I went up to Mountain View this past month to join lady bloggers from all over the state at the second Arkansas Women Bloggers Unplugged conference. This year’s event was held at the Ozark Folk Center, a unique treasure of a state park right here in Arkansas, definitely worthy of a single tank of gas.
The event started with a Foodie Friday retreat, which included a visit to the Folk Center’s Kitchen Garden. Tina Marie Wilcox, who writes Yerb Tales for the park’s website, showed us all sorts of herbs grown right on the property that are utilized at the Skillet Restaurant, the country cooking eatery that’s open every day during the park’s April through November schedule. She shared with us several different sorts of plants, including Malabar spinach, Crowder peas, sunflowers, dill, sweet basil, rosemary and flat parsley.
We were given opportunities to explore the park throughout our conference. On one of our expeditions into the craft area, I met Shawn Hoefner, a broom maker. I went into the shop looking for a gift for my daughter, who was on park with friends of mine. When I mentioned looking for a broom appropriate for a three and a half year old girl, Shawn asked me “Hunter or Sophie?” Turns out the girls had been on hand for a live demonstration earlier in the day and had assisted with his presentation!
Shawn’s shop is full of all sorts of brooms and straw products. Another broom crafter was working on a turkey wing broom at the time. There are thick brooms and thin ones, angled ones and jeweled ones. They come in all sorts of colors — straw dyes easily. In addition to the small broom I acquired for Hunter, I also picked up a stout pot scrubber and a cake tester — which is a bundle of straw you break off one at a time to use to see if your cake is ready. If you insert it in your cake when it’s in the oven and it comes out clean, it’s cooked through.
I ran into the folks taking Hunter around the park, my friends Mike and Caren Walloch, their teenage son Zack and their daughter Sophie, who is Hunter’s age. They were trying a fried pie from the Smokehouse, a working smokehouse located in the craft area. Caren, who is from Washington State, had never tried a fried pie before. If you’re interested in one and can’t make it up there, you can find the recipe here.
After trying out the pie, the family checked out the woodworking shop, which offers all sorts of neat toys. Sophie learned how to make this bear climb two ropes. This is a very early toy that would have been available in the 19th century. There are wooden tops to spin, all sorts of carved knick knacks and more here.
I also checked out the clothing shop across from the Smokehouse. Inside you’ll find a selection of vintage clothing that’s been painstakingly preserved so you can see what folks wore back in the day. These pieces show that in general people were smaller back then — as you can see from the tiny waistlines and tiny shoes! The lovely lady working that day showed me how a single pattern was used to make several dresses for one woman — a work dress, a receiving dress, a town dress and a dress for Sunday best. The clothing shop also shows off other items used to make clothes, including the thread on wooden bobbins, period patterns and sewing implements.
Part of the allure of the Ozark Folk Center is seeing the artists in action. I was on hand to watch a glassworker carefully detail a glass bead at extraordinarily high heat. It was interesting to see how the wire and fire combination and the lady’s skill created fan-like patterns on the tiny bead. The finished product was less than an inch in diameter but extraordinarily complex in appearance.
I also visited the potter’s shop. I love ceramic pieces and have taken my own shot at wheelthrowing a few times. I still think it is marvelous how adept this potter was at making a mug… she managed not only to throw and create a mug from a lump of clay in just a few minutes, she did it while answering questions about her art and the products on the shelves around her.
You’ve probably heard a great deal about performances at the Folk Center. They are amazing — Arkansas musicians continuing the oral and musical traditions of a time gone by. The performances alone are reason enough to venture to Mountain View.
But there are so many other reasons. A good reason to go now is the weather — perfect for browsing the shops and enjoying the Ozark environment. It’s also a good time to get a jump on your Christmas shopping. After all, there are few places better to find unique and one-of-a-kind Arkansas-made crafts!
The Ozark Folk Center’s Dry Creek Cabins are a comfortable and reasonably priced choice for an overnight stay. The hexagonal style duplexes are connected in groups of three, which make them ideal for family gatherings. Each room has two quilt-covered beds and a great view of the woods. They’re both modern with small refrigerators, flat screen TVs and updated bathrooms — and quaint, with wooden furnishings and… did I mention the quilts? There are different quilts in every room!
If you go and you want to grill, there are grills available — but I’d suggest taking at least one meal at The Skillet Restaurant at the park. If you can only have ONE meal, make it Sunday lunch. The fried chicken is one of the seven best places to have fried chicken in Arkansas, in my honest opinion. And if you have room after your turn at the excellent buffet, get yourself a piece of pie or another dessert hand-crafted by Ms. Nina.
For more information, check out the Ozark Folk Center website. And you’ll find more photos on our Facebook fan page.