In 1990 and 1991, when Arkansas was sashaying into the Southeastern Conference and the U.S. presidency was but a twinkle in Bill Clinton’s eye, researchers Swannee Bennett and Bill Worthen published a two-volume book set called Arkansas Made — a compendium of the material arts in Arkansas between 1819 and 1870. Bennett was then-curator of the Arkansas Territorial Restoration, the half-block of historic houses that would become the Historic Arkansas Museum in downtown Little Rock; Worthen was its director.

Like the museum campus itself, the Arkansas Made volumes have since been meticulously expanded and revised through the efforts of those to whom Bennett and Worthen passed the torch. Now, three decades later, additions to the Arkansas Made project are documented in two gorgeous tomes of pre-1950 photography, fine art, textiles, quilts, ceramics, silver, weaponry and furniture — all of which, taken together, defy popular caricatures of early Arkansans and invite us to see artisans past as the real people they were. With vivid photography from Rett Peek and devoted attention paid to the makers’ techniques, and to the economic and cultural circumstances that framed their varied work, the books make Arkansas’s material history feel exactly as it should: textured and lively and tangible.

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Flask, circa 1880, stoneware, attributed to Jacob Bachley of Texarkana Pottery.
Cream, cobalt and manganese slip depict these Elizabethan figures. “Her ballooning dress would reveal a bare underside when tipping the flask,” the book’s caption explains, “intended to make the drinker’s company laugh. Additionally, the words hot Spring are inscribed underneath the girl’s dress, either referencing the town Hot Springs or urination.

Historic Arkansas Museum

“Clothed in Shadows,” silver gelatin print, Fernand Fonssagrives (1910-2003).
Native Frenchman and fashion photographer Fernand Fonssagrives, whose work appeared in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, lived the last 30 years of his life in Arkansas.

courtesy of Sean Moorman

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“Surrealist Motif,” etching with drypoint and gouache, Charles I. Okerbloom Jr. (1908-1999).
Painter, cartoonist and printmaker Charles Okerbloom lived in Fayetteville for 46 years, where he taught art at the University of Arkansas. His work explored the sensual and the surreal and often grappled with social issues like mental health.

courtesy of Jennifer Carman

Hunzinger Style Chair, J.G. Miller and Co., Fort Smith (1891-1893).
This drop-arm mahogany chair mimics the style of New York City furniture maker George Hunzinger, and is one of two pieces J.G. Miller and Co. created for display at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

courtesy of the Fort Smith Museum of History

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Gelatin silver print, Gayne Preller Schmidt (1875-1955).
Though commercial photographer Gayne Preller was doing business during the Jim Crow era, nearly half of her studio portraiture portrays African Americans. To avoid discrimination against women proprietors, she did business under her initials, “G.L. Preller.”

courtesy Gayne Preller Schmidt

Woven shoe, rattlesnake master and hickory bark, circa 3000 BC-AD 1000.
Rattlesnake master, a plant native to the Ozarks, was interlaced and formed into a single strip, which was then woven into this slip-on style shoe, tightened to fit the wearer’s foot with a strap of hickory bark.

Rett Peek

“Wampoo-Style” decorative hunting horn, Dec. 25, 1899.
This 11-inch relief-carved horn contains the names of two prominent Little Rock residents, Sheriff William Kavanaugh and physician Dr. Charles K. Mason. Its maker, a man known as the “ex-Confederate soldier,” lived in Wampoo Township between Little Rock and Pine Bluff and was one of only two known makers of this style of horn.

Historic Arkansas Museum, gift of Ms. Emily Hall

Get “Arkansas Made, Vol. I” here and “Arkansas Made: Vol. II” here. 

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