The Quiet People near Buffalo City attract attention as motorists pass by.
BUFFALO CITY, ARK. – When Laura Chandler began creating Quiet People on her property near Buffalo City, Ark., she wanted to make a statement — but she didn’t have a particular one in mind.
Instead, the free-thinking Chandler wanted to leave her group of brightly dressed, wooden “people” up to interpretation by each passersby.
“It just makes me happy,” she says. “I’m always just tickled by the different responses I get.”
Some people wonder if the 30-something figures are scarecrows. (They’re not.) Others wonder if they mark a cemetery (They don’t.) There are those who come with suspicion, she says, while others go away with a smile.
For Chandler, those questions and sentiments are part of the group’s purpose: Making people think.
“You can let it be whatever you want it to be,” she says of the display, likening it to clouds seen differently depending on who is looking.
“It’s not weird unless you think it’s weird,” she continues. “What you bring to it is what you’ll take away.”
Chandler dresses her people in a variety of clothing and accessories.
The birth of Chandler’s Quiet People began in 2013 when she learned of the Silent People in Finland. After seeing the art project — which is comprised of around 1,000 wooden “people” in a field — on a television program, Chandler was mesmerized.
“I looked at them and just went, ‘Oh, my gosh!'” she recalls. “I looked at it, and thought, ‘Isn’t that amazing!'”
Unveiled in 1988, and made public in its current home in 1994, the Finnish installation was created by artist Reijo Kela. The figures have their garments changed twice annually, and as with Chandler’s, don’t have a specific message to convey.
“People often ask what precisely is the idea behind the Silent People,” states information on a web presence about the display in Finland. “A state of psychological withdrawal? The mute Kainuu soul? A forgotten people? Reijo Kela refuses to provide any answer.
“Viewers are free to come to their own conclusions,” the site continues. “It may, however, be of interest to learn that if the Silent People were to be completely undressed there would remain some one thousand wooden crosses standing in the field.”
Soon after Chandler saw the television program, an idea began to grow: Land in hand, she decided to recreate a similar installation on her property around 15 miles south of Mountain Home, Ark. There is, however, at least one distinction between the Silent People and the Arkansas version.
“I didn’t want to plagiarize, so mine are ‘quiet,'” says Chandler.
Three figures started Chandler’s group, which since has added dozens of “people” to the population of nearby Buffalo City. If all goes according to plan, the community isn’t done growing. Chandler plans to continually expand the Quiet People, hopes to triple the group to around 100 figures.
The “people” are created by building wooden, cross-like skeletons, which are anchored to pallets to keep them upright. “It’s a lot more work to put one up than you think,” she says.
Then comes the clothing process, which has become a community affair. Shirts, dresses, costume jewelry, hats and more have been donated from all over. Some items have sentimental value — donated in memory of people who are believed to have loved the project — while others are random.
Most of the “people” have baskets or gourds for heads. None have names, nor are they dressed to send a particular message. But they do get a lot of attention.
“You would not believe how many people stop and take photos,” she says. “It is non-stop.”
Chandler uses gourds for some of the figures’ heads.
The Quiet People are only one manifestation of the creative and world-minded Chandler. A Memphis native, Chandler fell in love with the area in the 1970s when she actively opposed the damming of the Buffalo River from her board position with the Sierra Club, a grassroots environmental organization.
“Our chapter was very active,” she says of its support of the Buffalo, which became the United States’ first national river. “In fact, the entire state of Tennessee was very engaged.”
In the end, the Buffalo wasn’t dammed — and Chandler became so enthused with Arkansas’ natural beauty that she and her husband eventually decided to relocate there. But where was the perfect spot to live? It was something Chandler scaled new heights to decide.
“I climbed a tree,” she says, noting the beauty of the bluffs she soon saw. “The sun was shining on them, and it was almost magical. I said, ‘This is it.'”
The family soon moved, and has been there ever since. Her time spent locally has taught her of the area’s conservatism, which at times stands in contrast to Chandler’s beliefs.
“I don’t fit the mentality for this area, and a lot of people don’t,” says Chandler. “But they’re very quiet.”
Perhaps those quiet people — both human and wooden — add new perspectives, even on things as simple as being happy.
“You have to find joy where you can find it,” says Chandler. “It makes me happy to see (the display) make other people happy.”
Want to visit?
Chandler’s Quiet People are located near Buffalo City, Ark. They may be spotted around 15 miles south of Mountain Home along Arkansas Highway 126.