Historic Arkansas Museum is a treasure trove of houses and artifacts from Arkansas' frontier days, but it is its dream team staff that will fascinate and entertain you.
Whether actors, interpreters, or craftsmen, these folks love what they do and it shows in their presentations. Two examples of such employees are interpreter, Katie Bass and blacksmith, Lin Rhea. They bring history to life with their tales and demonstrations of frontier life.
If you take the tour of the museum’s historic houses, there is a chance you will end up with Katie as your guide. Katie began working at the museum in 2010 after graduating from the University of Central Arkansas with a degree in art. She credits her position at the museum to luck, stating that she was just in the right place at the right time to get it. While luck may very well smile upon Katie, it was probably more than luck that helped her land the job. Katie has the qualities of a true professional interpreter: engaging, entertaining, and an authority on Arkansas frontier life. How much of an authority is she? Well, besides being able to give a thorough account of the museum’s historic homes and their artifacts, Katie can also give a first-hand description of some of the tasks assigned to frontier women, such as how to bake bread in a Dutch oven in an open hearth and how to make lye soap. Katie can describe these tasks because she has done them herself for different events hosted by the museum. Visit the museum during one of its annual events, and you might even catch Katie dressed in period costume. Katie says her job is so much fun, she can hardly believe she gets paid to do it. But Katie herself plays a major role in making the museum “fun” for those who take her tour.
After taking the walking tour of the buildings and the grounds, you may want to take a rest. The blacksmith shop is the perfect place to take a load off your feet if you happen to be there on one of its days of operation. Lin, one of the museum’s blacksmiths, will be glad to give you a demonstration of metal crafting that is guaranteed to capture your attention. Lin is a fascinating fellow, full of interesting trivia about his craft and its crucial role in the frontier community. But it is also Lin’s gentle, unassuming nature that makes his demonstrations such a delight.
Lin has been operating the blacksmith shop, along with other volunteer blacksmiths, since its opening in 2011. In that time, his demonstrations have proved to be a huge crowd pleaser at the museum, even with younger visitors. Lin reports that while boys usually show the greatest interest in his work, girls are not beyond taking an interest too. And boys and girls alike are amazed to learn that it was children, just like themselves, that worked over the hot coals, hammering out nails every day in the frontier blacksmith shop. But Lin tries to convey to his younger audience that there is more to blacksmith work than just hammering out nails. He explains that it is a craft that also offers the chance to create something beautiful and enduring with your hands. He hopes that some of the children that visit the shop might take more than just a passing interest in metal crafting and pursue it for themselves. He hopes that in doing so, they will derive a sense of what it means to take pride in their work.
Lin knows a thing or two about taking pride in his work. He has applied his skill to the art of making custom knives for the past ten years, during which time he has achieved the title of Master Bladesmith . It is no small feat to gain such a title. Consequently, there are only a handful of knife craftsmen in Arkansas to have done so. Being an expert on custom knives also makes Lin the perfect person on staff to answer questions about the museum’s outstanding knife collection, which includes, Lin believes, the original Bowie knife named after Jim Bowie. Lin presents a strong argument for its authenticity.
Lin and Katie are just two of the great folks you will encounter at the museum, but there are others. Some of them are actors who present a living historical account of the first residents who occupied the homes preserved by the museum. Come out on the Fourth of July between 2 and 4 pm and encounter living history at its best as the museum will be overrun with characters from frontier Arkansas celebrating Independence Day. Katie and Lin will be on hand too in full costume. Don’t miss the chance to traipse back through time with them to celebrate the Fourth of July – frontier style!