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Lynita Langley-Ware

Conway native to note 13th year at the Faulkner County Museum

By Carol Rolf/Contributing Writer

This article was published January 5, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.

Lynita Langley-Ware has been the director of the Faulkner County Museum in Conway for the past 13 years. After stopping by for an unexpected job interview, she says the job has become her life.

Lynita Langley-Ware was not really looking for a paid job when she and her husband, Phil Ware, wandered into the Faulkner County Museum in Conway almost 13 years ago.

“I was looking to volunteer one day a week,” she said with a laugh, noting that she and her husband had just moved back to Arkansas from Oklahoma and both were between jobs.

“We had just been to Little Rock, where I had interviewed for a job with the [Arkansas] Geological Survey, and were on our way back to our house in Greenbrier. I was pretty sure I had the job, but we knew there was a museum in Conway and thought we would stop by and get some information about it.

“I met Dr. George Thompson, who was the director then, and he asked me to come into his office to visit,” she said. “He and I had talked on the phone a couple of years before that and he remembered me. He said he was getting ready to retire and wanted to know if I would be interested in a job. I told him I didn’t think so, that I was just interested in volunteering.

“We had no more gotten back home when the phone rang and it was Dr. Thompson,” said Langley-Ware, who holds a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and a master’s degree in anthropology with a focus in arctic archaeology. “He asked me to bring in my [curriculum] vitae and let him show it to the board of directors.”

She said she took her CV to Thompson and a couple of days later, she received another phone call from him asking her to “come down here and visit with some folks.”

“I was working a contract [archaeological] job in Little Rock, but I agreed to stop by the museum on my way home,” she said. “So here I come in my work clothes, mud up to my knees, and was greeted by a room full of people in business suits. ‘You didn’t tell me this would be an interview,’ I said to him. But I sat down and visited with them for about an hour.

“The next day, I received a call from Margaret Grimes [then president of the museum’s board of directors], offering me a position.”

Langley-Ware said she discussed it with her husband and he told her he thought she should take the job, which would soon become that of museum director.

“I did and here I am almost 13 years later,” she said with a smile, adding that she began the job Feb. 5, 2001. “I really like it here. It has become my life.”

Langley-Ware, 45, was born in Conway, the only child of Maurice Langley and Linda Gray Langley of Greenbrier. She grew up on a dairy farm, which she said has been helpful as she has come across a variety of tools in the museum that might have been used on dairy farms. “There were probably 100 dairy farms in Faulkner County back in the 1970s,” she said. Her parents also had a gas station at one time.

A 1987 graduate of Greenbrier High School, Langley-Ware graduated cum laude from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville in 1991 with her bachelor’s degree and from the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, in 1994 with a master’s degree in anthropology. It was while she was writing her master’s thesis in Alberta in the summer of 1993 that she met her husband, who was born in Portland, Ore., but moved to Edmonton with his parents when he was 6 months old and has dual citizenship.

“He was dating a friend at the time,” she said, giggling. “After they split up, he asked me out. Later in the fall, he edited and formatted my thesis for my defense. If he hadn’t, I might still be there, inserting commas.”

Langley-Ware worked toward her doctorate at the Oklahoma University in Norman from the fall of 1997 to the spring of 1999 and completed all of the course work except for the dissertation. During the first year, she worked half time for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and half time for the Oklahoma Historical Society. During the second year, she worked full time for the Oklahoma Historical Society. “That [1999] was when the tornado tore up Moore, Okla., and my husband was between jobs,” said Langley-Ware, who later received a master’s certificate in museum studies from the George Washington University Museum Studies Program in Washington, D.C., in 2006. “It was then that we decided to move to Arkansas and start a family.”

She said she knew when she was 8 that she wanted to be an archaeologist. “A friend’s mom gave me about 10 years’ worth of National Geographic [magazine] and I was hooked,” she said.

Langley-Ware has been part of archaeological digs in Arkansas as well as Utah, Oklahoma and the Aleutian Islands in Alaska.

A dig in Arkansas involved a site near Dardanelle that had roots to the Cherokee Indians.

“There had been three generations that lived there, but none had filed any presumptive claims to the property because they were afraid if the authorities found out it was tied to the Cherokees, they would be forced to move,” Langley-Ware said, noting that the Indian Removal was still fresh in the minds of anyone with Native American roots. “We excavated the old house, a smokehouse and a log storm cellar. I also interviewed one of the older women living there.”

The digs in the Aleutian Islands came during the summers of 1989 and 1990 while she was a student at the University of Arkansas. “One of the professors I had while I was an undergraduate was working on a multi-year project in the Aleutian Islands,” she said. “He asked me, ‘How’d you like to go to Alaska?’

“That was the farthest I had ever been from home,” she said. “We camped out on a spit, which was basically the beach.

“The four-year project involved excavating a house site that was about 120 feet long,” she said. “I was there during the last two years of the project. They had found evidence of the Russian contact period, which dated to about 1840-50. They had found a Russian double-eagle coin.

“The neatest thing I found was a carved amber bead,” she said. “We had found native amber beads, but none that were carved or faceted, until my find. The carving dated it to the Russian contact period. I also found a samovar — a Russian teapot — but it was crushed. But what was neat about that find was that the beach grass under it was perfectly preserved.”

One dig in Utah during the summer of 2000 found her working under an interstate highway in the middle of Salt Lake City.

“They were getting ready for the [winter] Olympics and were widening the interstate when they came across a historical landfill under the highway,” she said. “We would work from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. and they would close down the interstate while we worked.

“We worked for 10 days, excavating the site to make sure there were no human remains buried there. We did find a tooth — a molar — and since I was a project manger, I was the one who called a halt to the excavation until we could get the coroner to examine the tooth to see if it was human or not. Turned out to be a pig’s tooth, and the excavation continued.”

A dig in southeast Oklahoma came during the summers of 1996 and 1997.

“It was in Doaksville, Okla., and was a Choctaw site dating to about 1832,” she said. “It was [a site] during the Indian Removal when the Choctaw were being moved through Arkansas to Fort Towson in southeast Oklahoma, which was about a mile from Doaksville. We found about 170,000 pieces of ceramics.

“I worked in the labs during the fall and winters of those years processing the many thousands of artifacts we had excavated,” she said. “That’s what motivated me to go into a Ph.D. program.”

While Langley-Ware still retains the heart and mindset of an archaeologist, she doesn’t often get to go on digs.

“Gone are the days when I could haul a 50-pound bag of dirt across a site for screening,” she said. “But the archaeology continues to be a large part of who I am. My interest in historical archaeology led me to museum work because in the museum, you get to share ‘the rest of the story.’

“Artifacts, historical documents, photographs and personal stories are combined to create a richer interpretation of the past,” she said. “That’s what I look forward to every day when I come to work.”

Langley-Ware already has some projects lined up for 2014 at the museum, which was established in 1993 with Thompson as its first director and located on the Faulkner County Courthouse Square at 801 Locust St. in a building that was constructed in 1896 and once housed the Faulkner County Jail and the Faulkner County Library.

Among the 2014 projects will be the continuation of the summer program, Monday Morning Make-It at the Museum. “We started that this past summer and it was a big hit,” Langley-Ware said.

“I already have a new exhibit in mind — a one-room schoolhouse. And after 20 years of operation, some of our permanent exhibits will see a makeover, starting with the cotton exhibit.”

The museum director said the museum volunteers, which number about 24 on a consistent basis, have suggested a new activity for Thursdays — Handmade and Homemade. “Volunteers plan to come in each Thursday morning and set up something,” she said. “It may be quilting; it may be spinning; it may be soap-making. It will be a craft activity, and the public will be invited to come and participate or just ask questions.”

The museum will also host a seed swap in March and will sponsor an Arkansas Heritage Month activity on May 31 in conjunction with the state theme, Arkansas Foodways. “Our activity will be called ‘My Granny Used to …’ and will feature demonstrations on ways to preserve food such as pickling, salting and smoking.

“And we’ve already set the date for our annual open house,” she added. “It will be Nov. 1 and should not interfere with hunting season.”

Langley-Ware is a member of the Society of Historical Archaeology, the Registry of Professional Archaeologists, the Arkansas Museums Association, the Faulkner County Historical Society, the Arkansas Living History Association, the Town and Country Garden Club, the Second Thursday Quilters and Arkansas Destination Imagination, which is an educational activity in which her children participate.

Among the permanent displays at the Faulkner County Museum are an old soda fountain from a drug store in Clinton, a general store, a Victorian bedroom, a country doctor’s office from the early 1900s, an early 1940s kitchen, farming exhibits, educational exhibits and a display of Native American artifacts. There are also a sports memorabilia exhibit and one that showcases local entertainers that have had successful careers. Artwork by local artists can be seen upon entering the museum.

Visitors can find a model railroad exhibit on the second floor of the museum and a dogtrot cabin on the museum grounds.

Many of the collections are filed away, such as the Doolin Funeral Home records and the Sam Fausett photo collection. However, visitors may request to view these collections.

The Faulkner County Museum is free and open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Tours of the facility are available by calling (501) 329-5918.

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