A story of perseverance and woodworking talent

Published 11:45 am Monday, September 18, 2023

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TRYON—At the next Live@Lanier, writer Bruce E. Johnson will discuss the history of toymaking in our area.

Johnson admits that he has been “guilty of focusing too much attention on the men responsible for the American Arts and Crafts movement.” In his latest book, however, “Biltmore Industries—Tryon Toy-Makers,” he spotlights two women whom he thinks too little has been fully known and appreciated for their contributions to the art of woodworking.

Eleanor Vance (1869-1954) trained for 10 years at the Cincinnati Art Academy but became discouraged as the first female woodcarver in a male-dominated profession. Charlotte Yale (1870-1958) studied as a musician. They met at Moody Bible College and together moved to Asheville. From 1902 to 1943, they taught hundreds of young women and men to create wood bowls, trays, bookends, frames, furniture and toys, first in Asheville’s Biltmore Industries and then in their Tryon cottage. 

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Their business, Tryon Toy-Makers, gained a national reputation for quality craftsmanship. In 1934, Eleanor Roosevelt arrived to buy toys for her grandchildren to place under the White House Christmas tree. Today, original toys are sought by museums and private collectors.

After ten years of research and writing, Bruce’s 200-page hardback volume brings together favorite stories as well as never-before-published information and photographs. More than insightful biographies of two enterprising women in challenging times, this is also the definitive illustrated guide for historians, curators, auctioneers, dealers, and collectors of Vance and Yale’s work. 

The Vance/Yale tradition of hand-crafted wood toys continues on Trade St. at Tryon Toymakers and Woodcarvers. You may want to ask Bruce about what happened to the hyphen in Tryon Toy-Makers. 

The Live@Lanier event takes place on September 28, at 1 p.m. at Lanier Library, located at 72 Chestnut St. in Tryon, For more info call (828) 859-9535 or visit www.thelanierlibrary.org.


Submitted by Vincent Verrecchio