The Arkansas Living Treasure Film Project naturally combines the missions of two Department of Arkansas Heritage agencies who have joined forces to promote and document some of the state’s finest artisans and craft traditions. Since 2002, the Arkansas Arts Council has recognized Arkansas Living Treasures, Arkansas artisans who excel in the practice of a traditional craft and who have passed the tradition on to the next generation. For the past four decades, Historic Arkansas Museum’s Arkansas Made has systematically documented, collected and preserved the work of Arkansas artisans who lived and worked in the state from the early 19th century to present day. In 2013, the Arkansas Arts Council and Historic Arkansas Museum collaborated to produce a series of short films that celebrate the lives and work of each Arkansas Living Treasure.
Historic Arkansas Museum’s Arkansas Made research team worked with regional filmmakers to produce the short films, including Dave Anderson, Gabe Gentry, Greg Spradlin, Nathan Willis, Kat Wilson and Joe York. Profiled in the films are fiddle-maker Violet Hensley, basketmaker Leon Niehues, chairmaker Dallas Bump, potters Jim Larkin, Winston Taylor and Peter Lippincott, quilter Irma Gail Hatcher, master bladesmith J.R. Cook, woodworkers Doug Stowe and Robyn Horn and wood planemaker Larry Williams. The Historic Arkansas Museum and Arkansas Arts Council have future plans to produce a film about the first recipient of the award, Beatrice Stebbings, a now deceased stained glass artist, as well as Robert Runyan, a log cabin maker who has been named the 2014 Arkansas Living Treasure.
The Arkansas Made Living Treasure Film Series documents the work and lives of recipients of the Arkansas Living Treasure Award. Arkansas Living Treasures excel in their practice of a traditional craft and actively preserve their craft through educating others. Their creative legacy is a reminder of Arkansas’s rich and varied cultural history. The Arkansas Arts Council established the Arkansas Living Treasures award project in 2002, and it is the only statewide program to honor Arkansans in the visual arts field of traditional craft. Historic Arkansas Museum, through its Arkansas Made research project, is delighted to be a partner in the film documentation of some of our state’s finest artists and craftspeople.
“I love to make chairs – especially the lathe work. I don’t know when I’ll quit!”
Dallas Bump, 94, makes chairs at his small woodshop in Bear, Arkansas, using the same techniques that were passed down from his French ancestors more than a century ago. It’s hard for him to remember when exactly he began. “I don’t know how old I was when I began making chairs because I’ve been around chair making all my life,” Bump says. The fourth generation in his family to make chairs, whose frames are made of red oak, and seats are woven with white oak strips, Bump has taught his nephew Leon Sutton and his wife, Donna, to carry on the family business.
“Children like craftsmanship because it allows them to prove something to themselves and to prove something to other people that’s visible and measurable. You’re learning something that takes you beyond yourself.”
Doug Stowe uses all Arkansas wood in his shop in Eureka Springs, where he’s been making custom furniture and a line of decorative boxes for more than 30 years. He originally began his artistic career as a potter years ago, but prefers working with native hard woods for their variety, colors and textures. “Wood is something that connects us deeply with our natural environment but also has a warm, tactile response,” he says of his material of choice. Stowe also teaches woodworking to young students at Clear Spring School, where he created the Wisdom of the Hands Program after noticing a decline in participation in crafts among youth. Stowe has published several books on woodworking and continues to write for a number of woodworking magazines.
Eleanor Lux creates functional fiber art and bead work
Eleanor Lux creates functional fiber art and bead work from Lux
Weaving Studio, the cornerstone of the arts community in Eureka
Springs. Co-founder of The Eureka Springs School of the Arts (ESSA), Lux
has worked as a weaver since the 1970s, breathing new life into the
vintage spinning wheels and looms that adorn her downtown studio.
Lux creates seamless rugs, custom window shades, tapestries, and other functional fiber art pieces. She also makes sculptural beadwork using mostly seed beads. She has won numerous awards for her work and has published dozens of articles in books and publications.
“I sculpt because I want to discover form. My method yields a product, but I’m often surprised at what comes out.”
Since the age of 19, 79-year-old Hank Kaminsky of Fayetteville
has made a living as a full-time sculptor. He creates abstract
sculptures, portrait busts, plaques and medals, as well as jewelry, belt
buckles and pendants, most of which are inspired by landscapes. He is
probably best-known for his commissioned public art pieces, which are
scattered throughout Arkansas, as well as Texas, California and
The majority of his work focuses on universal themes, such as finding world peace and discovering the secrets of life. He begins most of his sculptures in clay and casts in numerous metals, including zinc, bronze, brass and aluminum. “The most interesting technique I have used is sand casting, one of the most ancient crafts in the world,” Kaminsky said. “I sculpt because I want to discover form. My method yields a product, but I’m often surprised at what comes out.”
“All of my grand-children’s and children’s quilts are here in this house because I can’t part with them yet. They’ll get them when I’m gone.”
Irma Gail Hatcher is a former elementary school teacher turned master quilter. With painstaking precision, she has created numerous award-winning quilts, some of them taking her more than a year to complete, and has published countless books on the craft. In the process of pursuing her passion, she has amassed countless honors, including the status of Master Quilter by the National Quilting Association, making her the only Arkansan to earn this distinction. She has also won multiple “Best of Show” awards. In 2002 she was selected as one of 30 quilters in the world to have three of her quilts in an exhibit held at the Tokyo International Great Quilt Festival titled “30 Distinguished Quilters of the World.”
“I kind of have a liking for daggers, and they’re more of a killing device, but they work real well to get olives out of a jar.”
J.R. Cook of Nashville, Arkansas, has been making knives for nearly 30 years. His work includes standard lines with names like “Arkansas Razorback” and “Tuxedo Bowie,” as well as customized works. He received his Masters rating with the American Bladesmith Society in 1991 and has remained dedicated to the craft through the production of large Bowie knives, camp knives and hunting knives. His work has been featured in nearly every knife-related publication in the U.S. as well as many international publications.
Jerry Fisk, a nationally and internationally recognized bladesmith, received an honorary Arkansas Living Treasure award in 2019. Fisk, who was named a National Living Treasure in 1999, helped start the Arkansas Living Treasure program in 2002 by working with the Department of Arkansas Heritage and the Arkansas Arts Council.
“I liked the smell of the clay, that earthy smell. I liked the feel. I also like the unlimited possibilities with clay.”
Jim Larkin built his pottery studio in 1973 in Hot Springs, Arkansas, with his wife, Barbara, who is also a potter. Larkin makes his work on the potter’s wheel while Barbara builds her creations by hand. Larkin brings an especially scientific background to his craft, having taught high school chemistry, math and physics before becoming a full-time potter. He has built many of his own tools and several wood-fired and gas-fired kilns. Larkin has also devoted much of his time to teaching pottery classes in his community, including a course called “The Science of Pottery,” which he designed for the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Science and Arts in Hot Springs.
“I would like to think that in some way we will have played some role in a renaissance of traditional hand tool woodworking, particularly centered on the use of wooden planes.”
Larry Williams of Eureka Springs, has contributed greatly to a revival of the 18th century trade of wood plane making, a cottage industry lost to mass production of the 19th century. He got his start in architectural woodworking as a restoration carpenter and cabinetmaker and began to experiment with making his own planes when he couldn’t find many usable antique tools. Today Williams and his business partner Don McConnell are among the few who make traditional wooden planes that cabinetmakers from hundreds of years ago would surely recognize. In his career, Williams has created and sold thousands of planes, at least 300 of which are used by tradesmen at Colonial Williamsburg.
“I usually refer to myself as a craft artist. Sometimes I am just a craftsman, but sometimes I’m an artist. I like to think that I can be both.”
Leon Niehues taught himself basket making as a way to support
his family’s back-to-the-land lifestyle in rural Northwestern Arkansas.
His baskets are made from the young white oak trees that surround his
home in the Ozarks. While using traditional splint techniques, he has
added innovative ideas, new construction methods, and simple design
elements that dramatically change his oak baskets into exciting
contemporary pieces. American Craft Magazine wrote of Niehues’s baskets,
“These containers deceive the viewer. They seem primitive and modern,
functional and decorative, intricate and simple all at once.”
“I love working with children,” she said. “I love giving them the freedom to do the things the way they want. Even now, too many teachers are trying to manage the project so that everything turns out right. My specialty was letting them manage the project in a way that it reflected their energy. I’ve learned that students are starved for hands-on projects”
If you ask Louise Halsey when her weaving career began, she'll
tell you it started when she was only five years old. “I was an avid
maker of potholders and God’s Eyes,” she said with a smile. Officially,
her passion for weaving was born in 1971 after attending an introduction
to floor loom weaving workshop. Forty-six years later, she is still
weaving on floor looms and loving every minute of it.
Her decades of artistic accomplishments, along with her dedication to teaching the craft to others, have earned her the distinguished title of 2017 Arkansas Living Treasure.
A multiple award-winning artist, Halsey creates vivid tapestries that are linear and abstract, with an emphasis on bold colors and simple shapes. In addition, she creates rugs that are practical, as well as abstract wool rugs designed for hanging on a wall. She also creates three-dimensional works, including a series of Peruvian-inspired woven dolls on sticks.
Halsey and her husband, Stephen Driver, live deep in the Ozarks near Oark off a scenic county road near the Mulberry River in a house they built. Her husband creates wood-fired pottery and sculptures. Together they own the Little Mulberry Gallery.
As the daughter of two visual artists, Halsey fondly remembers growing up in Charleston, S.C., in a home filled with stunning art. "Both of my parents were painters and sculptors. They ran an art school out of the back of the house and I would help with the classes. Unlike other families, where kids are encouraged to be doctors or lawyers, my siblings and I were supposed to be artists,” she said.
Halsey began her education at Sarah Lawrence College in New York, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy. She studied weaving at Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina and Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Tennessee, as well as the University of Wisconsin and the University of Georgia. In 2007, at the age of 55, she received her Master of Fine Arts degree in interdisciplinary arts from Goddard College in Vermont.
Her work has been featured in 70 exhibitions and is found in collections throughout the United States. "A high point of my career was having four of my tapestries chosen for the 'High Fiber: Women to Watch 2012,' sponsored by the National Museum of Women in the Arts in D.C. Only seven women from around the world were selected to exhibit work in this show.” She was also selected by the Arkansas committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts to display work in the “Arkansas Women to Watch” exhibition, which spotlighted work from five fiber artists in Arkansas.
In recent years, Halsey has created a series of tapestries featuring houses that have cracked facades. “This series conveys my concerns about the effects of both man-made and natural disasters, social issues, economy and environmental changes,” she said. “My intention is to have my houses spark a conversation about environmental threats and the need for sustainable practices.”
Her house series was featured in an exhibition called “Solastalgia: Views of Home,” which also featured paintings of houses by artist Susan Chambers of Little Rock. Since 2011, it has been exhibited in three locations in Arkansas.
Numerous publications have featured Halsey’s work. This summer, her tapestries will be featured in a book called "Artistry in Fiber: Wall Art" and her Peruvian-inspired dolls will be featured in “Artistry in Fiber: Sculpture.”
At the age of eight, when most girls her age are playing with dolls, Lorrie Popow of Hot Springs was creating intricate works of art on eggs.
Her story begins when she was walking to the local drugstore to
buy some lipstick for her mother. She grew up in a Ukrainian
neighborhood in Chicago, now known as Ukrainian Village. She passed a
shop window where a woman was working on egg art. She stopped and stared
and became fascinated with the process. In that moment, she made a
promise that she would become an egg artist.
Almost 55 years later, Popow is an internationally-known egg artist, whose work is found in collections throughout the world, including the Ukrainian National Museum in Chicago and in the White House.
She is mostly known for her work in pysanky egg art, but specializes in all aspects of egg artistry, including carved, filigree, etched, painted and decoupage.
“Evidently my skin is semi-permeable membrane for clay and it went right into my blood and stayed there.”
Peter Lippincott never planned on being a potter. With degrees in zoology and secondary science, he taught school and worked in building construction for several years before he first sat down at the potter’s wheel at age 38. “Evidently my skin is semi-permeable membrane for clay and it went right into my blood and stayed there,” he recalls. As a child, he worked with his hands doing art projects with his mother and working alongside his father, a wood worker and architect. Today, Lippincott makes what he describes as “traditional stoneware…with a contemporary flare” at Mudpuppy Studios, which he built himself, in Fort Smith. He also teaches pottery to youth and adults, at the Fort Smith Art Center and in local schools through the Arkansas Arts Council’s Arts in Education program.
"Nothing makes me happier than building something and working with my hands."
Robert Runyan has been building log structures for more than 40
years, but he doesn't build run-of-the-mill log cabins. Unlike most log
cabin makers, he doesn't use modern machinery to manufacture them. His
“old world” methods of construction involve a team of mules, antique
hand tools, apprentices and a lot of hard work.
Runyan, 65, of Winslow, is a self-taught craftsman, born and raised in Newport. His interest in log cabin construction began when he attended a Boy Scout camp and learned skills in timber tower construction and using hand tools. "I can remember, as a kid, building miniature structures from Lincoln Logs and stones just to entertain myself," he said.
His passion continued to grow as he received hands-on experience working as a draftsman for his father's architectural design business. But he almost chose a different path. Runyan was a pre-med student at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville. “By the time I got through with school, I was so burned out, I ran off to live in the woods. My goal was to be a doctor, but that’s not where my heart was. My heart was with Mother Nature,” he said.
After college, Runyan moved to Winslow and built his first log structure in 1972. His “off the grid” lifestyle reflects his work philosophy. He lives in a remote corner in Washington County surrounded by woods in a two-story, stone and log cabin he built using materials he gathered from his surroundings.
He has no running water, no publicly-supplied electricity, no computer, no television and no telephone. He heats his house and cooks his food using wood stoves and generates electricity through solar panels. “I chose this lifestyle mostly for environmental reasons. I’m just a nature boy at heart,” he explained. “This lifestyle is demanding, but fulfilling. It’s like a job.”
In his construction, Runyan employs techniques that were used 700-800 years ago. He begins by hand selecting and cutting standing dead oak timbers indigenous to the Ozarks. He doesn’t cut down living trees. He hauls and hoists the logs, as well as native stones, using his team of mules, Jasper, Jenny and Junebug.
He processes the logs and stone with hand tools (axes, draw knives, calipers, chisels, etc.) and uses traditional joinery with notching and wood pegs. Typically, he puts a structure together first off-site and then disassembles it, numbers the parts and reassembles the entire building at its final destination.
His accomplishments in log cabin construction and stone masonry – as well as his dedication to teaching the craft to others – earned him the 2014 Arkansas Living Treasure Award
“You have to be open to what the wood presents to you, because it can offer opportunities that you wouldn’t necessarily have thought of yourself. It’s really a collaboration with the material.”
Robyn Horn is a native Arkansan whose sculptural works have drawn regional and national recognition. Among her works is her “Millstone” series, inspired by circular grinding stones used in early nineteenth century flour mills. Horn cites nature as her creative muse, “I think in terms of wood and stone, of the things of which nature is made, of the ease with which nature develops and shapes and forms, created throughout centuries of accumulated time.” In 2000, she won the Honorary Lifetime Achievement Award from the Collectors of Wood Art.
“One day I just took a notion and thought, “I think I’ll make a fiddle.” I made it in February 1932 and took it to school.”
Violet Hensley, known as the “Whittling Fiddler,” “Stradivarius of the Ozarks,” or more simply, the “Fiddle Maker,” has always been resourceful. Her mother died when she was 11, forcing her to learn the many skills needed for daily life on her family’s farm in Mt. Ida, Arkansas, like canning, quilting, soap-making, tanning, blacksmithing and carving tool handles and wagon parts. At age 15 she told her father, who also made fiddles, that she wanted to make her own fiddle. “There’s the tools and there’s the wood. Go at it,” he told her. Since then, Hensley, who lives in Yellville, has made 74 fiddles, many of which she played at Silver Dollar City, where she demonstrated for nearly four decades. Hensley has also appeared on numerous television shows, including “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Captain Kangaroo,” and “Live with Regis and Kathy Lee.”
“That spontaneity and never knowing exactly what the result is going to be—I think that’s true in all kinds of pottery but especially with raku—you just cannot have total control.”
Winston Taylor works from his home ceramics studio in Russellville, Arkansas, and teaches at the Arkansas River Valley Arts Center, where he founded the center’s first pottery program. He discovered his love of working with clay in the early 1970s as a student at the University of Arkansas (Little Rock). “It was as if it touched me and the potential for expression has entranced me ever since.” Taylor, who owned a body shop for nine years, said his work is heavily influenced by his mechanical background. He often combines wheel-thrown forms with hand-built tops influenced by architectural, mechanical and geometric forms. Taylor uses a variety of techniques to create his forms, such as raku, saggar, pit firing and stone polishing.