Sunday, May 22, 2016

Culture and Crafts in the Ozarks

Saturday morning, as we were planning our day’s activities, Sharon noticed in one of our guidebooks the Ozark Folk Center State Park and suggested that as an alternative to what we had planned. That sounded interesting and these trips are about (a degree of) spontaniety, so off we went to Mountain View, about a hundred miles to the northeast.

The first decorated barn we've seen in the South. Interestingly it is a quilting pattern

Farmers at work

The park is about what the name implies. It was established in 1973 to promote the folk arts and crafts of the Ozark and today it houses about a dozen crafts shops showcasing woodworking, gunsmithing, basketmaking, doll-making, a traditional print shop and, to my delight, knifemaking. And music, of course. (Sadly, no pens.)

So we bought an admission to include a walk through the village and the evening concert.

This fellow was there to greet us

As you might imagine, one of our first visits was to the knifemaker. The master knifemaker Tom Weir was not there, but his apprentice Lane was, and as I toured the shop and asked about knives it turned out that he was just finishing up his very first folding knife. He was quite sure that he would have it done by day’s end and we arranged to meet after the concert. At day’s end he called me and I went over to his shop to finalize some details (rounding and bluing of the handles). Then disaster struck. As he was doing final assembly, the hand-filed spring broke. The rest of the tale remains to unfold.

I was so excited to get this knife, that I did not take pictures of that shop or the work, but I did take a few others.

This young woman discussing spinning and weaving is the daughter of Martha Laster, the master spinner. We did not get her name but she was a fount of information

The quilter is listed as Lula Hudspeth, but we are not sure if that was she who shared news and views with Sharon. I wanted us to get another quilt either here or at Nellie's earlier, but Sharon says five is enough.

This was the daytime acoustic music performance, the Quebe Sisters who we would see in the evening.
And at the end of the day, the concert was great. Possum Juice, an old time band made up of local teens, opened by playing for some square dancers. The emcee and caller was Dan Smith. Then Mary Parker Friends & Kin came on. Parker is an eleven year old prodigy on the fiddle, vocals and even broke into dance once during the evening. Her nine year old brother Gordon was featured on the mandolin. The headliners were the Quebe Sisters who perform fiddle western swing music in the style of Bob Willis. Their harmonies, both vocal and on fiddle were amazing.

Square dancers, of course

Mary Parker Friends and Family. From left Kailee Spickes, Gordon Parker, Mary Parker and Alanna Brewer

The Quebe Sisters, from left Daniel Parr, Grace Quebe, Sophia Quebe, Simon Stipp, and Hulda Quebe
As we walked through, it became clear that the center has become a community and many of the craftspeople are not only deeply rooted in the culture of the area, but related by blood, marriage and friendship. It was a privilege to meet many of the folks and to have them share their stories and we actually did not have time to visit all the shops. Next year, I’m thinking seriously about a visit to the Arkansas Pen Show followed by a return to the Ozarks.

It was a fine day, tempered only by the disappointment of the broken knife. I did, however, find a knife earlier, in Mountain View and hopefully Lane and I will work out a way for me to get the knife he is still working on. 

Managed to get this new-in-the-box Case Cheetah from 2002 in nearby Mountain View

The drive back, though night time mountain roads, was a bit of a challenge, but worth it.

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