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“Episcopal was an environment where you were encouraged to pursue your different ideas. One of the biggest things was being encouraged to question things in a safe environment.”

Alumna Uses Dream Job to Preserve Arkansas History

The Historic Arkansas Museum — the log cabins in Downtown Little Rock — preserve several special artifacts and act as Arkansas’s primary interpreter of the state’s history.

Dedicated to documenting, interpretenting and preserving the work of Arkansas artists and artisans from prehistory to present, Class of 2008 alum Victoria Garrett Chandler is the Arkansas Made researcher at the museum.

“Arkansas Made and exploring Arkansas artwork and artists is really my dream job,” Victoria said. “It’s exciting to promote these unique creations and individuals.”

With a 40-year-old project, Victoria has picked up where others left off, documenting Arkansas artists, including furniture makers, photographers, fine artists, gunsmiths, and silversmiths. As a Little Rock native, Victoria said Episcopal was where she learned how to be a better writer and researcher when finding different ways to track down information.

“Episcopal was an environment where you were encouraged to pursue your different ideas,” Victoria said. “One of the biggest things was being encouraged to question things in a safe environment.”

In her role at the Historic Arkansas Museum, Victoria is currently working to produce the third and fourth volume of the Arkansas Made publications while also curating a corresponding exhibit at the museum. The new books are set to come out this fall.

Victoria balances her Arkansas Made research with her role in overseeing the museum’s Arkansas Foodways Initiative, which seeks to explore the state’s food heritage, culture, and the influences within the food we eat. Victoria and her team recently launched the Arkansas Foodways Dinner Series to highlight regional cuisines and local chefs, all while teaching participants Arkansas history.

“It’s been a really successful program where we explore Foodways and different cultures through a sit down four-course meal with a local chef,” Victoria said. “It’s a really great experience because it’s such a fun way to contextualize history for people, and it’s inspiring for the chefs.”

Victoria provides research, including different recipes found in old newspaper clips or the archives, that gives the history of the foodways to the local chefs participating. From there, it’s up to the chef to interpret, modernize and make a menu of their own, based on Arkansas cuisines and food history. Victoria pointed to the first dinner of the initiative which included Gilbert Aliquinez, executive chef of the Lab food truck, who interpreted the cuisine of the Quapaw Native American tribe.

Most dinners, hosting about 64 people, tend to sell out in under five minutes. Victoria noted the dinner series is working to adapt to restraints on public gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She and her team are planning to host a virtual dinner by the end of the summer and continue the year’s theme, focusing on Delta cuisine.

Adapting to pandemic challenges, the museum has been pushed to explore additional ways to reach an audience virtually and serve those in the community who lack access to the internet or a computer. Victoria noted the museum plans to utilize many of these practices in a world after the pandemic. 

“We think the initiatives we’ve done for online outreach and online programming including just more virtual programming should be [done] anyway,” she said. “We’re working those [strategies] into being the new norm.”

While at Episcopal, Victoria founded the Harry Potter club. One of her fondest memories of high school was spending the night on the Quad for the “Quidditch World Cup.”

Marleen Ware, Upper School Librarian and advisor to the Harry Potter club, remembers the fire pits in the quad during the camp out, and students camping outside in tents — though she said many people never really went to sleep. Mrs/ Ware also recalled Victoria being especially strong artistically, a passion that has clearly followed her from her days at Episcopal.

Mrs. Ware’s husband, Dr. David Ware is a state historian and the director of the Arkansas State Archives. Working in public history, Dr. Ware knows of Victoria’s work at the Historic Arkansas Museum. 

“She combines dedication to her work with both professional expertise and a sense of humor, he said. “She works hard to both uncover the things made in this state over its two hundred years and more of European development and to discover the stories of the men and women who made them. She sees the patterns in the things themselves and in the stories of how they came to be made and made here.”

After graduating from Episcopal, Victoria attended Hendrix College where she majored in Medieval Studies, graduating in 2012. Her interest in history led her back to Little Rock where she completed a masters in Public History at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 2014. 

Victoria interned at Historic Arkansas Museum during the first summer of her masters and fell in love with the work. She then took a full-time position at the museum upon completing her degree.

Through her passion for public history, Victoria remains committed to the Little Rock community, also serving on the Board of Friends of Dreamland, a nonprofit working to preserve Taborian Hall’s Dreamland Ballroom and the legacy of the African American business in Little Rock. Class of 2009 alum Matthew McCoy is the director of Friends of Dreamland and a friend of Victoria’s. 

With all her work to preserve and retell Arkansas history, Victoria sums it up — “I want to make Little Rock a better place.”

Victoria is the daughter of Tori Garrett, an Upper School Math Teacher. Her younger siblings Rachel and Ned also graduated from Episcopal in 2010 and 2013 respectively. Victoria is married to Grant Chandler, a manager at Lost Forty Brewing in Little Rock.