The Big Read Blog (Archive)

Five Questions with the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Educational Center

Piggott, Arkansas

The Pfeiffer-Janes House. Photo courtesy of Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum & Educational Center

When Ernest Hemingway married his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, in 1927, he entered into a prominent Arkansas family. The Pfeiffers owned 60,000 acres of land in rural Piggott, which included a large family house and barn. To accommodate their son-in-law's frequent visits, Paul and Mary Pfeiffer converted the barn into a studio where Hemingway could write in peace. It was here that he penned portions of A Farewell to Arms, as well as several short stories. The house and barn were listed on the National Historic Register in 1982, and today they provide visitors a chance to learn about the author and local life in the 1930s. We chatted with the museum's Associate Director, Diana Sanders, about what makes the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Educational Center worth visiting.

NEA: In your opinion, what makes the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum unique?

DIANA SANDERS: The Pfeiffer-Janes House itself is amazing, and about 75 percent of the furnishings in the house are original. The house has the original tin ceilings, original ceiling light fixtures, original window glass, and oak hardwood floors throughout the house. Original furnishings in the home include signed Stickley furniture, a Steinway grand piano, roll top desk, dining room furniture and china, bedroom furnishings, a Hoosier-style cabinet and poker table in the Barn-Studio, and many other pieces.

The Hemingway connection provides the unique opportunity to tell the Pfeiffer story. The Pfeiffers introduced tenant farming to the area and found ways to help the community survive during the Great Depression.

NEA: What?s your favorite part about the museum?

SANDERS: My favorite part of the museum is the 16-foot panel exhibit in the Barn-Studio that tells the story of Hemingway's connections with Piggott and with the Pfeiffer family during the 1927-1940 years when Hemingway was married to Pauline. The exhibit provides a timeline of Hemingway's visits to the Pfeiffer home, and includes a monthly log to show when the Hemingway family---Ernest, Pauline, and/or the Hemingway children---were in Piggott with the Pfeiffer family. The exhibit includes family photos and excerpts from Hemingway's letters that tell the story.

The Hemingway Barn-Studio. Photo courtesy of Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum & Educational Center

NEA: What events does the museum have coming up on its calendar?

SANDERS: June 20-25, 2011: Hemingway-Pfeiffer Creative Writers' Retreat. Retreats are held in the Educational Center and Hemingway Barn-Studio and offer adults the opportunity to work on personal creative writing under the direction of a professional mentor.

NEA: What do you hope visitors to the museum will take away from the experience?

SANDERS: We hope visitors to the museum will have a better understanding of the lifestyle of a 1930s family in an agriculture community, and of the Pfeiffer family's influence on the community and on Ernest Hemingway.

NEA: Do you have any favorite Hemingway stories from his time at the studio?

SANDERS: There are many Hemingway stories from his time at the Barn-Studio, but one of my favorites is a story told to us by one of the housekeepers. She worked for Mary Pfeiffer as a young girl in the 1930s, and was in her late 80s at the time she shared her story. She said Hemingway would spend most of the morning writing in the Barn-Studio, and it was her practice to take fresh-baked cookies to him. She blushed as she said, "He always tried to find out who my boyfriend was."

Please visit the Blue Star Museum website for more information about the program and to find participating museums. To learn more about Ernest Hemingway, please visit the NEA's Big Read website.


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