Catfish and Spaghetti

I’ve always been a fan of strange combinations. I guess it is a part of my personality. Growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, being highly influenced by southern ingenuity and Elvis, it is not uncommon for me to display some of my odd combinations seen in style, design, music, and food. There is nothing like a donut cheeseburger, waffles and chicken, peanut butter, bananas and marshmallow fluff, shrimp and grits, and hot sauce and/or Cool Whip on anything.

Upon a visit to the new Witt Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center I was reminded of how strange combinations can complement each other. The first strange combination found in this nature center is the fact that it is a nature center in the River Market District of Downtown Little Rock, Arkansas. When visiting Little Rock it is easy to get caught up in attractions such as the Clinton Library, Central High National Historic Site, Vino’s Pizza (my personal favorite), and everything else the city has to offer and forget the city is situated on the Arkansas River. I love the fact that, much like many other urban nature centers, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has taken the opportunity to share the message of their work, highlight the natural history of the Natural State, and preserve a small slice of nature in downtown. Nature centers are needed in urban centers.

Once inside the nature center you begin to see the strange combinations continue. In the majority of nature centers that I have visited in the past I can usually predict the typefaces that are expected to be found in exhibit text and in displays. It is a knack that I have that is almost as useful as speaking Huttese. (In the event that I am ever in Tatooine or meet Jabba the Hutt face to face, it will be worth the study.)

I was pleasantly surprised by the interaction of image and type within the nature center. As you enter the center you find a large lobby with massive glass windows overlooking the Arkansas River that is framed with larger than life images of the 6 natural divisions of Arkansas. The images in and of themselves speak volumes but the elegant type applied to images struck me as beautifully strange. A descriptor also used by my wife in referring to me, along with Lyle Lovett.

In a situation where you might expect a designer to try to find a typeface that represents the region, the culture, or something significant that happened in that natural division, an ultra-clean, modern, sans serif appears as a simple clean approach. Well, at least that sounds like something that I would do but here the approach was different. The letterforms almost seem to disappear in the image after being read. The type is used consistently in titles through the nature center. Despite my best efforts no Papyrus was found.

Within that strange combination of a nature center in a downtown metropolitan area there is also the combination of a nature center that focuses specifically on recreational opportunities provided by the fish and wildlife or nature of Arkansas Little Rock. My initial pre-visit question was how can you build a nature center to interpret and highlight the nature or wildlife that you are harvesting? Building it around and highlighting their mission is one way to do it.

The center’s website states that “exhibits highlight the role of fish and wildlife management and many of the projects conducted throughout the history of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission” which is found in various interpretive efforts through the center. The creative approach of interpreting the natural divisions, featured in the entry, through the fish, plants, and topography of each region in a linear aquarium is a novel approach.

The strange combinations continued. Who says fishing lures aren’t beautiful? Prior to this visit, I would have. The collection is amazing and beautiful.

What about combining exhibit text on unusual surfaces? In the trapper’s theater cabin, a thematic approach to a high definition audiovisual presentation, you find interpretation in unusual places and on unusual surfaces. In a Disneyesque approach to waiting, the cabin serves as a staging area prior to entering and exiting the theater. The cabin gives you something to explore while waiting for the show to start or a place to meet up with your group after the presentation. In this cabin it was interesting to see text printed on something besides a panel.

The next time you are in the Little Rock area take a stroll in the River Market District and check out the Central Arkansas Nature Center. After your visit you may have a hankering for fish. I’ll be glad to take you to my favorite place for catfish and spaghetti.

8 thoughts on “Catfish and Spaghetti

  1. Ahaha – when I saw the title of this I thought it would be another Australian post. The first time I visited Europe was on a Kontiki tour with Australian cooks, and I fondly remember a breakfast served under the trees in a campsite outside Berlin that consisted of baked beans and spaghetti. For breakfast, remember. Good times.

    What a great site! I love the text on the beaver pelt. A bit less text and a bit larger font would be good, but the idea is good.

  2. Joan: I love how food can be directly connected to memories. I have several memories much like yours. Catfish and Spaghetti is a eastern Arkansas favorite. You are right, the pelt was a bit text intensive even though it is larger than it looks in the picture. I have to say it is also over-centered despite my love for text in the middle.

  3. Wow … that looks like a great nature center and place to visit. Not quite sure if will make it to my bucket list like snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef though.

    I am wondering if Shea’s reference to “odd combinations seen in style” refer to his pairing of argyle sweater vests and bowties?

    More important is Shea’s pairing of foods … while I would probably pass on the shrimp and grits (though I do love shrimp), or the waffles and chicken, I must say peanut butter and bananas, and cool whip on almost anything would get my votes.

    Shea has forgotten some other fine food finds for future feasting … dark chocolate and anything, potato chips and ice cream (try it, you will love it), peanut butter and waffles, bacon and maple syrup, garlic bread & cucumber sandwiches, honey on corn on the cob and my favorite food combo … the breakfast and then lunch Buffet at the Bellagio.

  4. I ate a seafood patty here in Australia that was made of crocodile and a fish called barramundi. Not nearly as interesting as the combination of kangaroo meat and the inconsolable tears of my 3-year-old daughter who was just told she was eating kangaroo meat.

  5. Shea,
    I’m going to have to pass -though I’d join you for the spaghetti-you can keep the catfish. ;)

    I’m glad you wrote a post about this nature center. Sarah took us there and we got to see it before everything was in place; I went back shortly after the opening and can say this is was a great experience. I’ve sent others there as well.

    Did you notice anything “strange” about the aquarium? Think about it and get back to me.

  6. * is/ was

    Also, Paul I can imagine that it would be quite traumatic to your little one. Afterall in America we’d never dream of eating “Captain Kangaroo”. Hope you are enjoying Australia.

  7. This post is coming back to life after coming face to face with the staff of the nature center who wanted to know what I had to say about their site. Good thing for me that I was kind. Neil is a big guy.

    Hollie, great to see you!

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