In Arkansas, an honored friend and an artful Toledo connection

  • Don-Bacigalupi-jpg


  • Bacigalupi

    LITTLE ROCK — I went to Arkansas this month to see a friend who was to be honored and to visit a new museum that has a Toledo connection.


    Dr. Omar Atiq, a former student and mentee of mine, was being sworn in as president of the Arkansas Medical Society. It is an honor for a physician to be elected by his peers to such a prestigious position.

    Dr. Atiq is an unusual man. He graduated from Khyber Medical College, my alma mater, in Peshawar, Pakistan, in 1982. We met during my yearly sabbatical to Khyber when he was a student.

    I was impressed by his sharp and restless intellect, and his willingness to rise above conventional — and at times suffocating and restrictive — cultural, religious, and academic constraints.

    He pursued the field of oncology at Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital in New York City and dropped anchor in Arkansas. He soon immersed himself in the civic, cultural, and philanthropic life of the state.

    He and his wife, Mehreen, have been active in the Heifer Foundation — a nonprofit group that raises funds to provide livestock and seeds to impoverished parts of the world, the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas, and other civic and philanthropic organizations.

    Dr. Atiq was appointed by the state’s governor to the Arkansas Tobacco Settlement Commission and to the Task Force on Racial Profiling. He serves on the state’s medical board.

    He always thinks out of the box. In 2004, he surprised his fellow Pakistanis in America and many people in his native country when, as president of the Association of Pakistani Physicians of North America, he invited the presidents of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin and the Bangladesh Medical Association of North America to share the stage with him at the Pakistani group’s annual banquet.

    Most Indians and Pakistanis consider each other enemies, and bad blood remains between Bangladeshis and Pakistanis because of the bloody secession of Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971. “I love Pakistan,” Dr. Atiq said at the time, “but I don’t want to be saddled with age-old animosities.”

    He angered many of his Arab and Pakistani friends eight years ago, when he joined a small group of Pakistani peacemakers who visited Israel and the West Bank. The goal was to learn the parties’ perspectives on the conflict. Dr. Atiq publicly asked Pakistan to recognize the state of Israel.

    So it was a point of pride for me and many of his other friends to travel to Little Rock to see him become the first nonwhite to assume the leadership of the medical society.

    I also visited the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, about a four-hour drive from Little Rock in the northwest corner of Arkansas and in the foothills of the Ozarks.

    The museum opened in 2009. It was the brainchild of Alice Walton, the daughter of Sam Walton, who built the first Walmart in Bentonville in 1951.

    From that store sprang the super-retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Far from being a vanity museum, as some skeptics had feared, Crystal Bridges has established itself as credible and inspiring.

    Designed by the architect Moshe Safdie, the museum features a series of pavilions nestled around two creek-fed ponds in a pristine hilly landscape.

    The hiring of Don Bacigalupi from the Toledo Museum of Art in 2009 lent much credibility to the effort. In his six years as museum director in Toledo, Mr. Bacigalupi oversaw construction of the museum’s world-renowned glass pavilion.

    He brings the same vigor and enthusiasm to Crystal Bridges. Mr. Bacigalupi is president of Crystal Bridges, where another former Toledoan, Rod Bigelow, is executive director.

    The collection is awe-inspiring. Through art, it takes the visitor through 500 years of American history. The collection spans the colonial period to the 19th century to the modern era.

    Artists such as Winslow Homer, Asher Brown Durand, Thomas Eakins, John Singer Sargent, Marsden Hartley, and Norman Rockwell tell the story of America through their paintings and sculptures.

    Crystal Bridges is a destination for those who love unique architecture, America history, and art. It helps make Arkansas a place to stop and visit, not to drive through or fly over.

    Dr. S. Amjad Hussain is a retired Toledo surgeon whose column appears every other week in The Blade.

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