Old Independence Regional Museum is opening its “Samm Wooley Coombs” exhibit with a program on Sunday, January 27, at 2 p.m. Four people who knew him well will share their memories of him, while visitors enjoy dozens of his displayed photographs.
Numerous people around Batesville and Mountain View may remember Samm. He spent his last 20 years of life in Batesville. Not only was he an interesting character, but he was a fine photographer who had traveled around the U.S. and Mexico taking photographs of people. After serving in World War II, he bought a typewriter and cameras, and left for Mexico. He shot thousands of rolls of film across Mexico, the Southwest and Northwest in the 1960s and 1970s. His work was featured in such publications as Life and The Saturday Evening Post.
He toured America in an RV with his Nikon cameras and took pictures of Hobos, Hippies, and Circus folk. Then he found the Arkansas Ozarks and decided to stop most of his wandering. He loved Mountain View’s people and took hundreds of photos of them playing their music. A book of his photos was published in 1990, titled “A Pickin’ and a Grinnin’ on the Courthouse Square: An Ozark Family Album.” It will be displayed as part of the exhibit.
Larry Stroud will be one of the four featured speakers telling stories of their memories of Samm. Stroud recalls, “In a flea market a saw a stack of new books by Samm Wooley. It was chock full of wonderful photos taken by the author. Intrigued, I knew right away that I wanted to write a newspaper feature story about this author/photographer. And, I wanted a free book (and got one, which came with a mighty fine friendship over the next 20-plus years).”
Illa M. Clements, another of the program speakers first met Samm when she moved to Batesville from Florida in 2002. They met at the Paper Chase Writers Club. Illa remembers, “Samm learned that I was a retired computer tech, and he called upon me for help. A special friendship and mutual understanding of each other grew. I admired Samm’s talents as a photographer and he professed to love my cooking, which I shared with him many times.”
Another close friend of Samm’s was Peg Giem. When she visited Batesville in 2004, she met him at a writer’s group. She related, “He seemed desperate to learn word processing on his new computer and I volunteered to teach him. Each day I would visit his home, sit on a tall stool beside him. My delight was in listening to the stories about his life. He underwent many hardships and overcame numerous challenges. He was a great personality, deep and knowledgeable, and a good friend.”
Mark Greenwood and Mike Schmidt will also be present at the program to tell about their special times with Samm.
The museum exhibit focuses on photographs taken by Samm Wooley Coombs in five categories. A wall of photographs taken deep in Mexico will highlight a large portrait of Apalonia, a 116 year old Mexican woman. It has been published many times. Another section features photographs taken of the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico, in the CopperCanyon region. A third display focuses on his photos of 1960s Hippies, and another display highlights a very special man who lived in the Oregon woods whom Samm called “Billy Graham – The Other”. The final exhibit category will bring to lifeMountain View’s Ozark people as they produce music and enjoy life.
The museum invites all who would like to share their memories of Samm to attend the program and have a good time sitting around and reminiscing about him and his photography. Warm cups of coffee and tea will be served.
The program will be free and open to the public. Normal museum hours are: Tuesday-Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and from 1:30 to 4 p.m. on Sundays. Admission is $3.00 for adults, $2.00 for seniors and $1.00 for children. The museum is located at 380 South 9th street, between Boswell and Vine Streets in Batesville.
Old Independence is a regional museum serving a 12-county area: Baxter, Cleburne, Fulton, Independence, Izard, Jackson, Marion, Poinsett, Sharp, Stone, White, and Woodruff. Parts of these present-day counties comprised the original IndependenceCounty in 1820’s Arkansas territory.