What is culture if not artisans making their craft for public consumption? If so, the Arkansas Times’ annual Arkansas Made-Arkansas Proud event at War Memorial Stadium finds itself at the very confluence of commerce and culture. Arkansas Made-Arkansas Proud showcases those who create Arkansas goods. Now entering its third year, the event is earning its own place in the cultural fabric.
The date for this year’s festival is May 18 — and if that seems later than usual this year to you, you’re right. The first two fests were held in April, according to Rick Tilley of Arkansas Parks and Tourism, which co-sponsors the event with the Times. However, Tilley explained, “April is wet.” While the inaugural event was by all accounts beautiful, rain last year forced a move into the stadium’s concourse. While War Memorial’s concourse is “a wonderful thing,” and “a great plan B,” he said, “this event was designed to be on the field.” Gates open at 10 a.m.; the event ends at 5 p.m.
The artisans represented at Arkansas Made-Arkansas Proud are wonderfully diverse in geography and medium. From Alpena to Pine Bluff, from Sage to Story and beyond, you’ll find dog treats, quilts, salsa, leather work and more.
“There’s accomplished visual artists, knife makers, some outstanding pottery work, jewelry makers,” Tilley said of the gamut of Arkansas makers represented. And don’t forget the “Proud” part of Arkansas Made-Arkansas Proud: “The community of artists in Arkansas is very social — this is a time for them to get together and see one another, and also to show off and check out each other’s work as well.”
Some Arkansas artisans returning this year, Tilley said, are Berryville’s Oddbowlz Ceramics, Arkadelphia’s Silverwear by Linda, Johnson’s Woodworx Workshop and Batesville’s Inspiration Point.
Some vendors announce their missions in their names, like Rozman Wood Design of Cabot, Twisted Candles of Pine Bluff and Wildt Leather of Benton. Others, like Sawmill Gap Mercantile of Leslie and the Green Corner Store of Little Rock, announce that their names can’t cover all the goods they offer. Still others require further study: Ambyr & Onyx of Fayetteville? Cosmetic and personal care items. Good Acres Life of Huntsville? Vegan/organic balms. LKD Design of Little Rock? Furniture.
“If you live in Arkansas and make things, you are probably here,” Tilley said.
Brewer Mountain Crafter’s Marjorie Carlton is coming down off the mountain with her daughter from, yes, Brewer Mountain in Cleburne County to show off their wood furniture, hand-painted signs and wild-scented sand-filled hot pads and car air fresheners. Into crafting since 1988, this will be Carlton’s first Arkansas Made-Arkansas Proud festival.
Julie Duvall of Conway’s The Cottage At Sunny Gap sold her handmade soaps for the first time at last year’s event, where she befriended a vendor who had a contract with the state Department of Agriculture. Tipped to an opportunity by that friend, Duvall bid on a state contract and won. It dramatically increased her soap sales.
Casey Marshall of Flying Pig Guitars of Little Rock has attended the fest before, but it’s his first time to attend as an Arkansas Made-Arkansas Proud vendor. After buying a cigar box guitar and “falling in love with them,” Marshall got into making cigar box guitars himself in early 2018, and launched his brand — which includes an actual, literal cattle brand of the Flying Pig logo burned onto each guitar neck. “I needed a hobby,” he added — “building is my ‘me time.’ ”
Marshall also makes canjos — one-stringed instruments made out of cans and marketed to kids — and bed-pan guitars that we’re certain are fully cleaned before transformation. As for the unique name of his business, after Marshall had built his first dozen guitars — which, by his own admission, weren’t very good — his wife asked him if he was going to sell them. “When pigs fly,” he answered.
The state has its own unique food and drink heritage as well, with a future that’s being written now. Arkansas consumers have come to appreciate the value in keeping it local, knowing their food sources — and even knowing their farmers.
Returning Arkansas food purveyors to the festival include Malvern’s Gerri’s Jams and Jellies, Mablevale’s Pratt Family Salsa and the blissful-sounding Lake in the Willows Apiary in Scott. But there are equally tantalizing names from elsewhere: Ruthie Mountain Smoked Peppers in Sage; War Eagle Mill in Hindsville; Subiaco Abbey in Logan County.
Izard County’s Ruthie Mountain Smoked Peppers hickory cold smokes its different varieties of peppers. It all started with Randy and Katie Crumby trying to preserve their peppers beyond growing season. Following was years of experimentation both in choosing the proper smoke flavor and the variety of peppers. Originally, they sold their smoked dried peppers whole, but found they had to show folks how to grind them. “Next thing you know, we’re doing the whole process,” Randy said, laughing. There’s no salt — or anything — added to any of the five different types of Ruthie Mountain Smoked Peppers — or any other ingredient beyond the pepper.
“This is our third year; we’ve attended every one,” Randy said. “We get to meet our fellow Arkansas makers and the public. I always say if I can meet the person, and take the cap off the pepper jar, we’re already halfway there. This festival means a lot.”