Trabajo rustico masterpiece in Arkansas was featured in Gone with the Wind

Old Mill Park – Dionicio Rodriguez

c. 1891-1955
4500 Lakeshore Drive
North Little Rock, AR
Trabajo rustico

The Old Mill in the five-acre T. R. Pugh Memorial Park in North Little Rock (Pulaski County) contains the work of noted Mexican sculptor Dionicio Rodriguez, who perfected the folk art style known as faux bois (fake wood) by crafting reinforced concrete to resemble petrified logs. Built in 1932 to look like a mill built in 1832. It appeared for seven seconds in the opening credits of the 1939 classic “Gone With the Wind.”

Dionicio Rodriguez was the recognized master of this Mexican artform. The origin of this movement began in France, but in Mexicans living in Texas it was used to create outdoor furniture and other landscape ornaments that had the look of wood but were better able to withstand the heat. Dionicio’s hyper-realistic techniques were secrets that he never shared. Rodriguez also employed his “trabajo rustico” technique in various other cities like San Antonio, Memphis, and Port Arthur.

Justin Matthews, the developer of the town’s Park Hill and Lakewood subdivisions, hired Rodriguez in 1932 to create a tourist attraction for his new suburban development. Formally named Pugh’s Mill in honor of Matthews’s lifelong friend Thomas R. Pugh, the mill features a two-story stone building, bridges, benches, and other examples of Rodriguez’s art, all designed to look like an abandoned nineteenth-century gristmill.

Addressing the crowd, Matthews praised the sculptor’s mechanical skill, his intimate knowledge of nature, his ability to remember details, and his conception of color. Brough credited Matthews for securing the services of Rodriguez, who, he said, “has perpetuated in concrete entrancingly beautiful pieces of work.”

The two-story, rock mill building is fitted with a five-ton water wheel made by Rodriguez. In the building are remnants of a working mill that has been neglected for years. The floor and stairs have the look of well-worn wood planks, and the hand railings seem to be logs and limbs nailed together.

The former Justin Matthews Company gave the park to the city on May 24, 1976. In 1990, the Old Mill was the site of the unveiling of a postage stamp commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Gone with the Wind’s receiving eight Academy Awards. (No one knows how the Old Mill was chosen for that opening shot.) The mill attracts thousands of visitors a year.

(Excerpted from Arkansas History and Culture Photos © Copyright 2006-2013 Kelly Ludwig, all rights reserved)

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(Photos © copyright 2006-2013 Kelly Ludwig, all rights reserved)

Bibliography & Links:

“Detour Art—Outsider, Folk Art, and Visionary Folk Art Environments Coast to Coast, Art and Photographs from the Collection of Kelly Ludwig” by Kelly Ludwig, Kansas City Star Books, 2007.

“Rare Visions & Roadside Revelations” (the book), by Randy Mason, Michael Murphy and Don Mayberger, Kansas City Star Publishing, 2002.

“Rare Visions and Roadside Revelations Coast to Coast Travel-o-Pedia” by Randy Mason, et. al., Kansas City Star Books, 2009.

On DVD – Rare Visions and Roadside Revelations, “Miles and Miles o’ Mo-Tex-Arkana”, KCPT, Kansas City Public Television, 1996-2001.

“Self-Made Worlds: Visionary Environments” by Roger Manley and Mark Sloan, Aperture, New York, 1997.

Crawford, Sybil F. “Dionicio Rodriguez: The Faux Bois Sculptor.” Pulaski County Historical Review 50 (Spring 2002): 13–24.

Kazas, Tom. “Looks Like Wood.” Americana 16 (September–October 1989): 54–58.

Sandra Taylor Smith

North Little Rock History Commission