True Faith, True Light

Jun 3, 2018

 

In this episode of Arts & Letters, we talk with musicians and authors, Kelly and Donna Mulhollan about Kelly's book, True Faith, True Light: The Devotional Art of Ed Stilley.

Kelly Mulhollan has collected a number of hand-crafted instruments and documented Ed Stilley’s life and work in the book, giving us a glimpse into a singular life of austere devotion. 

Born in the 1930, Ed Stilley is a farmer in Hogscald Hollow, Arkansas. In 1979, while plowing his field, Stilley was overcome with what felt like a heart attack.

As he lay there in the freshly plowed dirt, Ed had a vision. This experience prompted him to make musical instruments from anything at hand and give them away.

Ed worked tirelessly for twenty-five years to create over two hundred instruments, each a crazy quilt of found objects: A rusty door hinge, a steak bone, a stack of dimes, springs, saw blades, pot lids, metal pipes, glass bottles, aerosol cans—anything he could use to build a working guitar, fiddle, or dulcimer.

On each instrument Ed inscribed “True Faith, True Light, Have Faith in God.”

Kelly and Donna Mulhollan have known the Stilley family for over twenty years. The Mulhollans, who are professionally known as the folk duo, Still on the Hill, have helped to document, chronicle, an exhibit the Stilley instruments. 

In April of 2018, the duo brought many of the Stilley instruments to the UA Little Rock stage, where Arts & Letters hosted it's first live show. The Mulhollans were joined on stage by Polygraph Lounge’s Rob Schwimmer and Mark Stewart—no strangers themselves to self-made instruments. 

Rob Schwimmer is a composer-pianist/keyboardist, thereminist, vocalist and Continuum player who has performed and recorded throughout the world. Mark Stewart is a multi-instrumentalist, singer, composer and instrument designer. Since 1998 he has recorded, toured and been musical director with Paul Simon. 

Thank you to Still On The Hill, for the music and the Stilley recordings. 

Thank you as well to composer and muscian Jeff Umbehauer for his original song, "Shine Down Your Light." 

Thank you to those who helped make the live show possible: UA Little Rock Department of Music, College of Arts Letters and Sciences, College of Social Sciences and Communication, KUAR/KLRE, Friends of the Arts, Interim Dean Thomas Clifton, Interim Dean Julien Mirivel, Music Department Chair Jeremy Lane, Interim Station Manager Nathan Vandiver, KUAR/KLRE’s Vanessa McKuin, Chuck Hancock, Wai-Kay Carenbauer and crew, Mary Ellen Kubit, Vicki Plant, William Wagner, Chris Long, Vanessa Long, Karen Palmer, Michael Hibblen, Jennifer Goss, Karen Steward, Byron Barger, and A&L Interns: Marty Burton, Kaitlin Strain, & Krista Hancock.

The live program was dedicated in memory of our dear friend and colleague, Ben Fry, who always wanted us to do a “live” show. 

Thank you to Stickyz Rock 'N' Roll Chicken Shack for keeping music alive and well in Arkansas. 

Generous funding for this episode was provided by the Arkansas Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities.  

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Executive Producer & Host:  J. Bradley Minnick

Producer: Mary Ellen Kubit

Recorded by: Chris Hickey