The 39th annual Lum and Abner Festival will host a unique facet this year, in the form of an old painting with local roots, and will boast several new attractions for the enjoyment of locals and tourists alike.
The painting itself is unique and the story of how it has found it’s way back to Mena is a journey, that without the inquisitive nature of its owner, would have never happened. Gail Head’s home is in Greenville, Texas, where she likes to shop at local resale stores. Some time back, she was strolling through one of those stores when she came across a painting that she liked. Upon surveying the painting, she discovered that the artist had the same initials as her husband, Larry. The canvas showed the artist to be ‘L. Head.’ Wanting to have a little fun, she purchased the painting and brought it home to Larry and asked when he became an artist. The two had a laugh and, that was that. Or so she thought.
The more Gail looked at the picture, the more intrigued she came of the subjects in the picture – a couple of old buildings, a dirt road, an old car, and a collie dog. Curiosity got the best of her and so Gail began researching. The back of the painting said ‘Pine Ridge, Arkansas in the 1930’s by Lester Head.’ “I wondered if the buildings were real, or just the artist’s imagination. When I started researching, I found photos of the buildings that were in these paintings. It was exciting,” she said. “I saw photographs and realized that this old store was and still is really a place.”
It didn’t take her long before the sign on one of the buildings in the painting led her to research Lum and Abner. “One of the buildings says Post Office and Barber Shop but the other store has a sign with pictures of two men and said ‘Pine Ridge – Town of Lum and Abner,’” she explained. After searching the internet for Pine Ridge and Lum and Abner, she soon found the place was on the backroads of Arkansas and had served as the home of Chester Lauck and Norris Goff, creators and portrayers of the radio comedy duo.
Finding out that Pine Ridge was an actual place and that the buildings housed the famous duo, she began wondering if the artwork was painted in the 1930’s or of the 1930’s. She found a tag on the back of the painting that read: Mena Art Gallery. Her next step would be a phone call there to see when the painting was sold. The only thing they could tell me is that it was painted and sold through their gallery prior to 1970 because that was before records were kept.
Gail didn’t let that stop her. She contacted the local library where librarian, Shirley Philpot, helped with the next step – finding the artist. Shirley knows the family history and recognized the name quickly. Lester Head was a local artist that still has family here. “Shirley and Mary Alice Head have helped with family history and tracking down more information,” explained Gail. Through their research, they have found the picture to be around 60 years old. During her research, she contacted the Arkansas Department of Heritage while in search of the artist. Because of the subjects of the picture and the age, Lester Head was added to their database. “I was just trying to collect information and got him honored at the same time,” she laughed.
Once the history of the picture and artist were found, Gail wanted to share her find. Her newfound Mena friends shared with her that Mena has an annual festival in honor of the radio celebrities and that is where the next step in her journey will take her, to this year’s festival. Gail and the painting will be set up at the cabin in Janssen Park on Friday and Saturday during the festival. “What an interesting thing in time to take this painting back to Arkansas to this festival and let the people there see it. As far as I know, this is the only painting of that area. I want them to see it and appreciate it and enjoy it, that’s why I’m making the trip.”
Be sure to stop and chat with Gail, where she will answer questions and pictures can be taken of the photo.
Also at the festival this year are several new attractions. There will be a Gyro-Extreme Ride in the Kiddie Korner area that will twist riders sideways, forwards, backwards, and all around.
This year’s Lum & Abner Car, Truck, Corvette & Motorcycle Show will host James Goad, star of the popular Discovery Channel TV show “Street Outlaws,” on Saturday. Goad stars in the Discovery Channel hit “Street Outlaws” and will be on hand for a meet-and-greet with festival-goers. Goad drives a 1968 Camaro SS he calls the “Reaper,” which he says was built for one purpose: to be the fastest street raced car in the nation.
Pony rides and helicopter rides will also be included. Helicopter rides will be provided by Arkansas Helicopters. Festival Coordinator, Donnie Crane said it’s a great way to get a “bird’s eye” view of all of Mena. The helicopter rides will be offered from the parking lot at First Baptist Church-Mena, adjacent to Janssen Park on Friday beginning at 4:30 pm and all day Saturday.
Your complete guide to all the festivities will be in this week’s June 1st issue of The Polk County Pulse!