One question changed the direction of Doug Stowe's life.
He was studying political science and sociology in college, planning on law school -- because that's what his parents thought he should do -- but on the side, he was restoring a 1930 Model A Ford two-door sedan. His mentor on that project asked him one day, "Why are you studying to be a lawyer when it's so obvious your brains are in your hands?"
Visit his website at dougstowe.com.
Read his blog at wisdomofhands.blogspot.com.
On April 12, Stowe participated in The Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow’s special daily podcast, “Write Now at The Writers’ Colony.” While closed due to the global pandemic, WCDH has been producing these daily podcasts to connect with writers and artists from the local community as well as from across the nation. Listen at writerscolony.org/podcast.
The rest was a combination of serendipity and opportunity.
"I took a class in creative writing and another one in pottery, and I fell in love with the idea of making things," he says. "My dad had been a major in the Army and worked for a variety of corporations. Corporate life appeared to be extremely cold, and I wanted something more -- which is why I investigated creative writing and pottery."
But it's quite possible Stowe would never have moved to Eureka Springs had he not chanced to meet artist Jo Ann Kaminsky. And he might never have become a woodworker if the proverbial bottom hadn't fallen out of the Eureka Springs pottery cooperative.
"Joann had graduated in pottery from Memphis State University and had come back to visit when I was taking a pottery class," Stowe remembers. "We got to talking and she said, 'Doug, you ought to come to Eureka Springs -- where she was living at the time -- and check it out.' The place was just kind of weird, and it stuck with me. It had kind of a spiritual quality to it -- it was 1975, and everybody there was on a vision quest of some kind or another, trying to identify who they were and who they wanted to be in a world that offered us not very many meaningful choices.
"There were lots of potters at the time, but what there wasn't was somebody making fine quality woodworking," he remembers. "Of course, others joined in that field, but I got a little head start by making display cabinets and front doors for some of the shops."
Stowe says today's visitors wouldn't have recognized downtown Eureka Springs then.
"In 1975, the houses were all white," he says, laughing. "Color hadn't been introduced yet! Rent was cheap, and it was a real town at the time -- the gas company, a grocery store, Walker Brothers clothing store, a dime store, were all downtown."
His first home, Stowe recalls, was a tiny basement apartment which rented for $25 a month, including hot plate.
"I lived there far too long, but I didn't have any real responsibilities, so I could learn without feeling too much pressure about it. I took work not based on money but on something I wanted to learn from it."
Over the years, Stowe's reputation grew, helped by serendipity -- Bill Clinton bought some of his wooden boxes to take as gifts on a trip to Asia, and the artist got a chance to write his first book in 1998 -- "so I built my name recognition, not to the point of fame but to where the woodworking community knew my name."
Although he's made many other things, Stowe is best known for his box making, and it's been his fall-back position in the current economy "when not a lot of people are thinking about redecorating their homes." Quiet and humble, he still seems somewhat nonplussed that he was in 2009 named an Arkansas Living Treasure by the Arkansas Arts Council.
"I'm not exactly sure what it means, but it's better than being a buried treasure, that's for sure," he says. "I think it's given me a little bit of a platform. My mission is pretty clear in terms of my belief that we all have our brains in our hands. If one good thing happens from the covid pandemic, I hope it's people finding the joy of cooking or gardening or doing some things in the workshop or standing at the easel. We need a virtuous world where we know what life is all about, not a virtual world."
NAN What's Up on 04/26/2020