Wrapping the layers of history and legend like the skirts on a corn shuck doll, Erlene Carter has a unique perspective on the Stone County region. An integral part of the Mountain View and Arkansas craft communities and a keen observer of humankind, she quietly perpetuates the traditions and values of the area.

Erlene was born in Stone County, Arkansas. She was born down by the creek, in the same house her mother was born in, a house her grandfather built. Both her brothers were born there, too.
“It was Rocky Bayou, but I didn’t know how to spell it,” said Erlene when she handed me her biographical notes. “I didn’t see it spelled out until I was grown and came back.”
During the depression her family moved around for her father to find work and eventually they settled in Washington State. Erlene graduated from high school there, married and moved to San Diego, California for the next 22 years. When Erlene retired as the Office Manager of the San Diego State University Chemistry Department, she and her husband, Pete, came back to Stone County in 1974, right when the craft movement was making big changes in the area.
“Back before the 1960’s, Arkansas was the second poorest state in the Union and Stone/Izard County was the second poorest in Arkansas,” said Erlene. Home extension people and city fathers thought they could develop cottage industry. They announced a craft show in 1963, a handmade items show. People came with their quilts and baskets and soaps and spoons and pots. The husbands went off to the side, pick’n and singing. Next year they just announced it and it happened. The event became the Folk Festival and from that start was born other ideas and organizations. The Arkansas Craft Guild incorporated in 1973.
In March of 1979, Erlene was hired as secretary to the Executive Director of the Arkansas Craft Guild. She resigned from that position in 1984 and went on to serve several terms on the Craft Guild Board of Directors and as a member of the Standard’s Committee. For a decade she wrote an article every other month about a Guild member for each issue of the Ozarks Mountaineer.

An active member of the community, Erlene is now serving her fifth 2-year term on the Mountain View City Council. She serves on various other boards and committees. If somebody has an idea to help the area, Erlene knows who to go to so it can happen. She knows people and credits those who help to make the community better.

“The Hinkles were real pushers for the Folk Festival. Jack Thomas did a lot for the perpetuation of the crafts. Dave Smith and Mary and Robert (Gillihan) have done a lot to promote the area, and Becki and David Dahlsted,” said Erlene. “People like that don’t receive a lot of recognition for the things they do.”
In addition to her organization and community talents, Erlene is a talented crafts person.

“My paternal grandmother supported her family after my grandfather died by making white oak baskets,” wrote Erlene. She studied basketry under several teachers and received a grant from the Arkansas Arts Council to take 100 hours of white oak basket making training with Sheryl Irvine. She and her husband made baskets for many years and sold them at craft shows. About 20 years ago, she learned how to make corn shuck dolls from Pam Sanders and Linda Hubbell. Erlene and Pete added the dolls to their booths at craft shows.

In about 1989, Erlene became a craft interpreter at the Ozark Folk Center, when Kay Thomas asked her to substitute for the corn shuck doll maker.
“If I’d known a job could be this fun,” said Erlene, wrapping the string on a new doll body, “I’d never have worked so hard at other things.”
Visitors to the Doll and Toy Shop at the Ozark Folk Center can comfortably settle into one of several chairs scattered around the edges. Small people can even relax on a little bed that is just their size. Erlene makes sure people have those places to sit.
“I was just visiting, it must have been the first year the Folk Center opened in 1973,” Erlene said. “I walked all over the craft grounds; there wasn’t a single bench or chair anywhere.”
While people are resting a spell, Erlene shares stories, histories and legends. Like the legend of the founding of the Ozark Folk Center, about how Jimmy Driftwood went to Wilbur Mills and told him that they wanted to build a place to preserve the crafts and music of the Ozarks. When Wilbur asked Jimmie about how much he thought it would cost, Jimmie told him that he reckoned it could be done for about 10,000 dollars. Wilbur told Jimmie he couldn’t ask Congress for less than a million. They got two.
Or she’ll share the stories of her art.
“My mother was raised about six miles from here,” said Erlene to the ladies who were wondering about the history of the dolls. “The only dolls she had was corn shuck and after she was big enough, she went to the corn crib and made her own.”
Erlene has written two books about corn shuckery and has taught classes for many years.
 “Corn shuck artistry originated with the Indians. They had been farming corn, including popcorn, for two to three thousand years when explorers found this country. They had six or seven different types of corn,” said Erlene, smiling. “I can’t imagine how surprised they were when the first corn popped. I wonder if they thought it was edible?”
The Craft Village is open from 10:00 to 5:00 Tuesday-Saturday April through the month of November.