early career in the extension service included canning demonstrations. Blanche
at left end of table.
had more or less decided to forsake her career for the life of a farm wife.
She heeded the call for some WPA supervisory projects, including one where beef
was canned by the trainload night and day at the Good Canning Co., in Fort Smith
in 1934. She took a job briefly as supervisor of sewing and home canning projects
in 17 counties, but was disgusted by red tape and inequities and simply got
out. On the farm at Mt. Comfort, Lester and Blanche raised poultry, beef and
hogs. At various times they operated their own hatchery, had laying hens and
raised both turkeys and broilers. They went through the era when the poultry
business evolved from grueling routines of manual labor to the more mechanized
and automated techniques of today. In the process they bought and paid for the
Mt. Comfort farm they had leased in the depths of the Depression. Their daughter,
Shirley, was born in 1937.
Lester's birthday, Oct. 25, 1952, the Elliott's accompanied some friends from
Iowa to the old home on War Eagle Mills Farm. The friends had seen a handbill
for a private sale and were interested in buying garden tools and home furnishings.
A picnic lunch was packed, and Blanche was in a state of eager anticipation
to return to the site of the farm women's rest camps which had been such a gratifying
experience for her.
and Lester tried out their fishing rods in the river while Ruth and Blanche
inspected the items for sale in the house. They each bought a few things, and
Blanche inquired of the lady of the house what they were going to do with the
farm. The question was referred to her husband, and from him Blanche learned
the 120 acre farm might be for sale. Not much more happened that day, except
immediately and for days to come, as Blanche Hanks Elliott recalls, "I couldn't
think of anything except that I would like to be here at this place."
homestead at War Eagle Mills Farm from water
color by James Hamil
didn't take the notion seriously at first. "It's not big enough anyhow," he
said, comparing the acreage to the Mt. Comfort farm. But Blanche got him to
return to War Eagle anyway, and then they found out they could obtain an option
on an adjoining 160 acres. Lester became as serious about War Eagle Mills Farm
as Blanche was. They started negotiating in Nov. 1952, and by Feb. 1953, the
deal was made. They had to borrow money for the down payment on the War Eagle
place, and Lester divided his time between the two farms separated by a 30 mile
drive until Blanche and Shirley could move to War Eagle in June, 1953. They
managed to hang on until they could sell the Mt. Comfort place and firm up their
position on their new lands.
of the rest of the story has been told many times. Blanche was a member of the
Northwest Arkansas Hand-weavers Guild, and she volunteered her house, built by Sylvanus Blackburn in 1832, for a workshop in March, 1954. On the last day of
the workshop, the public was invited to view antique weaving and weaving done
by members during the workshop. There was a surprisingly large turnout of people-including
many from Rogers, Springdale and Fayetteville. With that sort of encouragement,
it was almost a natural step to invite other artists and craftsmen, and hold
a full blown fair for the public in the fall. The dates were Oct. 29, 30 and
31, 1954, and the exhibits were set up in Blanche and Lester Elliott's home,
Margaret Richter's home, Frank Strode's cabin and a local store, with visitors
directed to tour the community and its exhibits. Visitors signed a register
at the Elliott home, and a total of 2,253 were enumerated.
Elliott philosophizes now that the location, setting and time were probably
all just right when the War Eagle Fair was started in 1954. Without quarreling
with that statement, one has to add another vital ingredient: Leadership.
When Lester Elliott was terminally ill, he urged his wife to sell all their
cattle and put War Eagle Mills Farm on the real estate market. These things
she did dutifully. But the price of the farm was not low, and while there
were many lookers there were no takers. When Lester died on Feb. 12, 1976.
the future of War Eagle Fair and its related activities were clouded. Blanche's
grief was profound, and for some time she had nothing to say, but just as
when she recovered from her illness on the first day of the first fair, her
comeback was strong and sustained.
1973, The Fair association presented a $10,000 endowment for the Blanche Elliott arts
and crafts scholarship at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.
from the Fairs Silver Jubilee program (1978)
passed away in December 1990. Her daughter, Shirley Sutton
served as the Executive Director of The War Eagle Fair until her death in
March 2008. Shirley's husband,
Fred Sr, passed away in August 2002.
THE MORNING of the first arts and crafts fair at War Eagle, AR, Blanche Elliott
awoke with a sick headache. "I couldn't get my head off the pillow," recalls
the Executive Director of the Ozarks Arts and Crafts Fair Association who is
now readying the 25th annual edition of the "War Eagle Fair" for an anticipated
100,000 visitors on Oct. 20, 21, and 22. The pain and nausea continued throughout
the day. That first year exhibits were set up in the Elliott home. Occasionally
throughout the day, someone would stick their head into Blanche's bedroom and
sympathize with her plight. The sympathy was appreciated, but not particularly
effective. Late in the evening, she managed to get dressed and to make it down
the stairs. A visitor volunteered to give Blanche the first and only chiropractic
treatment of her life. Buoyed by a heartening turnout of visitors to tour arts
and crafts exhibits in homes, cabins and barns of the tiny little community
far off the beaten path in Northwest Arkansas, Blanche staged a complete recovery
and hasn't even come close to missing a day of the annual fair in the ensuing
quarter of a century.
at home on War Eagle Mills Farm
was just nerves," she explains. "I know that's all it was. Perhaps. But ever
since Blanche Elliott has seemed to have nerves of steel, as she guided the
War Eagle Fair to a position of national eminence in the arts and crafts movement,
as well as sparking great development within the Ozarks. .
Elliott's nervousness on that October morning in 1954 may have come from a premonition
of how significant the inaugural of the War Eagle Fair was to be. From her background,
it could be said that Blanche Elliott had been preparing all her life for the
job that was ahead of her.
was born midway between Springdale and Fayetteville at Johnson, or Johnson's
Switch, as the railroad shipping point for products of the Ozark White Lime Co.,
and Crescent Lime Co., was known. Her father was a carpenter, cooper and strawberry
raiser, among other vocations. Blanche and her three sisters and a brother picked
strawberries in the spring and apples in the fall. Her father made barrels for
the apple harvest, and when one of the lime companies sent its products to the
St. Louis World's Fair, Nathan Hanks was chosen to make the barrel for the prize
winning exhibit. Blanche's mother reclaimed the barrel after the fair, and today
it is among Blanche's prized possessions.
parents Mr. and Mrs. V. Hanks of Johnson AR. Blanche
is at left
missed the era of the one-room school. Johnson had a two room, L-shaped school,
with grades one to four in one room and fifth through eighth grades in the other.
And of course, the two rooms could be joined for the socials and entertainments
which were a staple of small Ozarks communities early in the century. Blanche
got an early start in school, but it did not diminish her fervor for learning.
When her older sister Bess started the first grade, four-year-old Blanche tagged
along and cried to stay. On the way home with her mother, they met a school
director who asked what had brought on the tears. When told, he said the school
was not crowded, so why not let her stay for a few days? The child would soon
grow tired of the routine and ask to stay home with her mother. Blanche didn't
miss a day that year.
she never did get tired of school. Blanche finished eight years at Johnson,
then moved into Fayetteville and lived with relatives through high school which
she completed in three years because she had had so much ninth grade work at
Johnson. After high school she enrolled in the University of Arkansas. She met
a young clerk in the Washington County Hardware Co. A native of Minnesota, Lester
Elliott had been forced to drop out of school when his father died with influenza
in 1918. He and his brothers and sisters lived with their mother on a small
her sophomore year at the University, Blanche and Lester were married. She stayed
in school and graduated in 1924. Her first job took her away from Northwest
Arkansas. She taught home economics in Camden, Tennessee. But not for long.
and Lester got work in Polk County, AR. Blanche was in extension work out of
Russellville, and Lester worked in the poultry department at Arkansas Tech.
While at Russellville, Blanche implemented a farm women's rest camp. The idea
was both innovative and responsive to a need. Farm women of that day were hard
pressed by long days and multitudinous chores. The rest camps were designed
to be a break in that virtually continuous routine, with time away from the
farmstead and an emphasis on crafts and recreation. The first camp with which
Blanche was associated was held in the Ozark National Forest at Freeman Springs.
Seeing the spirits and vitality of those harried housewives so visibly lifted
by a break in the routine made an impression on Blanche that she has never forgotten.
was transferred back to Benton County in the fall of 1927. Lester bought a half
interest in a dairy herd on the edge of Bentonville, and Blanche continued extension
work as the Great Depression settled on the land. She continued to promote farm
women's rest camps in the northwest corner of the state. The site was a line
of cabins on the War Eagle River, directly across from the mill pond from where
the present War Eagle Fair is held. The camps continued for a number of years,
but as the Depression deepened the Quorum Court, which financed extension work,
decided to cut back. Blanche transferred to Batesville for a short time, then
came back to Washington County where she and Lester lived in a tenant house,
keeping their cows on his mother's place until they leased a farm at Mt. Comfort.
schedule of events was held in 1976. She stayed right on at War Eagle, with
a determination that recalls her earlier statement that "I couldn't think
of anything except that I would like to be here at this place." That determination
and dedication to a life's work that has meant so much to so many people from
the Ozarks and beyond will be in the spotlight in the 25th annual Ozarks Arts
and Crafts Fair at War Eagle.