Meeks Furniture “Comes Home”
Karen M. Vincent
Minnetrista Director of Collections
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In 1998, I got a telephone call from Louesa Danks, granddaughter of James Meeks of The Meeks Mortuary family. When I heard that she was interested in donating a large collection of Meeks furniture, then registrar Heather Davis and I immediately booked our flight to Columbia, Missouri. Within a few days of the telephone call, Heather and I drove to Indianapolis and boarded a flight to St. Louis.
At St. Louis, we boarded a commuter plane for Columbia, peaked through a space in the curtain separating the cabin from the cockpit and saw that our pilot was Opie from The Andy Griffith Show. Well, maybe he wasn’t, but he did have red hair and freckles and looked like he was about 15. In spite of a lot of turbulence bouncing the plane around, Opie got us safely to our destination. The discomfort was worth it when we saw the treasures that Louesa had in her house – beautiful furniture handmade by her grandfather for his family.
Most everyone around Muncie is familiar with The Meeks Mortuary, a local business that has endured and grown over the past 150 years. Some may not realize, though, that the children of Amos and Nancy Meeks who settled in “Munseytown” in 1839 were furniture and cabinetmakers. Robert Meeks, the oldest son, along with his brother Isaac, became apprentices for Nottingham and Swain, Muncie Cabinetmakers. Both brothers bought in to the business and it soon became known as R. & I. Meeks. Furniture makers often had the additional role of undertakers in their communities. This dual role continued very successfully over several decades. In 1871, Louesa Danks’s grandfather, James joined the firm. In the tradition of his father, James was a very talented wood working craftsman.
Heather and I had a delightful afternoon with Louesa and her friend, Jeanne McGahee. Louesa showed us thirteen pieces of furniture plus her grandmother’s handmade quilt, hand carved toy blocks, a beautiful doll-sized chaise and several other artifacts that belonged to her grandparents. Even though Louesa never lived in Muncie, her Meeks family ties were strong, and she “wanted her furniture to come home.” After tea and the house tour, Heather and I left with the promise that the furniture would be donated to Minnetrista within the next few years.
Louesa gave us several things to take back with us for the Heritage Collection, including her grandparents’ family Bible. I’ve never felt as safe on an airplane as I did that day when Heather carried a four-inch thick bible in her backpack. And I needed to feel safe, since Opie was again our pilot on the turbulent return trip to St. Louis.
Several years later, Louesa kept her promise and donated the furniture to Minnetrista. Another time, I’ll tell the story of the trip to Columbia to pack and transport the furniture. In the meantime, enjoy photos of some of the furniture. There will be more to come.