J.R. Cook of Nashville, Ark., has been making knives for nearly 30 years. His work includes standard lines with names like “Arkansas Razorback” and “Tuxedo Bowie,” as well as customized works. He received his Masters rating with the American Bladesmith Society in 1991 and has remained dedicated to the craft through the production of large Bowie knives, camp knives and hunting knives. His work has been featured in nearly every knife-related publication in the U.S. as well as many international publications.
Robyn Horn is a native Arkansan whose sculptural works have drawn regional and national recognition. Among her works is her “Millstone” series, inspired by circular grinding stones used in early nineteenth century flour mills. Horn cites nature as her creative muse, “I think in terms of wood and stone, of the things of which nature is made, of the ease with which nature develops and shapes and forms, created throughout centuries of accumulated time.” In 2000, she won the Honorary Lifetime Achievement Award from the Collectors of Wood Art.
Leon Niehues taught himself basket making as a way to support his family’s back-to-the-land lifestyle in rural Northwestern Arkansas. His baskets are made from the young white oak trees that surround his home in the Ozarks. While using traditional splint techniques, he has added innovative ideas, new construction methods, and simple design elements that dramatically change his oak baskets into exciting contemporary pieces. American Craft Magazine wrote of Niehues’s baskets, “These containers deceive theviewer. They seem primitive and modern, functional and decorative, intricate and simple all at once.”
Larry Williams of Eureka Springs, has contributed greatly to a revival of the 18th century trade of wood plane making, a cottage industry lost to mass production of the 19th century. He got his start in architectural woodworking as a restoration carpenter and cabinetmaker and began to experiment with making his own planes when he couldn’t find many usable antique tools. Today Williams and his business partner Don McConnell are among the few who make traditional wooden planes that cabinetmakers from hundreds of years ago would surely recognize. In his career, Williams has created and sold thousands of planes, at least 300 of which are used by tradesmen at Colonial Williamsburg.
Doug Stowe uses all Arkansas wood in his shop in Eureka Springs, where he’s been making custom furniture and a line of decorative boxes for more than 30 years. He originally began his artistic career as a potter years ago, but prefers working with native hard woods for their variety, colors and textures. “Wood is something that connects us deeply with our natural environment but also has a warm, tactile response,” he says of his material of choice. Stowe also teaches woodworking to young students at Clear Spring School, where he created the Wisdom of the Hands Program after noticing a decline in participation in crafts among youth. Stowe has published several books on woodworking and continues to write for a number of woodworking magazines.
Violet Hensley, known as the “Whittling Fiddler,” “Stradivarius of the Ozarks,” or more simply, the “Fiddle Maker,” has always been resourceful. Her mother died when she was 11, forcing her to learn the many skills needed for daily life on her family’s farm in Mt. Ida, Ark., like canning, quilting, soap-making, tanning, blacksmithing and carving tool handles and wagon parts. At age 15 she told her father, who also made fiddles, that she wanted to make her own fiddle. “There’s the tools and there’s the wood. Go at it,” he told her. Since then, Hensley, who lives in Yellville, has made 74 fiddles, many of which she played at Silver Dollar City, where she demonstrated for nearly four decades. Hensley has also appeared on numerous television shows, including “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Captain Kangaroo,” and “Live with Regis and Kathy Lee.”