“True Faith, True Light” Delights Audiences Young and Old at Old State House Museum

Old State House Museum - Thursday, October 12, 2017

Photo by Flip Putthoff Since its opening in November 2016, "True Faith, True Light: The Devotional Art of Ed Stilley" has remained one of the most popular exhibits at the Old State House Museum.

The installation tells the story of Ed Stilley, a “preacher man” from the rural Arkansas Ozarks, who – with no formal training – spent some 25 years making guitars and other folk instruments and giving them to children.

Stilley said he began making the 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 more than two decades. Stilley was a lay preacher 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.

       X-Ray image courtesy of Mocek Spine Clinic

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 includes 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.

"True Faith, True Light" will be on display at the Old State House Museum through March 2018.