Originally known as the Ozark Native Craft Association, Ozark Folkways—located on Scenic Byway 71 south of Winslow (Washington County)—strives to preserve the past by teaching and exhibiting crafts native to the region. Though its mission has changed somewhat over the years, the basic intent has remained: to teach and share native Ozark skills and provide space in which to market crafts created by members residing in the Ozarks.
In 1969, the Ozark Native Craft Association was formed when President Betty Cooley, Vice President June Roberts, and Secretary-Treasurer Elaine Cochran filed non-profit incorporation papers, establishing the organization as an outlet for a dozen founding members to market their crafts. Founders held classes to teach their crafts, and an outlet was located for members to exhibit their crafts. The Ozark Native Craft Shop opened in 1970 on Highway 71 in Brentwood (Washington County) with some initial funding through the Economic Opportunities Agency in Fayetteville (Washington County). All policy decisions were made by a board of directors elected yearly by the membership. The organization charges a small yearly membership fee.
From the beginning, the shop remained open seven days a week year-round with Irene Donahue as its paid manager and other members volunteering their time. In less than two years, the consignor list and supply of crafts had grown until more space was needed. Father Vanatius Preske—a member of the Glen Mary Club of Cincinnati, Ohio, and Catholic priest at Our Lady of the Ozarks Mission south of Winslow—convinced the Diocese of Little Rock to loan the association $10,000 to buy a two-story rock structure on top of the Boston Mountains in Crawford County adjacent to the Catholic mission, as well as another $10,000 for renovations.
The association moved September 25–27, 1973, into the rock building, which had been built in the 1950s by Clara Muxen. Muxen had donated a portion of the land to the diocese for the building of the Catholic mission and wanted, before her death, to establish a school to teach crafts to those living in the impoverished area, so they could earn a living. The craft association thus fulfilled her wishes after her death, affording local craftsmen the opportunity to earn an income from their crafts. After moving to the larger quarters, the association began holding semiannual arts and crafts fairs on the grounds to showcase Ozark craftspeople. The fairs, as well as exhibits in the shop by more than 300 consignors, attracted thousands of visitors to the area.
By the late 1980s, employment opportunities in the area had increased, and as the region developed, crafting declined because there was no longer an economic need for the industry. Attendance at the fairs dropped off, and in 1997, they were discontinued. An interstate bypassed the area in 1999, and Highway 71 no longer carried much traffic. The board realized that if they were to remain in business, their mission must change direction to focus on education in the traditional regional crafts, arts, and heritage. In 1994, application was made to upgrade from a 501(c)(4) status (social welfare group) to a 501(c)(3) (charitable organization), and a new name, Ozark Folkways, was chosen. A jury system was created to ensure only the highest-quality crafts were accepted for exhibit in the sales outlet.
Ozark Folkways sought volunteers to run the shop and weekly workshops, as well to serve as class instructors. By 2004, the retail area had been reduced by half, a free museum and resource library had been set up, and the IRS requirements for 501(c)(3) status were met.
One of the most famous consignors is the Gibson family of basket makers, who are known for their white oak baskets. Other artists have included Leo and Rita Ward, whose Terra Studios near Elkins (Washington County) produces the Bluebirds of Happiness, among other pottery and glassware items; Liz Williams, whose needlework has been featured in national magazines; award-winning carvers Ivan Denton and his daughter Janet Denton Cordell; the late Charlesworth sisters, nationally known for their apple dolls; the late Martin Bradley, master craftsman; the late Nathan Rambo, woodworker; Kathleen Bearden, who produces original jewelry; and potters Cheryl Buell, Don and Mary Curtis, and Rae Dunn.
For additional information:
Brotherton, Velda. “Preserving Skills of the Mountains.” Ozarks Mountaineer, October 1989, pp. 46–47.
Ozark Folkways. https://www.ozarkfolkways.org/ (accessed January 26, 2023).
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