Saturday, August 29, 2009

72632 Part 2 It takes a village first draft

Being “laid our pretty” and being a place where “not much is happening” have distinct advantages to some. When artists were looking for a place to feel inspired, and when hippies were looking for interesting, cheap and beautiful places to build meaningful lives, Eureka Springs filled the bill. For some it was just a layover on the way to other things. As noted by long time banker John Cross in response to the rather large influx of hippies, “They come and they go.” But some of us stuck. One of the Eureka Pottery Coop members was leaving when I arrived, and I was able to take over his $40.00 a month basement apartment nearby. It was no luxury suite, consisting of one room and rather primitive bath, but with a kitchen consisting of sink, hot plate and crockpot, it was not only cheap, it was efficient. I could nearly shit, shower, shave and stir the beans all at the same time, leaving plenty of time for work, conversation, exploration and creativity. Throughout Eureka Springs, newly arrived hippies were living in similar arrangements as they got their feet on the ground or as they searched for cheap land to buy and make homesteads.

But we weren’t the first to arrive. The influx of character and culture had started much earlier. As I mentioned in yesterday's post, Eureka was on the Chautauqua circuit. In 1929, our City Auditorium was dedicated with a performance by John Phillip Sousa. Carrie Nation, well known prohibitionist retired to “Hatchet Hall” named for the small hand axe that she had used as a symbol in her battles with demon rum. Painters, dancers, and writers. found quiet retirement in Eureka. Artists Louis and Elsie Freund adopted Eureka Springs as a summer home, purchased Hatchet Hall, it having become derelict in the years after Carrie Nation’s death and used it as headquarters for their Art School of the Ozarks in the late 1940’s.

While Eureka Springs was not on the easy path to or from very many places, (the narrow steep and winding roads from every direction made sure of that) the rise of auto tourism in the 1950’s and the need for surprising destinations became the foundation for a tourist economy. In the 1950’s the Army Corp of Engineers built lakes to the west and east, providing recreational opportunities for tourists and residents alike. The Great Passion Play brought tourists by the busloads from all over the region, and provided the opportunity for locals to make extra bucks acting in the nightly performances. Even kids and unskilled actors could take their places in crowd scenes. The rising tourist economy, brought motels, gift shops, the opportunity to sell local arts and crafts, small restaurants like Mama Slick’s to gather and tell stories, network for the growing or sale of drugs (marijuana preferred).

Some of us arrived with ideas that greater things could come for individuals through organization, and before I arrived in Eureka, the short-lived Brotherhood Coop was formed in an old warehouse downtown. It provided shared studio space for experimentation in the arts, but also served as a clearing house for day labor, hippies being hired to construct or destruct, do gardening and make a few bucks. Next came the Cultural Affairs Committee that held art shows and attempted to bring a greater focus on the arts. After I had been in town for a time, others had noted the lack of an art guild, so I called a meeting, paid personal visits to a few artists scattered around town and asked them to spread the word that we would meet that afternoon at Lake Leatherwood, outside Eureka. About 30 artists and craftsmen showed up, and I was elected the first president due to my being the only one who came with a pencil and paper to pass around and take names and phone numbers. The short-lived Cultural Affairs Committee and the much longer lasting Eureka Springs Guild of Artists and Craftspeople each established connections between artists, young and old, creating a network of encouragement and mutual support. It seemed the older generation of artists had been waiting for the opportunity to pass on what they had learned.

I promised to make a long story short. The whole story is far more interesting than I can tell, deserving to be told in many voices, as it involves the contributions of many in creating what has become a national arts destination, ranked as one of the premier arts communities in America.

My own story, however has to do with a things I have learned from being here in this place. No craftsman is an island unto himself. It takes a village to raise one. If we are able at some point in our lives to create something of meaning and value, it is because we have been lifted to the task through the encouragement, participation and example of others, and for me, personally, I have learned the value of being in a place with others who share a sense of the value of hands-on creativity. There is no culture equivalent to that we create and experience through the constructive engagement of our own hands.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One of the characters who went through Eureka Springs, but didn't stay was a good friend's grandfather. He was on his way from Kentucky to the state of Washington and used his carpentry skills to help build some of ES's homes. Another one of the characters was of course me, and I hope to be back one day soon. The place speaks to me, as it has to so many others.

Mario