Chapman said.

Chapman’s passion for promoting her own art also extends to the work of other artists. “I like selling everyone’s work,” Chapman said. “If it’s something I truly believe in, and I believe in the person doing it, then I want to help them succeed.”

Having consistent artists at the Underground allows the community to stay connected follow an artist’s work, said Greg Mack, treasurer of the Fayetteville Underground board.

Chapman operates a studio blog to encourage and inform other artists and help them in their careers, and to help them reach out through their art.

“Her work has turned to a mature direction,” said Cindy Wiseman, an art instructor at the University of Arkansas and an abstract painter. When Wiseman began observing Chapman’s work in 2008, it was more decorative and focused on the division of spaces and decorative forms. Now it is more organic and minimalist, Wiseman said.

 

“I knew from the moment you’re old enough to know something like that, that I wanted to do something in the arts,” Chapman said. “I was really lucky, and I was encouraged by my family.”

Growing up in Fayetteville, Chapman was not always exposed to a large variety of art.  Her mother, an art and English teacher, always had art in their home, even if the Van Gogh or Modigliani prints came from yard sales, Chapman said. Music played a large role in Megan’s life as well. Her father always had music playing, and he understood Chapman’s need to create.

Chapman tried studying art at the University of Arkansas, but it took her some time to find her way. “I left in 1993, because I felt kind of aimless,” Chapman said. “(I) just headed out west.”

She ended up in Eugene, Ore., and after six years spent in and out of art classes, Chapmen earned her bachelor of fine arts in painting and drawing from the University of Oregon. She experimented with different forms of art, including “heart pods.” The organic shapes were painted with strange dark-oil backgrounds, to represent the part of a person that holds their deepest emotions, she said.

“If you’re lucky, you’ll get a mentor who ties it all together,” she said, and for her that was Professor Ron Graff. “I am not sure if I would have stayed the course and continued through school without him.”

“Megan was a terrific student,” Graff said via e-mail. “She was innovative, constantly pushing the boundaries, had a tremendous amount of energy, never settled for what she could do, and continues to push herself as always.”

Chapman’s final project at Oregon was called “Books.” She created a living room setting with a couch and coffee table, festooned with small books. In each book, she glued and taped the pages, covering them in white paint and filling them with her own stories and small abstract paintings.

Then she returned to Fayetteville to get her bearings after. Her work has since been displayed in galleries across the country, with more than 20 individual shows from Oregon to Washington, D.C., to Liverpool.

However, while all these stories were going on, another larger story was developing in Chapman’s life.

She first came into contact with Scottish artist Stewart Bremner through the website BlipFoto.com, a “daily photo journal for everyone,” according to their website.

“It was…an innocent ‘I really admire your work,’” Chapman said.  “We were just really good friends.”

Chapman found the nerve to comment on photos with Bremner, and their similarities began to emerge.

More than a year of friendship and conversations slowly began to evolve into a relationship, and in April 2011 Bremner made the trip from Edinburgh, Scotland to northwest Arkansas to meet Chapman in person for the first time.

During Bremner’s visit, they decided to collaborate on a large canvas painting together. Ten-minute turns would be long enough, they decided, and the other person could observe in the mean time. Watching the other artist destroy each cherished brush stroke as their turns slowly wore on caused them to work on the canvas simultaneously, Bremner said.

“At first I thought, ‘This sucks. Who is this person?’” Chapman said. “And then we went away for a day or two, and then we came back to the work and noticed what we managed to do….We could see something of value in it.”

It was difficult and vulnerable at times, Chapman said. “There are going to be times when I say, ‘Really? That orange is hideous.’ And he’ll say, ‘Really? I think your olive green is horribly depressing.’”

The pair made a few last adjustments to the painting, hung it, and their jaws dropped. The large canvas had Chapman’s characteristic graphite lines and olive green, forming bars across the canvas, but Bremner’s rusty orange splashed across them, yielding somewhat to Chapman’s structure.

“We said, ‘We are victorious!’” Chapman said, her voice rising with childlike excitement and glee while an uncontrollable grin spreads across her face.

They have their differences, Chapman said. “The way he approaches art is very different from the (organic) way I approach art. He can’t even stand it when I use the word organic.” However, she felt that the experience tested them, and brought them closer together as a couple.

Art is a private experience for Chapman.  “I don’t want to bore (anyone) with all the mistakes that are underneath every single one of my paintings. I don’t want to be watched when I making that really bad move, when I (suddenly) grab brown, when brown is ugly.” Painting with someone else leaves the artist vulnerable, and exposes all of your mistakes, she said.

“I Thought I Would Find You Here” became the first of nine pieces they collaborated on during Bremner’s visit. Now it hangs in the back of the vault opening out of Chapman’s gallery, and appropriately framed by her new collection, because the words, in all but six of the new paintings that have no words, were inspired by Chapman’s long distance relationship with Bremner.

“They’re about him, or they’re about us,” Chapman said. “And it was really nerve-racking, because basically we’re in the beginning of this relationship.”

“Normally, I would have shown him works in progress, or sent him snapshots, told him the words,” Chapman said. However, she kept the details of the new collection closely guarded until Bremner returned to Fayetteville the week of the show.

“I felt kind of…uncomfortable,” Bremner said. “Then you here the stories of the patrons and the viewers and how they see it….It becomes less about what we have and more about what everyone else sees in it….That discomfort is gone.…It becomes their story.”

The title of the collection, “Sometimes I Love You and Other Stories” came to Chapman long before the concepts for any of the paintings. “There’s always more to love, and there is always more to relationships, and no one really knows what is going on in people’s lives and relationships,” she said of the other stories. “There’s no one set kind of love.”

The paintings each happened spontaneously. Chapman sat at an old borrowed typewriter, and created the pages she would later embed in her canvases. A few typos add to the raw emotion of the paintings. Words run together where there was no time for spaces.

“If you can find someone you can sometimes love,” Chapman said, “you’re actually doing really good in this world.”

“Being who I am and how I was raised, that emotive stuff, (that’s not) an attractive quality to me,” Chapman said. “I was able to break past the way I was raised….I had written words that other people wanted to write themselves, but they too had told themselves that you’re not supposed to say these things. You’re not supposed to take these risks.”

“It may go horribly wrong, but I’m not gonna regret these 22 paintings. There is nothing wrong with that. It’s a liberating kind of thing,” Chapman said.

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