The Fiddle of George Washington Brumley

Did you know you can see a George Washington Brumley fiddle at the Heritage House Museum of Montgomery County in Mount Ida? This piece of musical heritage is displayed with some of the tools Brumley used to make his handmade instruments. There are quite a few interesting exhibits at Heritage House which I plan to highlight in an upcoming blog about the museum. In the meantime, I wanted to share a bit about Brumley and his tie to the area.

As to his story, Brumley was born in 1874 in Montgomery County. When he was 14, he wanted to learn to play the fiddle like his brother but, like siblings sometimes do at that ( or any) age, his brother wouldn’t let him play his instrument. So Brumley decided to build his own. He was not only a self taught fiddle maker, he also played a mean fiddle, sans any lessons or instruction, and played regularly in town. In the 1937 photo featured in the exhibit, Brumley is shown playing his fiddle with a smoothed down stick instead of a bow. He made many fiddles over the years, often trading them for survival products to fuel his family and farm. Items he acquired via these means include a shotgun, a farm wagon, a milk cow and corn. He was also a popular craftsman of the area.

Some folks might be familiar with the music of his daughter, Violet Brumley Hensley. She was born in Mount Ida in 1916 and also picked up his affinity for the fiddle-she is now considered a musical legend ( she was designated an Arkansas Living Treasure by the Arkansas Arts Council) and is famous for making ( she always puts a rattlesnake rattle in each one!) and playing her own fiddles.

 According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture, when Violet was 15 she told her father she wanted to make a fiddle of her own. ‘By observing her father’s fiddle-making technique, she cut the pattern and dried the wood by the fireplace. She learned how to split the wood with a hatchet and use hand planes, homemade curved knives of her father’s design, and other hand tools to carve and create her first instrument.’ 

The Heritage House Museum is located at 819 Luzerne Street and their phone number is 870-867-4422. 

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