Friday, August 28, 2009

72632 part one, a quick draft

Making a very long story short. During the 1930's, 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s Eureka Springs was a quiet town in the Arkansas Ozark Mountains. It was founded in 1879 based on the discovery of healing springs that were presumed to offer cures to a number of specific diseases. It grew rapidly to a population of 10,000 as boarding houses, camps and encampments, small homes and Victorian cottages were built on the narrow, winding streets carved from the steep terrain. Tunnels and bridges were built, and tracks laid connecting the city by train with diverse origins, and people came from all over the central US to be healed. By 1881, it was the 4th largest city in Arkansas. The rapid influx of people with poor treatment of wastes made the spring water unfit for consumption and anyway, over time, people throughout the US lost faith in the power of mineral water to heal. So it is an interesting story. A legacy of arts and culture arose within it. The railroad brought visiting celebrities on the Chautauqua circuit. In Chautauqua, people of arts and letters would present lectures to audiences on cultural subjects. In 1910, the Eureka Springs Carnegie Library was built, its location chiseled from limestone bluffs. But through a variety of commercial setbacks, fires and the Great Depression, Eureka Springs became a sleepy backwater town, left with a legacy of the arts and culture, laid out in winding streets, reinforced by miles of stone walls, homes with Victorian ornamentation, and enough twists and turns to keep visitors enchanted and even long term residents on the constant edge of discovery. "I've never noticed that before!" As described by Arkansas author, John Gould Fletcher in the 1940’s in a letter to Eureka Springs artists Louis and Elsie Freund, “not much happening in Eureka Springs, but it sure is laid out pretty.” And that “pretty” laid the foundation for much more to come.

By the time I arrived in the fall of 1975, Eureka Springs had been re-energized by the building of the Great Passion Play, by Gerald L.K. Smith, former head of the American Nazi Party and publisher of The Cross and the Flag, an anti-Semitic publication. It continues to be an outdoor pageant based on the life and crucifixion of Christ and may have been initially inspired in part by Smith’s vilification of Jews. Downtown Eureka Springs had all the normal things one would find in any small town, a grocery store, the post office, a place to pay your gas, water and electric bills, small taverns (the Hi Hat being my favorite) and a small hardware and auto parts store. A few t-shirt and souvenir stores were open and some small storefronts were occupied by local artists. In Mama Slick’s Coffee Store you could find hippies by the score, refuges from urban, academic and corporate landscapes, each reciting very personal stories in the great Chautauqua tradition, describing their lives and diverse origins and personal histories and great ambitions, as each was a budding farmer, writer, artist or musician. Just prior to my own discovery of the place, Eureka Springs had been discovered by hundreds of others from my Woodstock generation. Hippies brought tie-die colors to a town of white painted Victorian homes and cottages.

I had first heard of Eureka Springs when a potter from the city stopped by the pottery studio at Memphis State University where I was taking undergraduate level classes in pottery and serving as an unofficial studio assistant. Assured that there were job opportunities for professional potters in Eureka Springs, I visited and then moved here in September of 1975, joining the Eureka Pottery Coop. Like many of the hippies at Mama Slick’s my personal quest was not so much that of being a craftsman (or writer, or artist or musician) but of discovering or making a more meaningful life, and the life of a craftsman, dependent on the creative use of my own hands and ingenuity were the means through which that might be accomplished.

More to come later.


  1. Doug -

    If you haven't come across it already, you may enjoy the chapter on the E.S. Passion Play in Daniel Radosh's recent book, _Rapture Ready: Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture_.

    I'm a big fan - thanks for your good and important work.

  2. Anonymous2:45 PM

    Just about 60 miles south of here is the original Chautauqua, on the lake of the same name. It's a sad summer when I don't get to go there at least once to hear music.