M.E. Oliver

From the Ralph Foster Archive.

Originally published by the Rogers Historical Museum.

written by Marie Demeroukas, photo archivist / research librarian, shiloh museum of ozark history, springdale, ar

Marvin Elmer Oliver (1888-1974) was born in a log cabin on Drake's Creek, a few miles southeast of Huntsville, Arkansas.

His mother died when Elmer was a boy, so to lessen the strain on the family of eight, he made a five-day, 160-mile journey — mostly on foot — to Viola, Arkansas, to live with relatives.

As a young man, he worked as a farmhand. Later he moved to Oklahoma to work in a broom factory. Becoming interested in art, he signed up for a correspondence course, only to have World War I interrupt his plans.

However, art was never far from his thoughts. While serving in France as a company dispatcher and bugler with the 308th Batallion, 7th Infantry, he spent his spare time sketching.

Even when wounded and sent to recuperate in a Little Rock hospital, he continued to sketch everything in sight.

After his discharge, he studied art as part of a vocation and rehabilitation program for verterans, eventaully enrolling in the School of Fine and Applied Arts in New York City.

Illustrator Charles Dana Bigson, famous for his Gibson girls portraits, was one of his tutors.

After graduating, Oliver worked as a free lance commercial artist, illustrating book jackets and magazine covers for publisher Harper & Brothers and the Magazine of Wall Street. He also worked for a short time with a Dallas advertising agency before returning to his beloved Ozarks.

In 1927, he wed Bessie Simmons of Combs, Arkansas, and for many years the two worked a 140-acre fruit farm near Japton (southeast of Huntsville). The remote location of the farm and the amount of money spent maintaining the dirt roads meant the couple rarely made a profit.

They moved to Huntsville in 1940 where Oliver went to work for the Selective Service. He later served as a state revenue inspector and as a municipal judge.

Oliver returned in 1954 and once again turned his attention to art. Wanting to preserve the old pioneering way of life that was fast disappearing, he, in 1955, self-published Strange Scenes In The Ozarks.

Part oral history and part Ripley's Believe It Or Not, Strange Scenes used wonderful images and quaint lettering to convey an Arkansas that was.

With his depiction of panthers, bears, saw mills, log cabins, shooting matches and country folks, Strange Scenes is like an early Ozark version of the Foxfire series of books, which examined the old-time traditions of southern Appalachia.

M. E. Oliver

Plate 1.

M. E. Oliver

Plate 2.

Above, a great example of M.E. Oliver's distinctive art. Much of this artists' work is displayed at the Ralph Foster Museum on the College of the Ozarks' campus just south of Branson.

Be sure to visit the musuem when you get the chance. The archives are incredibly extensive.

Ralph Foster Article reprint — The staff of College of the Ozarks' Ralph Foster Museum has graciously allowed the reprint of this article from their archive.

©StateoftheOzarks.net2008. February 24, 2008. Article reprinted with grateful permission from the Ralph Foster Museum.

As per Marie Demeroukas, photo archivist / research librarian, Shiloh Museum of Ozark History, Springdale, Arkansas, this article was originally published through the Rogers Historical Museum.

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