Crafts and Decorative Arts

Entries - Entry Category: Crafts and Decorative Arts

Arkansas Bluebird of Happiness

aka: Bluebird of Happiness
The original Arkansas Bluebird of Happiness was created by Leo Ward at Terra Studios near Durham (Washington County). Since their introduction in 1982, over nine million bluebirds have been sold. Each bird is individually crafted from molten glass by artisans at Terra Studios and is signed and dated. Though Terra Studios creates glass birds in many colors, the bluebird has always been the most popular choice. While living in San Diego, California, in the early 1970s, Leo Ward discovered a passion for glass blowing. Along with his wife, Rita, Ward opened a gift shop and constructed a glass furnace on the premises. When a city inspector discovered this furnace, the shop was closed, and the Wards moved to Arkansas, where …

Arkansas Craft Guild

The Arkansas Craft Guild, a cooperative of Arkansas craft artisans, seeks to promote excellence in both traditional and contemporary handmade crafts. Since its incorporation in 1962, the guild has been widely recognized as one of the most significant forces in the revival and preservation of pioneer crafts practiced by Arkansans. Originally incorporated under the name Ozark Foothills Handicraft Guild, the organization’s initial aim was to provide supplemental income for the people in the north-central Arkansas foothills. In 1960, the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service representative, Leo Rainey, along with officials in Stone County, began exploring ways to bring cottage industry into the area. Soliciting crafters to exhibit at local craft fairs, they found the members for the proposed guild. …

Basketry

Basket making is the process of interlacing short flexible fibers to form a container using a process of coiling, knotting, plaiting, or weaving. Early inhabitants of Arkansas such as the Caddo and Quapaw made and used baskets. Basket making has continued in modern times in Arkansas but for different reasons. At first, baskets were made for agricultural purposes; they later became objects of beauty—a fine craft acknowledged throughout the country and created for contemplation and decoration for museums and homes. Prehistoric baskets have been found in dry bluff shelters in the Ozark Mountains. Because traditional baskets are made of natural materials such as vines, grass, reeds, bark, or split wood, they are fragile and perishable and have not held up …

Black, James

James Black, popularly known as the maker of the bowie knife, was one of the early pioneers of Arkansas and settled in the town of Washington (Hempstead County) in southwest Arkansas. James Black was born on May 1, 1800, in New Jersey; the names of his parents are unknown. His mother died when he was young, and his father remarried. Black did not get along well with his stepmother and ran away from home at the age of eight to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. While in Philadelphia, he was taken in as an apprentice to a silverplater named Stephen Henderson. During that time, Black apparently became strongly skilled in the art of silverplating. In 1818, when he was eighteen years old, his …

Bowie Knife

The bowie knife, made popular in the 1830s, has evolved into a specific form in current use. The bowie knife was worn for defensive purposes; its primary function was for personal combat. It was designed to be part of a gentleman’s attire, and the key difference between the bowie knife and a hunting knife, a dagger, or a dirk was, initially, the quality of finish of the bowie. Bowie knives came in a variety of forms—with or without guards, with differently shaped blades—and often were adorned with silver and other decoration, sometimes including etching and/or engraving on their metal surfaces. The knife got its name from a pioneer family who settled in early Arkansas and Louisiana. Jim Bowie, the best …

Bruhin, Joseph Aloysius

Ceramic artist Joseph Aloysius Bruhin III of Fox (Stone County) was awarded the Arkansas Arts Council Fellowship in 1992 and has been the recipient and winner of numerous “best of show” awards. Nationally, Bruhin figures among two dozen potters who are recognized as specializing in wood-fired pottery. He is the first contemporary potter to work continuously with a wood-fired kiln in Arkansas. Joe Bruhin was born on April 7, 1953, in St. Louis, Missouri, to Virginia Bruhin and Joseph Aloysius Bruhin Jr., an electrician; he was one of four boys. At age fifteen, Bruhin was hitchhiking and backpacking to the western states of Colorado, California, and Washington. He graduated from high school in 1971 and spent some time exploring Florida …

Bump, Dallas

Dallas Bump of Royal (Garland County) was a fourth-generation chair maker who constructed handcrafted furniture for more than seventy-five years. One of his handmade chairs, the “Bump Rocker,” spread his renown around the world. Along with being named an Arkansas Living Treasure by the Arkansas Arts Council in 2013, he saw his work featured in Southern Living magazine, spotlighted on television’s Good Morning America, and lauded by the Smithsonian Institution. One of his rockers found a home in the White House during the Bill Clinton administration. A Bump rocker is unique, as each step, from the fallen tree onward, was controlled by Dallas Bump and his family. The chairs are made one at a time and assembled with the family’s …

Camark Pottery

Founded in 1926, Camden Art Tile and Pottery Company was the third and last producer of art pottery in Arkansas. By the end of its first year, its name had changed to Camark to include both the city of Camden (Ouachita County) and the state of Arkansas. Camark Pottery eventually became one of Camden’s best-known industries and was known nationwide. Samuel Jacob “Jack” Carnes, a native of Zanesville, Ohio, and an engineer with knowledge of the pottery business, wished to access the regional pottery market, so he created the company with several Ohio associates, including businessmen and artists. They held a competition among twenty-five cities for its placement. Camden won the appointment in 1926. At this time, Camden was booming. …

Carnes, Jack

aka: Samuel Jacob Carnes
Samuel Jacob (Jack) Carnes was the founder and owner of Camark Pottery, one of Arkansas’s premier art pottery companies. Camark pottery has become highly valuable to collectors and is featured in museums such as the Old Statehouse Museum and the Historic Arkansas Museum in Little Rock (Pulaski County). Jack Carnes was born on March 12, 1896, in Zanesville, Ohio, the son of John O. Carnes, a lawyer. His mother’s name is unknown. He had one sister, Hazel, and one brother, Craig. He grew up in Cambridge, Ohio, and graduated from Cambridge High School in 1915. He received his BS degree from Muskingum College in New Concord, Ohio, on June 4, 1918, and did graduate work in engineering at the Massachusetts …

Denton, Ivan

Ivan Denton, a pioneering Ozark woodcarver specializing in wildlife and Western scenes, was one of the most prominent artists in Arkansas. Ivan Denton was born Marlin Ivan Denton in 1927 in Ferrells, North Carolina, to William Denton and Mary Magdalena Massey Denton. Denton never had any formal artistic training but took up carving in the 1930s because he, like most boys in the Great Depression, often made his own toys. Denton whittled wood, pine bark, soap, soft stone, and, occasionally, bone and ivory. He ran away from home in 1945 and worked as a cowboy during a branding season in Texas and New Mexico. Denton spent a year as a first mate aboard a U.S. Army transport vessel, Leapin’ Lena, …

Dryden Pottery

Dryden Pottery was founded in Kansas by A. James Dryden, who relocated his business to Hot Springs (Garland County) in 1956. Dryden Pottery has become collectible and has been listed in Schroeder’s Antique Guide for many years. Dryden, the son of a successful hardware merchant in Ellsworth, Kansas, grew up working in his father’s store. After serving during World War II in the South Pacific, he returned to Ellsworth and needed a job. He had always had an interest in art with a special aptitude for cartooning, but his attempts at cartooning for publication were not going to support his family. A chance meeting on the streets of Ellsworth with nationally known ceramicist Norman Plumber presented Dryden with an idea …

Eureka Springs Baby

aka: Eureka Baby
aka: Petrified Indian Baby
The 1880 discovery of a fossilized human child in Eureka Springs (Carroll County) was not revealed as a hoax until 1948. The find was exhibited locally and then around the state. Within a year, the carving—known variously as the “Eureka Baby,” the “Petrified Indian Baby,” or as a Hindu idol—had been exhibited in St. Louis, Missouri; Galveston, Texas; and New Orleans, Louisiana. It was also reportedly en route to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC at the time of its disappearance. This hoax was the brainchild of Henry Johnson, a Scottsville (Pope County) merchant who closely modeled his deception on the nationally famous Cardiff Giant. This massive stone man was “discovered” in 1869 in Cardiff, New York, and publicly acknowledged …

Fisher, Rosemary Beryl Snook “Snooky”

Rosemary Beryl Snook Fisher was an artist and pottery instructor for the Arkansas Arts Center for several years. She had an active interest in the preservation of the art forms of the Ozarks but was influenced by many diverse cultures. As a devoted teacher into her last years, she influenced many future artists. She had added local notoriety as the wife of George Fisher, the chief editorial cartoonist for the Arkansas Gazette. Her husband regularly wove her nickname, Snooky, into his cartoons; for many years, a favorite game among readers was to find the hidden nickname. Rosemary Snook was born in early 1927 in Burnham-on-Sea, England, to Harold George Snook and Rose Annie Elliott; she had three younger siblings. On …

Freund, Elsie Mari Bates

Elsie Mari Bates Freund was a studio art jeweler, watercolorist, and textile artist. In 1941, she and her husband, Louis Freund, established an art school in Eureka Springs (Carroll County) and were major players in preserving and making that town a haven for writers and artists. Elsie Bates was born on January 12, 1912, on a 1,500-acre game preserve in Taney County, Missouri, near the small community of Mincy. She had two sisters. Her father, Ralph C. Bates, who was the superintendent of the game preserve, was of Irish and Cherokee descent. Bates was proud of her Cherokee heritage and claimed that Indian lore kept her close to nature. Bates proclaimed she wanted to be an artist at age five. …

Fulbright Industries

Fulbright Industries was a furniture manufacturing business in Fayetteville (Washington County) owned and operated by the local Fulbright family. In the early 1950s, Fulbright Industries produced distinctive modern furniture designed by a native of Fayetteville, the internationally renowned architect Edward Durell Stone. Fulbright Industries was an outgrowth of Phipps Lumber Company, also in Fayetteville and owned by the Fulbright family since 1920. U.S. senator J. William Fulbright, scion of the Fulbright family, served as Phipps’s president. Phipps manufactured farm implements, including wooden plow handles and other tool components. In 1941, the Fulbrights purchased Springfield Wagon Company and subsequently moved the operation to Fayetteville, broadening the family’s manufacturing capabilities. As demand for wagons plummeted following World War II, production dwindled at …

Gibson Baskets

The history of the Gibson family of basket makers—which, as of 2009, has produced split white oak baskets for four generations—parallels the history of basket making in the United States. The split white oak basket is distinctive to the Ozarks and is woven from thin, flexible splints used as ribs and weavers. The Gibson family has continued the tradition of making baskets using handmade tools and natural materials. The characteristics of a Gibson basket are a heavy hand-carved handle, herringbone weave on the flat rectangular basket bottom, and construction without nails. Christopher Columbus “Lum” Gibson (1865–1947) reportedly began making baskets in the 1880s and is said to have had a blind man as a teacher. His workbaskets were sold door …

Hensley, Violet Brumley

Known as the “Whittling Fiddler,” the “Stradivarius of the Ozarks,” or more simply, the “Fiddle Maker,” Violet Brumley Hensley, a fiddle maker and musician most of her life, was designated as the 2004 Arkansas Living Treasure by the Arkansas Arts Council. According to the Arts Council, this designation recognizes Hensley as an outstanding Arkansan who has elevated her work as a fiddle maker to the status of art and who actively preserves and advances the art form. Violet Brumley was born near Mount Ida (Montgomery County) on October 21, 1916, to George Washington Brumley and Nora Springer Brumley. The Brumleys had two other daughters. She followed in her father’s footsteps as a musician, and at the age of fifteen, Brumley …

Hocker, Willie Kavanaugh

Willie Kavanaugh Hocker of Wabbaseka and Pine Bluff, both in Jefferson County, was a schoolteacher, poet, and active member of civic groups such as the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and the Colonial Dames Society. She was also the designer of the Arkansas state flag, one of only two women in the United States who have had state flag designs adopted. Willie Hocker was born on July 21, 1862, in Madison County, Kentucky. She was the youngest child of William K. and Virginia Brown Hocker, who moved their family to Arkansas in 1870, settling in Dudley Lake Township near Wabbaseka. Her father was a farmer/planter who, according to the Goodspeed history, had served with …

Hoelzeman, George Raymond

George Raymond Hoelzeman is a liturgical artist who has gained national acclaim for his creation of church furniture, statues, and relief woodcarvings, particularly those depicting the Stations of the Cross (also known as the Way for the Cross) for Catholic churches throughout the United States. George Hoelzeman was born on April 24, 1963, in Little Rock (Pulaski County), the eldest of four sons born to Aloys Joseph (A. J.) Hoelzeman, who was a carpenter, and Therese Huber Hoelzeman, a nurse and music teacher. He grew up in Morrilton (Conway County) and received his primary and secondary education at Sacred Heart School there. After graduating from high school, Hoelzeman entered St. Joseph Seminary in Covington, Louisiana, graduating in 1985 with a …

Hyten, Charles Dean

Charles Dean “Bullet” Hyten was a master potter and the originator of the famous Niloak Pottery. Although he was not the first pottery maker in Saline County, his patented swirl technique and use of locally sourced clay gave his pottery a unique look. Because Hyten’s pottery-making process was a trade secret, his creations became valuable historic artifacts. Charles Hyten was born in Benton (Saline County) on March 14, 1877, to John F. Hyten and Hattie E. Brown Hyten. His father, a potter by trade, had moved the family to Benton around 1876. There, he opened a pottery business and continued working until his death in 1881 following an illness. Hattie Hyten, widowed with four children, married Frank Woosley, who had …

King, Helen Martin

Helen Martin King was one of Arkansas’s most unique artists, developing the almost-forgotten craft of rug hooking. She became a designer, teacher, and businesswoman, creating thousands of original designs, teaching classes, and creating cottage industries within the state. Helen Martin was born at Powhatan (Lawrence County) on September 20, 1895, the only child of John William Martin, a prosperous landowner and lumberman, and Clara Isabelle Norment Martin. Martin’s family moved to Batesville (Independence County) when she was a young child, and she acquired her elementary and high school education at the preparatory school of Arkansas College (now Lyon College). In 1913, at the age of eighteen, she married a local merchant, Fitzhugh Hail. Within a year of her marriage, both …

Lile, James Buel

James Buel “The Arkansas Knifesmith” Lile is one of the most accomplished and famous custom knife makers in American history. He carved his first fixed-blade knife from wood at the age of eight, and by age eleven, he was grinding old files into fixed-blade knives. James Lile was born on August 22, 1933, in Russellville (Pope County) to Leona and Buel Lile. His father was a coal miner who later worked for Arkla after the mines closed, and his mother was a housewife who also worked twenty years at the Local International Shoe factory. In 1952, at the age of nineteen, Lile met and worked for Winthrop Rockefeller welding bull pens being built at the Mountain Top Ranch on Petit …

Moran, Bill, Jr.

aka: William F. Moran Jr.
William F. Moran Jr. was the father of both the American Bladesmith movement and the modern forging of Damascus steel. Moran rediscovered the ancient process of making Damascus steel (layered steel) and incorporated this steel into his knives. Named in his honor, the unique Bill Moran School of Bladesmithing is located on the grounds of Historic Washington State Park. Moran’s legacy added to the historic fabric of Arkansas’s knife heritage and helped preserve the timeless art of knife making. Knives made by Moran are now some of the most valuable in modern handmade custom knives. Bill Moran was born on May 1, 1925, to Margaret Reid Moran and William Francis Moran Sr., who was successful in the oil business in …

Native American Pottery

Indians in Arkansas began making pottery containers about 2,500 years ago, during the Woodland Period, and they continued this craft until their handmade containers were replaced by industrial counterparts made in metal, glass, and clay in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Broken pieces of Indian pottery, called sherds or potsherds, are among the most common artifacts remaining at abandoned settlements, and they provide a wide range of information today about the cultural traditions of the people who made them. Complete pottery vessels display both sophisticated craftsmanship and the complex aesthetics of their makers. Southeastern Indian pottery-making began in the area of eastern Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida about 4,000 years ago and spread gradually from there to cultures across eastern …

Niehues, Leon Albert

Leon Albert Niehues is a highly regarded basket maker in the United States and internationally. In 2002, he was chosen by his peers as one of the top twenty-eight fiber artists working the “new basket” form in the United States. Leon Niehues (pronounced: “nee house”) was born to Edwin and Rosalita Niehues on July 13, 1951, in Seneca, Kansas, and raised on a farm with six siblings, including a twin. Niehues attended the University of Kansas in Lawrence for two years. Niehues married Sharon Coffey on May 1, 1974, in Lawrence, and the couple spent their honeymoon in Arkansas at a Madison County hunters’ cabin. They liked the state so much that they decided to stay. They bought forty acres …

Niloak Pottery

Niloak is a popular American art pottery that was created in Benton (Saline County) from 1909 until 1946 by the Eagle Pottery Company. Niloak is best known for its unique Mission-swirl design, but the company in later years produced two other lines, Hywood Art Pottery and the Hywood by Niloak. The name “Niloak” is the word “kaolin” spelled backward. Kaolin is a type of fine-grade clay found near Benton and used in production. Niloak was the creation of Benton native Charles Dean “Bullet” Hyten and an Ohio potter named Arthur Dovey. Hyten grew up in the business, taking over his stepfather’s Benton pottery in partnership with his brothers, Paul and Lee, in 1895. The Hyten Brothers Pottery produced jugs, crocks, …

Phillips, Helen Ann Evans

Ceramist, sculptor, and teacher Helen Ann Evans Phillips played a major role in the development of contemporary crafts in Arkansas. Helen Evans was born on April 18, 1938, in Cincinnati, Ohio, to Harold S. Evans, a livestock dealer, and Lorna B. Evans, a homemaker. She grew up in Union City, Tennessee, and as a child spent much of her time around farm animals, drawing and making objects, as well as taking private art lessons. These early experiences influenced her sculpture later in life. She began teaching art in the Memphis City school system in 1959 before receiving her BS in painting and art education at Memphis State University in 1961. She married Joe Phillips, a medical student, science teacher, and …

Pottery

Pottery has been produced in Arkansas from prehistoric times up to the present day. Of note are prehistoric Native American wares from the Woodland Period beginning 2,500 years ago and the prehistoric and historic Caddo pottery tradition that flourished from AD 800 to 1660. Commercial manufacturing and regional ware made by the Ouachita Pottery in Hot Springs (Garland County), the Hyten Pottery (later the Eagle Pottery) in Benton (Saline County), Camden Art and Tile Company in Camden (Ouachita County), and the Dryden Potteries, Inc., in Hot Springs have their roots in the American art pottery movement of the late nineteenth century and the American Craft movement of the early twentieth century. Smaller production studios evolved after the Korean War, and …

Tompkins, Rosie Lee

aka: Effie Mae Martin Howard
Rosie Lee Tompkins was the assumed name of Effie Mae Howard, a widely acclaimed African-American quiltmaker whose prodigious talents catapulted her to the forefront of contemporary art. As New York Times critic Roberta Smith put it, “Tompkins’s textile art [works]…demolish the category.” Effie Mae Martin (Effie Mae Howard was her married name) was born in Arkansas on September 6, 1936, to Sadie Bell and MacCurey Martin. The oldest of fifteen half-siblings, she grew up picking cotton and helping her mother piece quilts in rural Gould (Lincoln County), where poverty forced the family to use every available scrap of cloth. Howard never completed high school. She moved to Richmond, California, in 1958 and took courses in nursing at various local institutions, …