Ozark Arts and Crafts Fair
aka: War Eagle Fair
The Ozark Arts and Crafts Fair (a.k.a. War Eagle Fair) is an arts and crafts festival held each October. The event takes place on historic War Eagle Mills Farm, seventeen miles east of Rogers (Benton County). The fair, begun in 1954, grew out of an exhibition hosted by a local handweavers guild and into an institution that some have described as the “granddaddy of craft fairs.” Each year, hundreds of exhibitors and thousands of visitors flock to this rural community in the northwest corner of the state. Throughout its history, the fair has served as a major economic stimulus within the state and contributed thousands of dollars to scholarship funds at major universities and colleges throughout Arkansas.
The War Eagle Fair was founded by Blanche and Lester Elliott. The founders believed that the traditional Ozark arts and crafts were dying out and that if artists and craftsmen had a place to exhibit and sell their wares, the traditions would continue to be passed down as they had been. The first fair was held October 29–31, 1954, in the living room of the Elliotts’ home, historic War Eagle Mills Farm, on the western bank of the War Eagle River. The home was built in 1832 by Sylvanus Blackburn, who also built the first War Eagle Mill on the opposite side of the river. The items listed as on display at the fair showed a diverse sampling of traditional Ozark arts and crafts including hand-painted china, leatherwork, woodcarvings, rugs, quilts, pottery, oil paintings, baskets, jewelry, and needlework.
The fair continued to grow over the next few years. In 1957, a non-profit body was formed to govern and run the fair. Documents list the incorporators as Blanche Elliott, Ruth Dilly, H. M. Spruce, and Helen Jackson. The organization became known as the Ozark Arts and Crafts Fair Association.
The fair continued to grow at a fast pace throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s. In 1962, a spring event was added to the association’s calendar. The event began as an antiques show, with traditional crafts added several years later. The last spring fair was held in 2006. Using income generated from the popular fall and spring craft shows, the association founded a teaching seminar in 1970. The seminar allowed individuals from across the United States to attend classes taught by some of the country’s foremost craftsmen and artisans for two weeks each June. The last seminar was held in 2008.
The fair has continued to showcase the traditional arts and crafts native to the Ozark Plateau region. Although other art forms may appear in some shows, the heart of the show maintains the traditional Ozark flavor. It is still considered a “traditional arts and crafts show” as defined by such industry publications as Sunshine Artist magazine, which ranked the fair thirteenth in the 200 best shows of 2008. Two other craft shows—the War Eagle Mill Craft Show and Sharp’s Show—take place on the east side of the river during the same time as the War Eagle Fair. Neither show is associated with the War Eagle Fair.
Throughout the years, the Ozarks Arts and Crafts Fair Association has established several scholarships at area colleges and universities. These include the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County); College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Missouri; University of the Ozarks in Clarksville (Johnson County); and NorthWest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville (Benton County).
For additional information:
Mitchell, Dorothy. “Fifteen Fair Years at War Eagle.” Ozarks Mountaineer, October 1968, pp. 14–15, 21.
War Eagle Fair. http://www.wareaglefair.com. (accessed September 19, 2008).
Last Updated: 12/12/2008