D. H. Ramsey Library Special Collections and University Archives

Charlotte L. Yale

Eleanor Vance


Influenced by European arts and crafts and by the Settlement School work of Jane Addams, Yale and Vance sought to utilize native talents to build a sustainable source of income for economically deprived youth in the Appalachian region. The wood carving classes, and later the weaving industry offered by the two women were as much social service, as dedication to art and craft.

In the beginning years Yale and Vance were each paid $970.83 a year by Reverend Swope of All Soul's Church in Biltmore Village. The modest beginning as part of the church community outreach programs brought a small, but dedicated group of young carvers together.  The success of this enterprise soon caught the attention of Edith Vanderbilt and she worked to sustain the "school" and the craft enterprise through a series of financial subsidies that eventually brought the industries under her ownership. It was called the Biltmore Estate Industries. Like Yale and Vance, Edith Vanderbilt was also interested in the Settlement House movement and also in the Old World tradition of craft as a catalyst for learning.  She encouraged Yale and Vance to travel to the British Isles to see craft production, first-hand. The early information gathered in the British Isles, by Yale and Vance validated and promoted many craft practices already at work in the Appalachian highlands. The strong Scotch-Irish heritage of many of the people in the region gave a romantic notion to the idea of reform.  The elements of ancient craft conveyed in the craft practices of families with Scotch-Irish heritage were still numerous in the early years of the twentieth century. Allan Eaton has pointed to this cultural heritage often in his well-known book  Handicrafts Of The Southern Highlands, (New York : Russell Sage Foundation, 1937). 

The direction of Charlotte Yale and Eleanor Vance was, however, somewhat different than that imagined by the enthusiasts of the Arts and Crafts Movement and by Highland traditionalists. Vance had trained in England with Fry and Kendall,  restorers and conservationists for the Royal family whose aesthetic tastes tended toward the Gothic.

The two women also demonstrated a strong preference for Gothic and Flemish Renaissance design in their work. This aesthetic bias was compatible with the dominant Arts and Crafts style promoted by such movements as the Roycrofter's in New York and Elbert Hubbard's popular magazine The Craftsman,* but it was also its own direction. The early carvings are delicate, deftly crafted, utilitarian, unique in character but derivative in general design. The idea of a Guild is often found in their attention to standards of quality and levels of apprenticeship.  With the training of craft skills also came training in life skills.



"Love the little trade which thou hast learned, and be content therewith."Marcus  Aurelius

John Cameron Mills, Killin, Scotland -- Tweed Manufacturing shop where the "first loom" for the Biltmore Industries was purchased. It was brought to North Carolina where workmen reproduced it, refined it and then provided the Industries with approximately 40 more. The large loom is what is generally referred to as a counter-balanced loom and has a warp width of approximately 35".

While on tour in the Hebrides and in Killin, Scotland, Yale and Vance explored the weaving practices of the people on Harris Island and Killin, Scotland. The practices witnessed by the two women in Great Britain apparently formed the basis for the establishment of a loom standard -- the same loom standard adopted later at Biltmore Industries under the leadership of Fred Seely. It is unclear where Yale and Vance traveled in Great Britain and just exactly when they traveled, but a note by J.E. Brookshire who traveled to Scotland and the Hebrides for Fred Seely and the Biltmore Industries in 1922,  noted that  the 150 year-old John Cameron Mill in Killin, Scotland was "where we got our first loom." 

And, as the first looms were those that came from the Biltmore Estate Industries in the first decade of the twentieth century, the reference to the "first loom" must refer to that used by Yale and Vance.  There is also reference to the acquisition of the mill owned by J.H. Wright in Weaverville, NC, the Reems Creek Woolen Mills (later known as the Reems Creek Milling Company), by Edith Vanderbilt in 1914. It is possible that some equipment was brought along from that well established mill. 

Included in the J.E. Brookshire photographs are mills, looms, sheep farming, and other wool related practices in Killin and in the Hebrides, particularly Harris Island. The pictures document the rugged lives of the weavers, the common practice of weaving and spinning in the home and the varieties of sheep that were used for wool production.  This "homespun" practice was the basis for most of the years of production of the Biltmore Industries. The counter-balanced loom that Brookshire says was brought to North Carolina  was replicated by the craftsmen at Biltmore Industries and eventually there were some 40 looms in operation for the industries. Many of the practices for carding, spinning, and even weaving were eventually mechanized to meet the growing demand for yardage, but the principles of wool production remained close to those learned from the weavers and mills of Scotland and the Hebrides by Yale and Vance and later by Brookshire and others traveling for Fred L. Seely.

The social efforts of Yale and Vance were eventually eclipsed by the success of Biltmore Estate Industries and the demands on their time and resources became too great for them. They moved in 1915 to the small town of Tryon, south of Asheville and there they founded another craft enterprise - The Tryon Toy Makers and Woodcarvers. Like the early Biltmore Estate Industries, the Tryon Toy-Makers was founded on a social-service model.

In 1917 the Biltmore Estate Industries, owned by Edith Vanderbilt,  were sold to Fred Seely and the craft industry began a new chapter,  now named Biltmore Industries.

Charlotte Yale and Eleanor Vance corresponded  with Fred Seely for a number of years and their correspondence has been preserved in the files of Biltmore Industries and covers the years from 1920 to 1927.

*For a well researched article on the Yale and Vance years, see: Johnson, Bruce, "Eleanor Vance, Charlotte Yale and the Origins of Biltmore Estate Industries," in  May We All Remember Well, Vol II, 2001, pp.241-266.

"Tryon Toy-Makers & Weavers Correspondence and History," (1919-1941), Eleanor Vance and Charlotte Yale. Biltmore Industries Archive, D.H. Ramsey Library Special Collections,


Title Tryon Toy-Makers & Weavers : Correspondence and History
Creator Yale, Charlotte L.  
Alternate creator Eleanor Vance
Alternate creator Seely, Fred L. 
Alt. Creator D.H. Ramsey Library Special Collections
Subject Keyword :
Biltmore Industries ; Homespun Shops ; weaving ; handicraft ; wood carving ; Eleanor P. Vance ; Charlotte L. Yale ; George W. Vanderbilt ;  Fred Seely ; Harry Blomberg ; wool ; wool carding ; wool dying ; Grovewood Gallery ;
Subject LCSH :
Biltmore Industries
Decorative arts -- North Carolina
Artisans -- North Carolina
Hand weaving -- North Carolina
Handicraft -- North Carolina..
Seely, Fred L. 
Grove, E.W. 
Blomberg, Harry

Weavers -- North Carolina
Weaving -- Appalachian Mountains
Appalachian Mountains -- History
Description This collection contains a series of letters and telegrams covering the years from 1919 to 1927 that document the friendship and business relationship of Charlotte Yale and Eleanor Vance with Fred Loring Seely, owner of the Biltmore Industries and early manager of the Grove Park Inn. The letters record sales transactions, business advice, personal reflections and provide a chronology of events for the Tryon Toy-Makers and also for Fred Seely and to a lesser degree, the Grove Park Inn.
Publisher D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804
Contributor Jerry Ball, Grovewood Gallery, Inc.
Date original  1901-1941
Date digital 2001-12-01
Type  Text ;  Image
Format Digital file ; 326
Identifier http://toto.lib.unca.edu/findingaids/mss/BiltmoreIndustries/BiltmoreIndustries.html
Source M01.08
Language English
Relation Fred L. Seely Oral History ; E.M. Ball Collection ; Biltmore Industries, HistoryBlomberg Family Papers
Coverage temporal 1901-1980 ;
Coverage spatial Asheville, NC
Rights Restrictions apply.
Any display, publication, or public use must credit the Grovewood Gallery, Inc. Asheville, NC and the D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville. Copyright retained by the creators of certain items in the collection, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.  
Donor Donor number 168
Acquisition 2001-11-20
Citation The Biltmore Industries Collection (1901-1980), D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804.
Any use of the materials in this collection must cite the Grovewood Gallery, Inc., 111 Grovewood Road, Asheville NC 28804.
Processed by Jerry Ball, Museum Attendant and Resident Historian, Grovewood Gallery (2000-2001) and  UNCA Special Collections staff, 2004 .
Sub-series: [326 total items - full image]
       1919 - 1920  - Correspondence [34 items]
       1921  - Correspondence [20 items]
       1922  - Correspondence [28 items]
       1923  - Correspondence [10 items]
       1924 - Correspondence [12 items]
       1925 - Correspondence [11 items]
       1926 - Correspondence [29 items]
       1927 - Correspondence [19 items]
       1941 - Correspondence [1 item]