LITTLE ROCK, ARK. (Aug. 18, 2017) – Martha Sowell of First UMC, Little Rock, has created the Historic Arkansas Methodist Museum Endowment to support the work of the museum that displays, collects, and preserves historical materials from the Arkansas Conference.
The initial gift of $20,000 from the Sam and Martha Sowell family will be invested and annual distributions will be used for essential operations of the museum. The museum’s board of directors will determine the best use of the annual distributions each year.
“The Foundation has supported historical preservation projects over the years,” said Jim Argue, Jr., President and CEO of the Foundation. “We believe it honors those who have gone before us. We would love for others to make gifts to this new endowment, or plan a bequest directed to this endowment in the wills. Call us if you would like to explore your options.”
“An example of artifacts we need to preserve and display is the Pearl McCain diary donated by her niece,” said Martha. “A Methodist missionary to China in the 1930s, Pearl was a member at Trinity UMC, Little Rock, in her later years. She was one of our stars!”
The museum is considering an exhibit of quilts made for pastors from throughout the conference. On display now is a pump organ that Sam Sowell’s grandfather donated to Smyrna UMC. Sam was able to purchase the organ and restore it for the museum.
“Our Book of Discipline urges every Conference to have a way to preserve and protect historical artifacts, but we are one of the most organized in our approach,” said Rev. Ed Matthews, a retired pastor who with the late Rev. Jim Beal was one of the moving forces behind the museum. “With Martha’s gift and the support of others we hope to be able to hire a professional curator to help preserve the important record of those whose shoulders we stand upon.”
Mauzel Beal, who worked as an archivist for the Conference before her retirement, remembers that her husband Jim’s travels around Arkansas included time spent collecting memorabilia. One of her favorite artifacts in the museum is a painting of an old-time brush arbor meeting that shows a pastor and people kneeling in the Tabernacle, but also a mother in a wagon nursing a baby and children playing. It hung for a long time in her home, but she donated it to the museum so that more people could experience it.
“We are what we are because of who they were.” It’s one of Mauzel’s favorite quotes. “It is important to know the background of most anything you are involved in. The museum and archives provide that background for Arkansas United Methodists,” she said.
The need to preserve artifacts from past United Methodists in Arkansas led to the formation of the Historical Society of Arkansas, which was incorporated in 1986. That society gave birth to the museum which opened May 5, 1994 at its first location in Quapaw Quarter UMC, Little Rock. From September 2008 to February 2010, the museum was a part of Asbury UMC, Batesville. Then artifacts were stored until they were moved to the present location at First UMC, Little Rock in 2012.
Rev. Fred Day, now the general secretary of the Commission on History and Archives for all United Methodists, visited the members of the Historical Society a couple of years ago. “Arkansas is one of the very few Conferences with a museum to preserve and display objects related to our United Methodist history,” he said.
The late Katy Rice of First UMC, Little Rock, took classes at UA Little Rock in historic preservation and was one of the organizers of the museum. Others who have made significant contributions include Carl Miller, the late Rev. Bob Bearden, the late Rev. Vernon Paysiner and the late Rev. Byron McSpadden.
“A whole lot of people have worked for decades to preserve pieces of our past,” said Rev. Matthews. “I’m hoping this fund will allow us to have exhibits that bring hundreds of Arkansas United Methodists to the museum to learn from the past in this ministry of memories.”
The United Methodist Foundation of Arkansas manages $156 million in endowment funds and other charitable assets that benefit local churches and other United Methodist ministries. The UMFA is one of the largest United Methodist Foundations in the country. Founded in 1963, the UMFA is responsible for over 750 funds that support United Methodist ministries.