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story.lead_photo.caption A mural at Shiloh Museum of Ozark History depicts a life-size mastodon and a silhouetted American Indian hunter from prehistoric times. Photo by Marcia Schnedler, special to the Democrat-Gazette

SPRINGDALE — Forty years ago, Ed Stilley had a revelation. The religious devotion of this farmer from Carroll County led him to start making homespun stringed instruments, even though he had no musical or carpentry expertise.

Turning 89 this year, Stilley is the subject of a special exhibition at downtown Springdale's Shiloh Museum of Ozark History. The museum, a lively repository of objects and information, delves into the past of a half-dozen Northwest Arkansas counties.

Artifacts here are engagingly eclectic. On display in the lobby is a recently acquired item that may stretch some observers' notion of the terms "historic" or "antique."

Manufactured in 1976, the object is an Amana Radarange, an early microwave oven. An information panel notes that the first microwaves, marketed in 1967, were operated via dial settings. The push-button model on display, donated by a Fayetteville family, was one of the earliest digital microwaves — back then an amazing novelty, now a commonplace appliance.

As for Ed Stilley, he is portrayed as a paragon of Ozarks folklore. In 1979, "according to Stilley, he received a directive from God to build musical instruments and give them away to children. For the next 25 years, without any musical training, he made more than 200 instruments. Each was built with odds and ends from around his home near Hogscald Hollow, which he shared with his wife and five children. He only stopped in 2004 when his hands could no longer do the work required to construct an instrument."

Ed Stilley’s handmade guitars are on exhibit this year at Shiloh Museum of Ozark History in Springdale. Photo by Marcia Schnedler, special to the Democrat-Gazette
Ed Stilley’s handmade guitars are on exhibit this year at Shiloh Museum of Ozark History in Springdale. Photo by Marcia Schnedler, special to the Democrat-Gazette

On display are more than 20 of Stilley's instruments, all on loan from private collectors. Included is a rough-hewn banjo that was his first completed effort. Most of his instruments are carved with religious messages, along the lines of: "True Faith, True Light. Have Faith in God."

Shiloh Museum exhibits go as far back as the arrival of American Indians nearly 15,000 years ago. A mural depicts a life-size prehistoric mastodon towering over a silhouetted spear-wielding hunter. Visitors are informed that when the first European settlers showed up in the 1820s, there were still herds of bison roaming the prairies of Washington and Benton counties.

Several hands-on displays provide fun as well as knowledge. Visitors are invited to "build your own log cabin" in miniature scale. A telegraph set complete with dot-and-dash codes for each letter of the alphabet asks: "How fast can you send a message in Morse code?" Five old-fashioned locks offer this challenge: "Hurry! The conductor's on his way and he needs you to open all the locks. Can you match the keys to the locks?"

On the grounds of the museum, six structures dating between the 1850s and 1930s offer more views of Northwest Arkansas' past. One of the half-dozen, Searcy House, was built at its present site in the 1870s by a Baptist minister. It is furnished to reflect the decade just after World War II.

The remaining buildings were moved here from other locations. They include a barn, a general store, a doctor's office, an outhouse and a log cabin. Erected before the Civil War in Washington County, the cabin later was incorporated into a larger house, which is why every wall has a door. The two-seat outhouse, also from Washington County, has air holes shaped like both a crescent moon (for women) and a sunburst (for men). More so than the Amana microwave, the outdoor toilet is a full-fledged antique.

Shiloh Museum of Ozark History, 118 W. Johnson Ave., Springdale, is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Admission is free, with donations welcome. Visit shilohmuseum.org or call (479) 750-8165.

Style on 06/11/2019

Print Headline: Shiloh Museum eclectic experience

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