BATESVILLE — It’s a common question: What did they do for a living?
The folks at the Old Independence Regional Museum in Batesville have created a new exhibit to answer that question.
The exhibit, titled Earning a Living, takes a look at two major industries found in the area from the first half of the 1800s into the first half of the 1900s — cotton and timber. Cotton was the No. 1 industry, followed closely by timber.
A portion of the exhibit also touches on ways to Make Ends Meet, such as fur trapping, pearling and shelling, and making moonshine. Grist and woolen mills were also scattered throughout the region, and those are addressed in the segment The Mill and the Miller.
Curator Twyla Wright enlisted the help of museum intern Amelia Bowman to create the exhibit, which will be showcased today in an opening ceremony at 2 p.m. The public is invited, and there is no admission charge.
Bowman, who has been a volunteer at the museum since October 2011, will be the first of three speakers at today’s event, talking about how she created the exhibit. She is pursuing a master’s degree in history with an emphasis on public history at Arkansas State University at Jonesboro.
“My favorite part of working on the exhibit was learning about the resiliency of the people in this area through good times and bad,” she said. “They always found new ways to earn a living, whether it was sharecropping, trapping or making moonshine.”
Bowman grew up in Bentonville and graduated from Washington State University at Pullman in 2010 with a Bachelor of Science degree in history. She is the daughter of Ray Bowman of Batesville, who will also speak at today’s ceremony.
Ray Bowman is vice president and plant manager of Bowman Handles Inc. in Batesville. Amelia now works in the family business as the warehouse manager and secretary. Her grandmother, Loretta Bowman, is president of the company, which was founded in the 1950s and was incorporated in 1967.
Ray Bowman will be the third speaker on today’s agenda. He will speak about the changes in the timber industry over the past 50 years and how those changes have affected his company. He will describe the process of making a handle from a log to the finished product and will bring props to show the process.
Amelia said Bowman Handles makes handles for striking tools — such as the sledgehammer and ax — and for agriculture tools such as shovels and hoes. The company ships its products all over the United States.
Second on the agenda of today’s program will be Craig Ogilvie of Batesville, a retired travel writer with the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism.
Ogilvie will speak about picking cotton with his family from 1948 until 1953. His family traveled to the Arkansas Delta each September and picked cotton for landowners.
“When I was almost 8, I picked cotton into a 4-foot pick sack, while my dad picked into a 12-foot one,” he said. “It was back-breaking misery. Tender fingers were torn open by razor-sharp barbs on bolls that held the cotton. The four members of our family could make $15 on a good day. We worked six days a week until the picking was over.”
Visitors to the museum will have a chance to “gin” own cotton by removing the seeds from cotton bolls displayed in the Bolls to Bales segment of the new exhibit.
Wright has her own story about ginning cotton: “My father told the story about ginning cotton at home. They had to fill their shoes with cotton seeds before they could go to bed,” she said.
“I would never have been able to go to bed,” she said with a laugh.
Wright said the museum already had many of the artifacts shown in the new exhibit.
“We pulled from the collections and devoted an entire wall to this new exhibit,” Wright said. “Amelia has done a fantastic job with this. She had to learn about making vinyl letters and adhering them to the wall. She also learned a lot about Adobe Photoshop as she pulled photos we already had and made them to fit into the exhibit, and she wrote all the text.”
Two of the more notable artifacts in the exhibit are a whiskey jug from R.W. Earnhart’s Legal Distillery, which operated for more than 40 years near Bethesda, and a woolen shawl from the Arkansas Woolen Mill, which was destroyed by a flood in the 1880s.
Earning a Living is a permanent exhibit. Regular hours at the museum are 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and 1:30-4 p.m. Sundays. Admission is $3 for adults, $2 for seniors and $1 for children. The museum is at 380 S. Ninth St., between Boswell and Vine streets in Batesville.
The Old Independence Museum is a regional museum serving a 12-county area that includes Baxter, Cleburne, Fulton, Independence, Izard, Jackson, Marion, Poinsett, Sharp, Stone, White and Woodruff counties. Parts of the present-day counties comprised the original Independence County in 1820s Arkansas Territory.
For more information about the museum, call (870) 793-2121.