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Dallas Bump (1918–2016)

Dallas Bump of Royal (Garland County) was a fourth-generation chair maker who constructed handcrafted furniture for more than seventy-five years. One of his handmade chairs, the “Bump Rocker,” spread his renown around the world. Along with being named an Arkansas Living Treasure by the Arkansas Arts Council in 2013, he saw his work featured in Southern Living magazine, spotlighted on television’s Good Morning America, and lauded by the Smithsonian Institution. One of his rockers found a home in the White House during the Bill Clinton administration. A Bump rocker is unique, as each step, from the fallen tree onward, was controlled by Dallas Bump and his family. The chairs are made one at a time and assembled with the family’s signature method.

Dallas Oliver Bump was born to Fred Bump and Della Owen Bump on March 4, 1918, in Royal. He came from a long line of people involved in chair-making. In about 1870, Dallas Bump’s grandfather, French immigrant Philander Bump, settled in an unincorporated rural community called Bear (Garland County), located between Hot Springs (Garland County) and Mount Ida (Montgomery County). Philander Bump learned the art of chair making from his mother, who traced the roots of the family’s expertise back to master craftsmen in France.

As a boy, Dallas Bump apprenticed under his father. The family developed the “Bump Rocker,” which is still made using many of the same tools, patterns, and methods that were handed down by Philander Bump and his father-in-law, William Rouse.

The family’s famed rocking chair is entirely handmade and constructed from red and white oak. Its seat and back are crafted from hand-woven strips of wood, with a frame that is said to last at least a century. The chair is constructed without using glue, nails, pegs, or screws. Instead, the wood is joined to half-dried pieces, which fit together securely after they dry and shrink.

Bump recalled working up to fourteen hours a day with his father during the 1920s and 1930s in order to sell about twelve dozen chairs a month. They loaded the furniture in their truck and followed two routes along mountain roads to sell their wares. Today, however, customers from around the country approach the family, which always has a backlog of orders to fill. Both male and female family members work on the construction of the chairs, which includes the skilled weaving of thin strips of white oak for seats and backs.

In 1939, Bump married Amelia Orrell Bump (1921–2007); they had six children.

The furniture shop remains in the same barn/workshop where Bump learned his trade as a child, including the same workbench where he used tools up to a century old. The extremely comfortable chairs today sell for $300 to $500. Though the rockers are the most popular item, the Bump family also builds stools and double rocking chairs called loveseats. They also create rocking chairs for children, as well as an extra-large version of the adult rocker known as the “John Lewis,” which was named for a neighbor and will seat a person up to 350 pounds. A unique rocker was made for a local shopkeeper who needed the chair to have an extra-wide arm to serve as a desktop so he could sit and work on his account books. Along with customers coming from all across the nation, President Bill Clinton took a Bump rocker with him to the White House.

In October 2015, the Hot Springs Sentinel-Record reported that a burglary took place at Dallas Bump’s storage buildings at Brady Mountain Lodge in Royal. Thieves stole items including saws, drills, sanders, hand planes, picks, axes, and knives. According to family members, the items stolen included those which had been handed down from Bump’s father and grandfather. Family and friends searched pawnshops, flea markets, etc., in Garland and Saline counties to try to recover some of the items, reimbursing people who unknowingly purchased the tools and heirlooms.

Dallas Bump died on July 16, 2016, at the age of ninety-eight. 

For additional information:

“Dallas Bump.” Arkansas Arts Council. http://www.arkansasarts.org/living-treasure-award/dallas-bump (accessed July 18, 2016).

“Dallas Bump—Bump by Joe York.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d83UMJSvCoE (accessed July 18, 2016).

Wells, Lindsey. “Thieves Ransack Chairmaker’s Workshop.” Hot Springs Sentinel-Record, October 28, 2015, p. 4.

Nancy Hendricks
Garland County Historical Society

Last Updated 12/7/2016

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