Ozarks (AR) – Of Presidents, Billionaires and Whittlers

Bill Clinton Museum Little Rock Arkansas

Bill Clinton Museum, Little Rock, AR

Peter Max painting White House

White House

Peter Max painting Bill Clinton

Countless Images of Bill

Peter Max painting Beatles

Mark finds the Beatles in the Peter Max Collection

President Clinton's Presidential Car

Clinton's Presidential Car

White House Table Setting

White House Table Setting, Selected by Hillary

Hillary Clinton's Gown

Hillary's Gown

Socks the Cat plays Sax

Socks plays sax

Lance Armstrong Bike present for President Clinton

Lance Armstrong gave

Clinton a Trek bike

Banjos in Arkansas


Guitar and Mandolin duet


Mountain View Arkansas

Mountain View, Arkansas

Storefronts in Mountain View AR

Storefronts in Mountain View

Mountain View Arkansas Furniture Store

Mark tries out a chair

Whittling in Mountain View AR

Whittling soup spoons (note the pile of shavings)

The Pickin' Porch in Mountain VIew AR

The "Pickin' Porch" comes alive during the Folk Music


Music Store in Mountain View, AR

Unique music store


The Dulcimer Shoppe, Mountain View, AR

THe Dulcimer Shoppe where beautiful Mountain

Dulcimers are made

Feelin' Groovy at The Dulcimer Shoppe, Mountain View, AR

Feelin' Groovy with a Dulcimer

Harmonizing at The Dulcimer Shoppe, Mountain View, AR


Playing autoharp at The Dulcimer Shoppe, Mountain View, AR

An autoharp

Hand crafting dulcimers at The Dulcimer Shoppe, Mountain View, AR

Putting the finishing touches on a dulcimer

Sam Walton's first store in Bentonville, AR

Sam Walton's first store in Bentonville, AR

Sam Walton's first store in Bentonville, AR

Walton's wasn't the biggest game in town at first

Bentonville, AR

City park with a Confederate statue

opposite Sam's store

Storefronts Bentonville, AR

Storefronts in Bentonville, AR

Phat Tire BIke Shop in Bentonville, AR

Bike shop with a mountain bike frame

for a door handle

Little Rock, Mountain View & Bentonville

March 22-27, 2009 - We left the serenity of the Natchez Trace in

Missippi and continued north to Arkansas.  For a week we were treated

to some of the highlights of this state by a dear friend who took us on

day trips to places we might not have otherwise visited.

The Bill Clinton Museum in Little Rock is housed in a unique building

affectionately referred to as a motorhome on stilts.  It juts out over the

banks of the Arkansas River and is elevated to allow the floodwaters

plenty of room to rage underneath.  Perhaps this choice of setting and

architecture is symbolic of elements of Clinton's eight year term.

Whether you are a Clinton fan or not, the museum offers a look at his

presidency in the context of history, presented in the most positive light


The museum was hosting an exhibit of paintings by Peter Max when we

were there.  As we entered, there was a beautiful image of the White

House and portraits of many recent presidents as well, including, of

course, a series of images of Mr. Clinton.

Mark is a die-hard Beatles fan, and he loves Max's artwork, as it

has close ties with the Beatles.   He quickly found a Beatles

painting too.

The museum opens with an exhibit of Clinton's presidential car.  It was

built with all the latest high-tech gear, but as we read the list of

antiquated communications equipment, we suddenly realized just how

long ago Clinton was president.  1992-2000 is quickly slipping into


We had not realized that Hillary ordered a complete new table setting

for entertaining guests at the White House.  The plates featured a

bold image of the White House in the center, encircled by an ornate

design, giving visiting heads of state no doubts about just where they

were and who was entertaining them.

Seeing this table setting and one of Hillary's

gowns along with many photos of them both

dressed for elegant White House events

impressed upon us just how much these

grand, formal social events are a part of the

president's job.

There were glass cases filled with stunning

gifts the Clintons had received from leaders

all over the world, many from remote, small

countries.  Our favorites were an image of

Socks the cat playing the saxaphone and a

Trek bike and yellow jersey given by Lance

Armstrong (however, we were amused that

the bike's drive-train was Shimano Ultegra,

not the high end components a president

might expect or deserve).

Music is abundant in Arkansas,

and on another day we stopped

into a guitar shop in Searcy and

admired a wall full of banjos.  Two

men sat in the middle of the shop,

happily strumming away.  The

younger guitar player was

accompanying his 85-year-old

friend on the mandolin.

The Ozark town of Mountain View

hosts a huge Folk Music Festival every

year, and when we visited, the town was

gearing up for the festivities.

All the buildings in this town have stone

walls that are a pretty yellow-orange hue.

Mountain View is

a wonderful Main

Street walking

town, great for

browsing and

window shopping.

Mark found a perfect seat for himself outside a furniture

shop that features oversized furniture made of rough hewn


Inside, I spotted a sign whose words ring true for us.  On

days like this, when we discover a new town or place that

lifts our spirits, we feel the fleeting nature of time and

preciousness of every moment more intensely than we ever did in our old lives.

We turned a corner and saw two old men

happily whiling away the hours whittling large

wooden cooking spoons.  They were creating

a large pile of cedar shavings as they

whittled, and we watched them for a long

time.  They expertly rotated the wood in their

hands and shaved off paper thin strips of

wood, working together in contented silence.

Not far from where they sat, Mark discovered the "Pickin' Porch"

where musicians gather to harmonize.  What a cool town.  We want

to return some year when the music festival is in full swing.

Across the street is an old Victorian building that houses a large

music store, and Mark tried a variety of guitars.  Many were very

ornate with elaborate headstocks and inlaid wood on the guitar body.

A few miles outside of town we found the Dulcimer Shoppe where

beautiful mountain dulcimers are hand crafted and sold.  Long ago we

had visited a tiny dulcimer store in Sedona, Arizona, where the shop

owner was playing "Feelin' Groovy" by Simon and Garfunkle.  This

memory had remained with us over the years, so whenever we

thought of dulcimers we thought of that Sedona shop owner playing

that song.

As soon as we walked into the Dulcimer Shoppe in Mountain View,

Arkansas, Mark asked Judy, who was showing us dulcimers, if she could

play "Feelin' Groovy."  I laughed -- how could she just come up with that

out of thin air?  She asked Mark to hum a few lines, and within minutes

she was playing it expertly on her dulcimer!

She called out to

her boss, Jim

Woods, owner of the store:  "Get a base and accompany me!"  He obliged,

and all of a sudden we were being treated to a spirited rendition of the

Simon and Garfunkle classic.

Jim had worked in the corporate world in Texas for too many years and

came out to Mountain View to buy the Dulcimer Shoppe and start a new

life.  His love of music and beautiful instruments is infectious, and he

casually grabbed an autoharp as he told us his story and began playing for

us.  Back behind a wall of glass we watched the dulcimers being lovingly


Deep in the Ozarks, we felt like we were reaching into the heart of

American culture, one that is home grown, a little rough around the edges perhaps, and lacking any kind of commercial spin.  So it

surprised us as we drove along the rural roads and suddenly found ourselves scanning the radio dial and counting eight radio

stations broadcasting in Spanish.  As we listened to a Mexican um-pah beat for a while, I thought of my German ancestors who had

settled in Wisconsin in the mid-1800's.  The parents spoke German exclusively at home, and only two of the four children were

born on US soil.  At night the father read aloud to the family by oil lamp.  He would read latest Charles Dickens novel translated into

German.  Suddenly the Spanish radio reaching out to Latinos in the Ozarks made sense and

seemed as American to me as everything else we had seen in Arkansas.

With these thoughts in mind, we pulled into Bentonville, Arkansas, arguably the birthplace of

modern America's consumer based economy and, by extension, possibly the very heart of

modern America.

It is the home of the Walton family's retail dynasty and site of Sam Walton's first store,

predecessor to today's Walmart chain.  Opened May 9th, 1950, the storefront is humble and

simple, not even the largest building

on the block.  It faces a town square

which is built around a large statue of

a confederate soldier.

Unlike most American small towns,

this one is flush with Walmart money, and there is a

plaque thanking a Walmart CEO for the investment

the company has made in sprucing up the town.

Every building on the square sports a fresh coat of

paint and bright clear windows, a rarity in small

town America where boarded up windows and

vacant store fronts are far more common.  Walton's

store is now a Walmart visitors center, and there

are wonderful black and white photos from the

1950's showing the store's simple beginnings.

Sam's plan was to make just one cent profit on every item in the

store, regardless of what the "market value" might be.  He

resented the way small town proprietors tended to overcharge for

necessities, and his intention was to bring the prices that were

available to big city residents to all the small towns of America.  He

bought an airplane to make it easy to visit his far-flung stores, and

later said that without Walton Aviation, Walmart never would have

become what it did.

It is ironic that by trying to serve the small town American

consumer he also helped put China, India and other distant

societies plunk in the middle of the world

economy.  At the same time, he led the

homogenization of small town America, a high

cultural price that we have all happily paid so we

could have easy access to cheap consumer


Mom-and-pop stores still thrive in other

industries, however, bringing color and charm to

their communities, and our sampling of Arkansas music shops had proven that.  Mark

especially liked the local Bentonville bike shop, Phat Tire (one of his favorite beers as well).

On their front door they replaced the traditional door handle with a mountain bike frame.

The list of local weekend rides they had posted looked very tempting too.

However, we had an appointment for warranty work on our trailer in Chanute, Kansas, and

we had to keep moving.