True Faith, True Light: The Devotional Art of Ed Stilley 

Ed Stilley said he began making guitars and other folk instruments after he received a call from God.

At different times, he framed the story somewhat differently, but the core remained the same: God promised to deliver Stilley and his family if, in return, Stilley would make instruments and give them to boys and girls.

Ever faithful, Stilley did exactly that, creating some 200 instruments over 25 years. Stilley was a “preacher man” who farmed and at one point worked at a sawmill to provide for his wife and five children; he had no training as a luthier. Yet, through trial and error, Stilley crafted guitars, banjos, fiddles and other stringed instruments.

Although no two instruments are alike, they all carry Stilley’s distinctive stylings and are immediately recognizable as his handiwork. All but the earliest creations bear the inscription, “True Faith, True Light, Have Faith in God,” etched in Stilley’s own handwriting using his “blessed router.”

The “True Faith, True Light” exhibit at Old State House Museum will include 28 of Stilley’s handcrafted instruments; an opportunity to listen to recordings of some of the instruments being played; several tools, including the Blessed Router; and photos of Stilley at his rural Ozarks homestead, where he created the instruments.

Guest curators of the exhibit are Kelly and Donna Mulhollan, musicians and educators from Fayetteville who perform as the folk duo Still on the Hill. The Mulhollans have known Ed Stilley for nearly twenty years. Kelly is the author of “True Faith, True Light: The Devotional Art of Ed Stilley,” recently published by the University of Arkansas Press.