DID A FAIR like the one held each October on War Eagle Mills Farm at War Eagle,
Arkansas, ever get started?" That is a question asked over and over by many
people. If it could be answered by a simple statement, it would be 'with the
craft of hand loom weaving'. That seed was sown over a half century ago and concerns
the first chapter in the War Eagle story of arts and crafts. At that time there
was a small group known as the Benton County Rug Weavers Association, who met
regularly once a month for a mutual sharing of knowledge in the office of the
home demonstration agent. Two of the older members, Mrs. Mary Babb and Mrs.
Tina Howard, had mastered the weaving craft in childhood during the Reconstruction
Period following the Civil War.
H. Elliott, founder and Executive Director of the Ozark Arts and Crafts Fair,
in the late '20s was serving as Benton County home demonstration agent, equivalent
to today's agricultural extension home economist. Mary Babb, then in her eighties,
had a burning desire to instill her knowledge and love of weaving in the hearts
of younger women so that it might be continued. This was done by holding a workshop
on weaving in the spring of 1928. A small group of eight women attended this
school for a week. Mrs. Babb planned the instruction and brought out her old
weaving drafts penciled, scraps of paper, yellow and brown with age. She told
her group that history could be read from a study of the names given old weaving
drafts or patterns. These names spoke of places, events, people and objects;
and ran the whole gamut of human emotions undergone by people in a young nation.
the depression of the 1930's, weaving centers were set up at a few points in
Benton County as W.P.A. Projects under the supervision of Mrs. Lynwood Robbins
Putnam, daughter of Mrs. Tina Howard. By this time the rug weavers group had
ceased to function as such, and the name had changed to a handicraft club. In 1946
Jane and Jan Jensen, a couple seeking a warmer climate for retirement, had moved
to West Fork in Washington County from Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan, and opened
a weaving studio. They furnished the spark for the organization of the Northwest
Arkansas Handweavers Guild. The first duly elected officers were named at the
August meeting in 1949 held at Briar Cliff, the War Eagle cottage of Reverend
and Mrs. Floyd M. Leggett of Rogers, Arkansas. For the next decade this group
made an indelible impact on the art and craft revival which seemed to be sweeping
Handweavers Guild met at WarEagle, Spring 1954
the spring of 1954 the Guild sponsored a short weaving course the study of weaving
techniques and enrolled beginners as well as advanced weavers for a one-week
period. This was held on War Eagle Mills Farm, the home of Lester and Blanche H.
Elliott, who had moved from near Fayetteville to War Eagle in 1953. Flushed
by the success of the first weaving school at War Eagle, which closed with an
exhibition of old and new weaving, another idea was born. War Eagle had the
natural setting and atmosphere for an arts and crafts fair.
Guild chose October, 1954, for the time to present the first
Ozarks Arts and Crafts Fair, when autumn clothes the hills in a show of splendor
which would afford a perfect stage setting for this event. The folders announcing
the Fair were simple, with a short description of the beautiful setting tucked
back in the hills. Directions were included for finding the remote location.
In 1954, all routes leading into War Eagle were natural gravel, tree-lined roads
winding through the hills with simple and unspoiled beauty at every turn. The
few rules for making entries of work in this Fair were included for benefit
of the craftsmen. From the very beginning, emphasis was placed upon quality
and hand production. Commercialism of any kind was barred.
array of handcrafted articles displayed included hand-woven productions, pottery,
wood carvings, character dolls, all types & rugs, baskets, quilts, jewelry,
leathercraft, metal work, needlework and Ozark food specialties. Oil paintings,
watercolors, and hand-painted china revealed little known talent to be found
in the Ozarks. Literature from the pens of our poets and writers, including
that of the late Rosa Marinona, poet laureate of Arkansas for a number of years,
rounded out the showcase of culture, a mere sample showing of the cultural wealth
of the hills.
first Fair Guide from 1954
exhibits at the first Fair were arranged in private homes. Summer cabins, an
old store building and the historic log house on War Eagle Mills Farm. A couple
of years later the Fair concentrated on War Eagle Mills Farm using all available
space in house, cottages and barn. This was necessary because of congested traffic
and parking. For the past twenty-six years, with the coming of October, the
big tents go up on the Elliott farm and the meadows fill with cars, buses and
people from all over the United States.
1957 the Fair had grown to such proportions that it was deemed wise to have
its own organization. Chambers of Commerce of the surrounding towns were asked
to appoint two members each to serve with Lester and Blanche H. Elliott for
promotion of the Fair. The first Board members included J. M. Lokey of War Eagle,
M. E. Oliver, Huntsville, Joe McKim and D. D. Deaver of Springdale, Frank Strode
and Eddie Mackey of Rogers.
Ozarks Arts and Crafts Fair Association was incorporated as a "nonprofit organization".
To most people it is familiarly known as the "War Eagle Fair". Looking back
over a quarter of a century, we recall the names of many distinguished guests
who have visited the Fair at War Eagle. When the Fair began, the late Hon. James
S. Trimble was Congressman from the Third District, which embraces the hill
counties of Northwest Arkansas. He was an approving visitor at the first Fair
and succeeding Fairs as long as he lived. In 1960 we were honored by the presence
of internationally known J. William Fulbright, then Senator from Arkansas, for
the dedication of the Fair Building which was erected on the Farm to house exhibits..
The late Winthrop Rockefeller, as most people know, adopted Arkansas as his
state. In time he was adopted by the citizens of Arkansas and became their Governor.
Fair's showed their popularity, parking was at a premium
and his wife Jeanette, were guests at the 1956 Fair. They delighted the hearts
of craftsmen and artists from whom they made purchases to add to their country
home on Winrock Farm, atop Petit Jean Mountain in down-state Arkansas. Our Governor
from the hills, Orval E. Faubus, who was born and reared near the headwaters
of War Eagle River, came as a guest speaker to a fundraising outdoor chicken
barbecue held in August 1956 to promote the October Fair. On that calm, moonlit
August evening in a freshly mown hay meadow with the new baled hay scattered
about for improvised tables and seats, the soon to be Governor talked to an
assembled crowd. Looking out across the audience from the speaker's platform, the
flatbed of the hay truck, to distant hills and a winding river, he talked of
the simple things that make life good back in the hills, and how that good life
should be cherished and safeguarded. In retirement, Orval Faubus came back to
those beloved hills as a part of the Fair at War Eagle, selling his writings
and published books and serving on the Board.
David Hampton Pryor was a freshman student enrolled in the nearby state University
at Fayetteville. He came to the first Fair. In 1976, Governor (now U.S. Senator)
Pryor returned as an honored guest and delivered an eloquent, dedicatory address
at the placing of a historical marker on War Eagle Mills Farm, marking the Farm
as the founding site of the Ozarks Arts and Crafts Fair and dedicating it to
the memory of Lester Elliott, who passed away on February 12, 1976. The Fair
has come to mean many things to many people and reaffirms the Biblical admonition
that "Man cannot live by bread alone." Aside from the lasting friendships formed
among those associated with the Fair as craftsmen, artists, patrons or officials,
the three-day weekend in October at a place like War Eagle recharges the spirit
to carry on in a world that seems to grow more complicated each year. The "bread"
factor cannot be ignored, for the Fair has grown to be an important source of
added income for many of its artists and craftsmen.
destiny of the Ozarks Arts and Crafts Fair Association is guided by a Board
of men and women who serve without remuneration of any kind except the satisfaction
of seeing a job well done. The Fair, organized as a nonprofit association, is
self-supporting with no grants or subsidies of any kind from any source. It
believes that the qualities of rugged individualism and self-sufficiency which
come with mountain living are pioneer qualities that can be nurtured and reapplied.
1961 Fair with exhibits in the new permanent exhibit building
Fair Association has established two open-end $10,000 scholarships at
the University of Arkansas for deserving students. One, an art scholarship,
the first ever received by the Art Department, and the second one in agriculture
as a memorial to the late Lester Elliott. It also contributes to the Edsel Ford
scholarship in journalism. In 1975 the Fair published "Raspberries Run Deep",
a choice selection of Edsel Ford's many poems. Proceeds from the sales of this
book go to the established scholarship fund in journalism at the University
of Arkansas to serve as a living memorial from his legion of friends associated
with the Ozarks Arts and Crafts Fair. Edsel Ford was a nationally known poet
and had served for many years as publicity agent for the Fair and an exhibitor
as well, selling his books of poetry until his career was cut short by death
in February of 1970.
Fair sponsored the "Back-in-the-Hills" Antique Show and Folk-life Fair on the
Farm each spring in early May until recently. It was announced on February 15,
2007 that the Board of Directors had decided to cancel the upcoming May 2007
show due to a lack of exhibitors with quality handcrafted items. In June the
Fair holds a two-week Seminar with
classes offered in art and craft courses taught by a faculty of instructors
in their respective fields. All this at a modest cost to students, because the
Fair Association subsidizes this educational project. Just visiting the Fair
and seeing the creative work offered by the exhibitors has stirred talent in
many people to try their hand in the art or craft field and become participants.
for entry were formulated in the early years of the Fair, and as situations
changed were altered from time to time. Quality and crafts of the Ozarks were,
and still remain, prime factors.
the Fair grew in popularity and attendance, exhibit space was increased until
further expansion was deemed unwise. The
policy was established a long time ago of inviting exhibitors to return the
next year as long as the quality of offerings was maintained and rules observed.
Since expansion has ceased, this means a limited number of new exhibitors can
be accepted each year.
The Fair has flourished because of the kind of people who carry on the
traditions of the Ozarks hills. It attracts guests who have found the Fair
to be genuine, friendly and un-mercenary, and the setting to be
unpretentious and stimulating in its natural scenic beauty. From a beginning
with about three dozen exhibitors and attendance of 2,259 guests from twenty-one states, the Fair has grown
to include 250 thirteen-foot booths with tens of thousands of guests from across
from an article in the Fairs 1981 yearbook
& Lester at the Fairs 20th year