D. H. Ramsey Library Special Collections and University Archives



"Carving a Squirrel, [Pauline Miller Cowan]," photographed by Bayard Wootten.
Used with permission from the North Carolina Collection,
University of North Carolina Library at Chapel Hill,
Wootten-Moulton Studio Collection [ WM 217-10 445-1 ]    

Title  Pauline Miller Cowan  Collection
Creator Pauline Miller Cowan
Identifier http://toto.lib.unca.edu/findingaids/mss/cowan/cowan.htm
Subject Keyword Tryon Toy Makers ; Pauline Miller Cowan  ; Elizabeth Scruggs ; woodcarving ; Biltmore Estate Industries ; Eleanor Vance ; Charlotte Yale ; Tryon, NC ; craft ; toys ;
Subject LCSH Cowan, Pauline Miller 1909-1986
Tryon Toy Makers, (Tryon, N.C.)
Wood-carving -- Technique
Decoration and ornament
Furniture making
Carving (Decorative arts)
Handicraft -- Appalachian region, Southern
Arts and crafts movement -- Appalachian Region, Southern
Description Pauline Miller Cowan was a master wood-carver for the Tryon Toy-Makers, located in Tryon, North Carolina in the early years of the twentieth-century. The collection contains original designs, templates, source material, and conceptual drafts for wood-carving executed by Pauline Miller Cowan and by Eleanor Vance, one of the owners of Tryon Toy Makers. Daily ledgers, notes, and random correspondence is also found in the collection. The some 118 drawings and accompanying materials are fragile, and in varying sizes, requiring multiple storage locations. See the Checklist below for specific information on the selected works.
Publisher D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804
Contributor Elizabeth Scruggs, daughter
Date Date acquired: 2005-04-29 ; Date accessioned: 2005-05-02 ; Date digital: 2005-05-03
Type Collection ; Text ; Drawings
Format .5 linear feet
Source M2005.3.1 ; OS2005.3.1 ;
Language English
Relation Biltmore Industries Archive ; Wooten-Moulton Collection, P-11, The Photographer Bayard Wooten, Print and Photographic Collections, North Carolina Collection http://www.lib.unc.edu/ncc/pcoll/wootten/
Coverage 1913-1960 ;Tryon, N.C. ; Southeastern United States
Rights Rights retained by Elizabeth Scruggs, daughter of Pauline Miller Cowan. Any public use, publication, or commercial use requires permission of Elizabeth Scruggs, as stipulated by United States copyright law.  

Photograph of Pauline Cowen, property of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina Collection, Wooten-Moulton Studio Collection [WM217-10 445-1].   

 Any display, publication, or public use must credit the D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville, as the holding repository of the Pauline Miller Cowan Collection.

Donor Elizabeth Scruggs
Acquisition  2005-04-29
Citation Pauline Miller Cowan Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804.
Processed by Special Collections staff, 2005 ; Helen Wykle
Biography Pauline Miller was the only child born to Doss and Minnie Hines Miller. She grew up in the Green Creek area of Polk County on Poors Ford Road. Her father was a farmer and her mother, a homemaker. Her daughter, Elizabeth remembers that, "She enjoyed going to the fields with her father during the day and would borrow his pocket-knife and whittle on any wood -- stick, board, etc.  -- that she could find. She enjoyed the 'feel' of wood."  One of the artifacts of her childhood is a delicate little pair of sewing scissors flawlessly replicated in wood, executed with nothing but the knife.

After graduation from Green Creek High School, Pauline attended Wake Forest College where she obtained her teacher certification. She taught school for about two years and then realized that teaching was not what she wanted to do. It was at this critical time in her life that she caught the attention of Eleanor Vance and Charlotte Yale, the owners of Tryon-Toy-Makers in Tryon, North Carolina. The two women recognized her unusual talent and hired her to work with their industry. She found boarding in Tryon, close to the Toy-Makers with Mr. and Mr. Hinton Thompson, on Grady Avenue. Obviously, Pauline found the work with Tryon Toy-Makers to be satisfactory, as she stayed with the industry for eighteen years. During those years, she advanced to the position of lead carver and was entrusted with executing the most refined and demanding assignments. Among the many accomplishments at the Toy-Makers were a cigarette caddy and a guest-book cover commissioned by President Woodrow Wilson and a fruit bowl that was presented to Eleanor Roosevelt.

In the town of Tryon there are many homes that bear witness to her talents, including the Tryon residence of Chicago architect George Repp where she carved a series of remarkable horned owls. In the Ben Gramling house, across the border in South Carolina, she carved a mantel and in Asheville, she carved several pieces for Fred Seely, the builder and manager of the Grove Park Inn. Her most famous work was the elaborate doorway for publisher David Lawrence's  home in Washington, D.C.,  pictured in Allen Eaton's 1937 book, Handicrafts of the Southern Highlands.

In 1937 Pauline married A.J. Cowan, whose father came from Bristol, Tennessee to work in the LeMort Vineyard in Polk County. "A.J.", as he was known, moved to North Carolina with his father when his mother passed away when he was seven years old. Together A.J. and Pauline built the Rock Grill Cafe on Main Street in Tryon and the two worked together to prepare tasty home-cooked food which especially appealed to patrons from dry jurisdictions who enjoyed their meals accompanied by beer.

When "A.J." and Pauline married, they bought a house on Broadway Street in Tryon, and later they bought a home on Warrior Mountain Road in Pacolet Valley. They had one child, Elizabeth, whom they called "Libby." Their daughter,  Libby Cowan Scruggs, is the donor of the material in this collection.

Even after the demise of Vance and Yale's Tryon Toy-Makers industry, Pauline never stopped carving. Besides accessories in the mode of the Tryon Wood Carvers, she produced a body of furniture work to her own designs including tables, chairs, cabinets and a tall Grandfather clock. These are executed in maple, walnut and other woods, some being taken from massive salvaged planks. Her late pieces show esthetic influences from later 20th century styles, such as Southwest Ranch motifs. Yet in a 1960's casual asymmetrical fireside bench/coffee table created by Pauline,  one may see a plaquette of delicate galax or other foliage harkening back to the arts and Crafts designs developed by Eleanor Vance at Biltmore Estate Industries.

[*Biographical contributions by Elizabeth "Libby" Scruggs and by Michael McCue from his upcoming publication on the Tryon Toy-Makers and Wood Carvers. Used with permission.]

Box Folder Item Description
OS2005.3.1 OS - Box cow Drawings I

Drawings II

M2005.3.1 1 cow1   Log Book # 1 containing aggregated list of carvings completed for Tryon Wood Carvers from1930 to1937 and hours worked. Includes some drawings.[148 pages and 108 scanned images.]
  2 cow2   Log Book # 2 containing record of carvings completed in 1935. Includes some drawings. [40 pages ; 37 scanned images]
  3 cow3   Log Book # 3 containing records of work completed for Tryon Toy Makers completed in 1938. [111 pages with many blank pages. 19 scanned images.]
    cow4 Clipping Sources from newspapers, magazines, and other sources used as inspiration and example for Pauline Miller Cowan
  4     Clippings - Furniture
  5     Clippings - Carving, Misc.
  6     Clippings - Dogs, Animals
  7     Clippings - Misc.
  8   Payroll Records, Employment information
  9   Pamphlets and Brochures
  10   Misc. Small Drawings and Patterns
  11   Digital image - "Carving a Squirrel, [Pauline Miller Cowan]," photographed by Bayard Wootten. Permission to reproduce must be obtained from the North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina Library at Chapel Hill, Wootten-Moulton Studio Collection [ WM 217-10 445-1 ]    Pauline Cowen Miller by Bayard Wooten. Used with permission.

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