The Momentary’s Historians
The Momentary may just be one month old, but the history of its site is long and fruitful. We are fortunate enough to know this thanks to a dedicated team of honors students at the University of Arkansas.
Honors College and J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences students Sydney Nichols, Emily Snyder, and Darci Walton spent 10+ months developing a comprehensive timeline that tells the story of the site in which the Momentary now resides. What started out as a class project evolved into a fascinating story of heritage–and a live cooking performative art show.
The timeline project began as a class assignment. In the Museum Honors Forum (offered through the Honors College), students visit Crystal Bridges once a week and connect with members of each department to learn how a museum is run. Through this exchange, the class was able to meet Lieven Bertels, director of the Momentary, which was still months away from opening at the time.
“Lieven approached the class and asked if anyone would be interested in conducting research about the history of the site,” said Snyder. She and Nichols, who were both in the class, volunteered, and spearheaded the project with the help of classmates Madison Whipple, Haley Lawrence, and Jackson Williams under the guidance of advisor Louise Hancox.
From there, each student selected a time period and set out to do their research. Snyder focused on the industrial history of the site, particularly during the twentieth century when Kraft built a cheese factory on the grounds in 1947. For that information, she found herself at the Benton County Historical Society in Bentonville. Snyder discovered that Kraft had an archivist who kept documents and photos throughout the plant’s existence. Those documents ended up in boxes at the Historical Society, and it soon became Snyder’s after-school job to piece the plant’s history together.
“Things were just stuffed into boxes–pictures of Christmas parties, all kinds of things, but I had no idea who these folks were,” said Snyder. “Leah Whitehead (who runs the Historical Society) was wonderful. She let me come in, set me up in a back room, and that basically became my job. I would go there every day for four to five hours and try to piece everything together.”
According to Snyder’s research, the Kraft plant evolved throughout the years of production, and individual dairy farmers from around Northwest Arkansas provided the milk to the plant that was then used to make cheese. The plant closed in 2013.
Nichols focused on nineteenth-century history, a time when Benton County was becoming known for their agricultural success with produce such as apples and strawberries. Nichols poured through real estate tax booklets and other documents in Rogers archives and found that the site had several landowners throughout the years, including a renowned architect named Charles A. Blanck.
According to Nichols’s research, Blanck purchased approximately 40 acres in Benton County in 1889 with the intention of creating a neighborhood community close to Bentonville’s town center. This plot of land included the site where the Momentary is located today. Several newspapers noted that his house was the most modern one in the area. Bentonville’s 1903 Atlas depicted the division of Blanck’s apple orchard on the site—a notable addition that has carried through the site’s history.
Walton, who was studying abroad when the project began, was brought in to help fill information gaps in early history based on her expertise. She read about the Osage and geography from the 1800s and uncovered some interesting history.
According to Walton’s research, an Osage woman named Mo-Hon-Go was part of a group of seven Osage who traveled to France in 1827. The Osage were initially treated well but soon found themselves abandoned in a strange land. Their plight came to the attention of the Marquis de Lafayette who paid for their return to the United States.
“I ran into a similar problem as I do with my medieval history in that it’s written largely from the perspective of white men / victors, so a lot of my research was trying to find the middle ground between what the Osage Nation publications wrote about themselves versus what the white French explorers say of the Osage Nation–they are very different narratives,” said Walton. “My main focus is trying to tell the true story of what happened.”
Spoken like a true historian.
Walton also interned at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in 2018. “During my time at Crystal Bridges, the Momentary was still in its early stages,” said Walton. “We knew it was coming but nothing had broken ground yet. It was cool to see it evolve from whispers around the museum to an actual building.”
During the Momentary’s opening weekend on February 22-23, 2020, performer, sound designer, and pastry chef Kristin Worrall created an original, performative, live cooking show called The Recipe: Milk, Cheese, Velveeta, Love, Hope, and Transformation. The show combined the concept of cooking with the history of the Momentary site, focusing on food that had a special connection to the place including milk, cheese, and apples.
Throughout the show, Snyder, Nichols, and Walton each took turns joining Worrall on stage to share their research findings with the audience as part of the show. These history lessons, mixed with Worrall’s zany combination of live cooking, performance art, music (she played the drums at one point), and costuming (a glittery, white pastry chef costume with poofy sleeves and a yellow Swiss cheese dress and hat) made for a truly original, unique show.
“When we were in rehearsal leading up to the show, I put the cheese hat on my Snapchat and people were asking me, ‘What are you doing?’ and I would say, ‘I don’t know, but we’re here and it’s fun,’” said Walton.
“You never know when you agree to something like this how far it can really take you,” said Nichols. She was referring to the unusual evolution of a class project turning into a performance art piece, but the real-world experience and networking gained from projects like this can be invaluable for a career.
“This project helped me realize how much I love archival work,” said Snyder. “At the end of the day, my brain would be exhausted, but looking back on it, I felt so fulfilled.”
“I’m looking forward to going back to the Momentary separate from our work and experiencing it in a new way,” said Walton.
The beauty of the Momentary is that programs, exhibitions, and artists are constantly being introduced in the space, so each visit is a chance to experience it in a new way. While the Momentary looks forward to a new future, we are grateful to have our history documented by this talented group of future historians.
Moments in Time, a visual timeline of the Momentary’s site designed by Leigh Prassel, is currently on display in the Honors College second-floor lounge in Gearhart Hall at the University of Arkansas.
About the Momentary’s Historians
Sydney Nichols is a sophomore Bob and Ruth Shipley Fellow majoring in art history and English with a concentration in creative writing. Originally from Marion, Nichols is interested in the literary and artistic expressions of the American South. She enjoys learning about southern art, folk art, and self-taught artists. After college, she hopes to pursue a graduate degree in contemporary art and museum studies. She writes poetry in her spare time.
Emily Snyder is a sophomore Honors College Fellow majoring in history and minoring in Spanish. Originally from Bentonville, Snyder is involved on campus as a member of the University of Arkansas Museum Student Advisory Council and as an Honors College Ambassador. After college, she hopes to pursue a graduate degree in museum and archival studies, and eventually work to connect underrepresented communities with museum services. She loves looking at archives to figure out a story, and she enjoys being outdoors.
Darci Walton is a senior honors student majoring in history with minors in anthropology and Spanish. Originally from Dallas, Texas, Walton is heavily involved on campus serving as a Student Ambassador and Honors College Ambassador, as well as participating in the Honors Dean Advisory Board and Kappa Delta Sorority. After graduation, she plans on pursuing a doctorate in history with a focus on Iberian and Latin American history. She likes to bake in her spare time.