Preserve, protect, and educate about the art and life of John Bell, Jr.
John Bell, Jr. (1937-2013)
A native of Fort Smith, John Bell, Jr. was an artist, designer, and advocate for the physically challenged. Born with cerebral palsy, Bell rose above his physical limitations, and the prejudice he faced because of them, to become one of Fort Smith’s most famous artists.
Born in 1937, Bell displayed artistic creativity at an early age. He earned his degree in art from the University of Arkansas in 1966. Drawing inspiration from the Old Masters, Bell developed a unique, creative style that he used on his favorite subject: the history of Fort Smith. His paintings, drawings, and prints capture all the charm and beauty of our city’s past.
With both himself and his wife, Maxine, confined to a wheelchair, Bell stood as a relentless advocate for wheelchair access for the physically challenged. By developing wheelchair access designs for government buildings, restaurants, parks, and more, and with sheer persistence, he served as a voice for the disabled. Bell passed away at the age of 76 on November 8, 2013.
In 2021, RAM received the gift of all remaining art by John Bell, Jr., given by his daughter, Lisa Bell Wilson. This included more than 50 original works of art, Bell’s studio items, personal items, photographs and correspondence – in all, more than 100 items. RAM has created the John Bell, Jr. Legacy Society in order to protect, preserve, and educate about the art and life of John Bell, Jr.
John Bell, Jr. is a true hero of Fort Smith who refused to allow his physical challenges to prevent him from achieving artistic success. He brought personal inspiration, positive social change, and civic pride to our community.
Classic Bottling Works
Light Snow on Mud Street
About the John Bell, Jr. Legacy Project
To celebrate this gift of art to our museum and to honor one of Fort Smith’s most famous artists, the John Bell, Jr. Legacy Project was created at RAM. The purpose of this project is simple; to preserve, protect and educate about the art and life of John Bell, Jr.
The impact of this project represents the preservation of local history for all to enjoy. RAM will now be the forever “home” of John Bell, Jr., meaning all of his previously unseen work will now have the opportunity to be studied and enjoyed at the museum and online. The Legacy Project allows all to engage, share, and interpret Bell’s art and its impact. We will begin and maintain a recorded oral history project to preserve stories about the artist with those who are still alive to help us remember for the future.
RAM opened the “John Bell, Jr. – Coming Home” exhibition on October 29, 2021 and it ran through February 20, 2022. Member receptions, gallery tours, and learning opportunities introduced the new gift to many new and long-time John Bell, Jr. fans.