Violet Hensley

Violet Hensley

2004 Award Recipient | FIDDLE MAKING , Yellville

Violet Hensley of Yellville was named the 2004 Arkansas Living Treasure for her work as a fiddle maker. Born on Oct. 21, 1916, near Mount Ida, Hensley followed in the footsteps of her father, George Washington Brumley, who crafted his first fiddle at the age of 14 in 1888.

Known as the “Whittling Fiddler,” Hensley grew up on a farm where she and her family had to grow or make almost everything needed for everyday life. Her mother died when she was 11 years old so she was forced to learn many skills. The skills she developed range from blacksmithing, canning, quilting, soap-making, tanning and carving tool handles and wagon parts.

She watched the techniques her father used to make fiddles and helped him when he needed assistance. At the age of 15, she told her dad she wanted to make her own fiddle. He said, “There’s the tools and there’s the wood. Go at it.” She cut her first pattern for a 1/8 size violin with paper and scissors and made a jig for bending the sides from her father’s design.

She made three more before marrying her husband, Adren Hensley, in 1934 when she was 18. According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, after raising nine children, she took up fiddle-making again in 1961, and has made 72 violins and one viola.

She uses native woods such as maple and cherry for the back, sides and neck, with spruce, pine, basswood, buckeye and sassafras for the tops. She does the sanding by hand, but uses an electric saw to cut the outside and an electric planer to plane the wood. Most of the tools she uses are handmade.

Hensley has held numerous workshops at her kitchen table, where she passes on the art of fiddle making to numerous students, as well as her family members. She has also taught the craft in schools in Arkansas, as well as Minnesota and Missouri. In addition, she and her family have made four CDs.

She has given solo demonstrations and exhibits throughout the United States, most notably at the Silver Dollar City National Craft Show and the National Music Festival, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and the War Eagle Craft Show. She has demonstrated at Silver Dollar City for more than four decades, where she received the1997 Living Treasure Award and was inducted into its Hall of Fame.

She has appeared on numerous television shows, including "The Beverly Hillbillies," "Captain Kangaroo" and "Live with Regis and Kathy Lee." She has also been featured in national magazines, such as National Geographic and Country Woman. She appeared weekly on the radio station KCTT in Yellville during the 1980s.

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