a craft cooperative from 1962
Updated: May 7
Seven north central Arkansas counties were economically disadvantaged, so Arkansas’ Area Rural Development Agent Leo Rainey worked with Glen Hinkle, chairman of the Stone County Development Council, Lloyd Westbrook, County Extension agent, and Mountain View Mayor and City Council members, including Edwin Luther, on economic improvement ideas. Leo said, “During the summer of ‘61, the Extension Service had little fairs in all the counties with several objectives - to try to find craftsmen, to help the economy and create jobs, and preserving folklore. We discovered, at this time, there wasn’t much crafts being done.”
Edwin Luther (pictured with Martha Crocker, Guild President) was born on Christmas Day, 1922, of parents who were both Stone County natives. He graduated from Mountain View High School. He was an insurance agent from 1952 until 1999. While he served on the City Council about 10 years, starting in ‘52, the Council tried to get industry to come to the area, but without a good water and sewer system, no bonds could be floated to make that happen. Wells dug would dry up repeatedly. Edwin Luther is quoted in the Brooks Blevins, Lyon College Regional Studies Center Oral History online, “We got together with the people that were doing quilts and woodwork and baskets, and all these other crafts, and we had a craft show down on Main Street in one of the buildings here in town, with twenty-five to thirty participants.” After the craft show, participants decided to have another one the next year (1963) and they went to Jimmy Driftwood and asked him if he would put on a music show with it.
Leo Rainey suggested they form some kind of craft organization, since he knew several people doing ‘odd crafts.’ According to Tommy Simmons: “Jim Warren, Eppes Mabry, Les Richardson, Herman Jones, these were some people already involved in crafts. Dorothy Ford was a weaver, Pleasant Grove, Mary Lou Kosmeder at Clinton, a potter, and in our search for craftsmen, we unearthed some craftsmen, and also some of them took training to learn more. They upgraded their skills.” The objective was to improve the reputation of Arkansas crafts to better market handmade items.
Leo is quoted, “In October of 1961 the Extension Service had planned a tour of Gatlinburg. I and several leaders from this area went to visit the Southern Highlands Guild. When we came back we met on a seven-county basis, Izard, Sharp, Fulton, Cleburne, Van Buren, Independence, and Stone, and formed the Ozark Foothills Craft Guild. In September of 1962 the group met at Clinton, in a cabin built by Jim Warren, President of the Guild from ’62-‘64. They planned in the spring of ‘63 in coordination with the ‘dogwood drives’ through the National Forest to have an area fair at the Fairgrounds in Mountain View, Stone County.” (photo of Jim Warren below)
Leo Rainey says, “The Craft Guild built four shops. We had formed a corporation, a cooperative, in November 1962, and this cooperative was the one that borrowed the money to build these shops, and Jim Warren built them. They got a loan for $15,600, and the banks participated like $4800 to build little craft shops at Hardy and Heber Springs, Salem and Clinton, and in later years, all of these were closed.” The first store in Mountain View was the home of Jim Warren, Rocky Bayou. (photo below Gov. Bumpers and Rex Harrelson with Edwin Luther)
The Area Rural Development Agency sponsored training over the years, for example, basketmaking, as well as working with leaders, and helped organize this first festival and the Craft Guild. That first festival was a success, and this gave the basis to try to keep going. The Craft Guild had in 1966 started the Frontier Trail Festival at Heber Springs, which became a very big festival too. Income for the Guild was created by a percentage of sales at the craft shows plus gate entrance fees. Shows were far more profitable than the retail stores. Rainey related, “The first Festivals were very exciting, the Craft Guild out at the county fairgrounds, and Jimmy Driftwood had their music show at the old school gymnasium, drawing a big crowd for folk music which was very big at that time. We then moved down to the old school grounds and put up big tents and had demonstrations out in the area there around those buildings, and those were really good years. “
(pictured McSpadden, Edwin Luther, Leota Hickey, and Ann Gray) Lynn McSpadden said, “On the craft side, I was active in the Ozark Foothills Craft Guild from very early, and the craft people of the time had a lot to do with creating the crowds for Mountain View and providing us a stage for the music and a setting for the music to be in, so I think they all worked together, all those factors, in bringing it about. It was no single person; it was no single group; it was lots of people.” Edwin Luther (pictured with Gov. Bumpers) became a Guild Board member in 1966, was President of the Board 1970-74 and continued in the position of Advisory President of the Board through 1982. His craft was woodworking, but he revealed he did it “just to promote it.” His wife Evelyn was also a Guild member.
John Opitz, Conway, also Area Rural Development Agent who managed this part of Arkansas, was the guy that proposed trying to get money to build something to draw tourists to the area to enjoy crafts and music. Luther says: “So John came up here and went to pushing music and the craft thing, and since it went over pretty good the first time, and it wasn’t long before they hired an architect to draw some plans on a place for the music and the crafts. It was all about the water and sewer, to get industry in here, and finally get grants and a loan from the government, and let contracts and get it started. Tommy Simmons was the mayor. Glen Hinkle at the bank was the county chairman of the economic development group. And of course the county officials - everybody went together on it, an all-out project.” The Stone Co. Development Council included multiple community groups helping each year to make the future Folk Festival a success.
Luther relates: “So we got together a group and sent them to Washington, and they visited with Arkansas’ Congressman Wilbur Mills, who was the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. John Opitz told me, he said, “Wilbur put his hand on the map over Stone County and said, ‘This is a number-one project.’ And he said, ‘See that you get something done.” (Eddie Walker, Tommy Simmons, Junior Lancaster, Leo Rainey, Jimmy Driftwood, Harold Sherman, Buddy Lancaster, Willie Morrison and Jim Warren, plus another 10 unnamed people went.) Simmons revealed: “It was a loan and a grant, I believe 80% grant and 20% loan. It was 3 ¾ % interest secured with revenue bonds.” And it took nearly 10 years from idea to opening the Ozark Folk Center State Park. Tommy Simmons was the second Director at the Folk Center.
Luther says: “When the Center first opened in ‘73, instead of doing like they do now and contracting with individual craftspeople, the Park actually did the crafts through the Craft Guild because we were successful and had experience selling crafts. I was President of the Craft Guild and we set up a sales shop over there, and that’s how we dealt with that half of it. Crafts included making baskets, brooms, quilts, weaving rugs, doing apple faced dolls, woodcarvings, shuck dolls – shuckery, crochet, embroidery, that kind of stuff. “
Just prior to opening of the Folk Center in ‘73, nearly all the broommaking came from a class held at Batesville. Rainey said, “The vo-tech school Ozarka was involved too, in some of this education - Luther Hardin, Lu Hardin’s father, Bill Ford and Jimmy Ford, my father-in-law, Susie Rowe, and others learned how to make brooms.” Jerry Lovenstein, Grassy Creek Brooms, learned in that era and is still making brooms.
Jimmy Driftwood’s Rackensack ran the music and the Guild the crafts. Says Rainey “Mr. Henderson in State Parks, he was under a lot of political pressure because some legislators didn’t want to do this. They thought the State was overextending itself. And so they conceived that the Craft Guild would have the crafts and assume the risk, and the Rackensack would assume the risk, and so really the State would get the gate for future festivals. Luther said, “The Craft Guild had charge of the craft program there for a while, and the craft show was held over there, and of course the Craft Guild didn’t make any money out of it. It got no part of the gate receipts, and that’s what we were surviving on, so we went back to the old school grounds for our craft show in 1974.” The State took over craft sales in 1974. That first year craft demonstrations at the Folk Center were organized by Guild bookkeeper Leota Hickey which helped both the Folk Center and Guild members operate their shops. The Guild’s lease with the Folk Center ended July 1, 1978.
In 1975 the headquarters shop was built at Mountain View, Levisy Flat area. Rainey said, “The Craft Guild had so many people at work from seven counties, a lot of volunteer leaders, the President, plus the Board of the Guild. (Board President from ’64-’70 was J.O. Wooly, Quitman, and ’74-’77, Martha Crocker, Heber Springs.) But we had some real good craftsmen. And then we also had a lot of training, like woodcarving, wood finishing - and we kept going back to Tennessee for more training.”
Edwin Luther passed away, age 95 Sept. 4, 2018. He was a United Methodist Church member. Later in life he enjoyed travel and photography.
https://www.lyon.edu/edwin-luther (and) /leo-rainey (and) /tommy-simmons (and) /lynn-mcspadden
https://www.lyon.edu/a-brief-history-of-the-ozark-folk-center (and) /a-history-of-the-Arkansas-Folk-Festival
“A Partial History of the Ozark Foothills Handicraft Guild and its Relationship to the Ozark Folk Center with a Look Towards the Future,” by Leo Rainey, Governor’s Advisory Committee, Ozark Folk Center, March 1978 (including minutes of the Board of Directors, Ozark Foothills Handicraft Guild)