As Much Art As Music

As Much Art As Music

Ed Stilley instruments go on show at Shiloh


Courtesy Photo/Flip Putthoff
Ed Stilley, who spent his life building handmade instruments for children near Hogscald Holler, poses with one of his guitars. Stilley is the subject of an exhibit opening Monday at the Shiloh Museum in Springdale.

Ed Stilley’s home was always in Hogscald Holler, just up the road in Carroll County from the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History. But Aaron Loehndorf, collections and education specialist at the Springdale museum, first learned of the unique folk artisan through an exhibit in Little Rock.

“I’ve got a good friend who works at the Old State House Museum, and I wanted to go see an exhibit there from the University Museum collections,” says Loehndorf. But he also stumbled on to “True Faith, True Light: The Devotional Art of Ed Stilley” at the same time. And he realized just how thoroughly Stilley fit the mission of the Shiloh Museum to chronicle everyday people “who have a greater calling.”

The result of Loehndorf’s interest is “Instruments of Faith: The Life and Work of Ed Stilley,” opening Monday at Shiloh and continuing throughout 2019.

Stilley came to the attention of Northwest Arkansans in 2015, when Kelly Mulhollan of the musical duo Still on the Hill and the University of Arkansas Press published a book about Stilley’s art.

“He is a living time capsule,” Mulhollan says of Stilley. “He is frozen in time in 1940s America.”

Sometime more than 30 years ago, Stilley was plowing a field with his mule when — as Mulhollan relates — he thought he was having a heart attack. Instead, what he had was a vision. In it, God promised he would tell Stilley his purpose in life.

According to Stilley, God did. And Stilley started crafting handmade musical instruments from scraps and rusty leftovers — door springs, saw blades, pot lids, aerosol cans and “who knows what else,” as Mulhollan puts it. He never sold them, never signed them. Each he gave away, inscribed with the words “True Faith, True Light” on the top. Most of the recipients were children.

To Stilley, the guitars and fiddles were nothing but a way to spread his faith. It was only when Kelly and his wife, Donna, first saw them they realized “we had stumbled on to one of the great American folk artists,” Mulhollan says.

The exhibit at Shiloh includes more than 20 of Stilley’s creations, some never displayed before.

“They’re incredible instruments as well as art,” says Loehndorf.



‘Instruments of Faith:

The Life and Work of Ed Stilley’

WHEN — Opens Monday, throughout 2019

WHERE — Shiloh Museum of Ozark History in Springdale

COST — Free

INFO — 750-8165 or

Categories: Galleries