Arkansas Made [Books]

The Arkansas Made books are a two-volume set researched and written by two leaders of the Arkansas Territorial Restoration (which later became the Historic Arkansas Museum) and published by the University of Arkansas Press in the early 1990s. The books document much of the art and material culture created in Arkansas between 1819 and 1870.

The Arkansas Made books were largely researched and written by curator Swannee Bennett and director William B. Worthen of the Arkansas Territorial Restoration in Little Rock (Pulaski County) in an effort to identify the artisans and artists who plied their trades in Arkansas from the frontier period through 1870. According to the book’s introduction, the pair, “finding a vast hole in the state’s already neglected history, set out to fill it” and locate the “silversmiths, gunsmiths, cabinetmakers, and other skilled artists and artisans [who] were patiently waiting to be discovered.”

Beginning in 1976, the research effort was exhaustive, pursued by museum staff and volunteers who identified craftspeople by studying the censuses conducted in the state up to 1870 as well as newspaper advertisements, letters, probate inventories, tax records, deed books, diaries, and secondary sources such as history books and county historical journals.

As a result, the first volume, published in 1990, featured information on 436 cabinetmakers, 224 gunsmiths, 29 potters, and 183 silversmiths, among others. It features biographical information on the artisans, assessments of the history and techniques of the articles produced, and fully illustrated catalogs of the Arkansas-made materials, many from the museum’s own collections. Volume I was divided into “Furniture Making in Arkansas,” “Arkansas Quilts,” “Arkansas Silver” (which included silver- and gold-smithing as well as clock, jewelry, and watch making), “Arkansas Pottery,” and “Arkansas Firearms.” The volume encompassed 226 pages.

Volume II, published in 1991, was divided into “Arkansas Photography” and “Arkansas Art.” The photography section begins with descriptions of the various techniques used by early photographers in the state and includes the names of 131 photographers and studios, most with biographical information, though some have little more than a name followed by a question mark. The art section contains information on thirty-three artists accompanied by examples of their work where possible. Nationally known artists such as John James Audubon, George Catlin, and Alfred R. Waud are included, as is the work of such Arkansas practitioners as Henry Byrd, who has thirty-one paintings illustrating the book. Several Arkansas works by unknown artists are also included in the 221-page book.

The two-volume set was well received, with one reviewer saying that, with Arkansas Made, “even at this late date in Arkansas history, Bennett and Worthen have managed to till virgin soil.” Another reviewer, though grousing that “inexcusably, there is no index,” wrote that “Arkansas history will never be the same, for this pioneering work will certainly generate additional interest and research that will in turn ‘welcome back’ other artists and artisans long buried in obscure records.”

Worthen retired at the end of 2016, and Bennett became director of the Historic Arkansas Museum shortly afterward. The pair again began collaborating on creating an expanded version of Arkansas Made that will once more be published by the University of Arkansas Press. It will extend the period of study from prehistory into 1950 and will include some 1,100 “professional artists or cottage artists,” including Thomas Hart Benton and Louis and Elsie Freund. State archaeologist Ann Early will offer a chapter on Arkansas’s Native Americans and their material culture, and a new chapter by architect Tommy Jameson and preservationist Joan Gould will explore the state’s vernacular architectural traditions.

For additional information:
Arkansas Made. https://www.historicarkansas.org/Collections-and-Research/arkansas-made-book-series (accessed December 16, 2019).

Bennett, Swannee, and William B. Worthen. Arkansas Made: A Survey of the Decorative, Mechanical, and Fine Arts Produced in Arkansas, 1819–1870. 2 vols. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1990, 1991.

Clancy, Sean. “Material Things.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, November 4, 2018, pp. 1E, 6E.

Jones, H. G. “Book Review.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 50 (Autumn 1991): 297–299.

Razer, Bob. “Arkansas Books and Authors.” Arkansas Libraries 48 (February 1991): 19–20.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System

Last Updated: 12/16/2019