In the late 1930s, Eloise Renfro was a young mother with three small children, living in a remote part of Mitchell County. It was during this difficult period of her life, while her husband was away with a job on the railroad, that Renfro learned the crafts that she still practices today. While Renfro was recovering from an illness, a county home agent set her to work learning to quilt. She sold the first quilt that she made, in a cathedral pattern, for $100. Soon after, she took a class held at the nearby Poplar School, and learned how to make Goldilocks and the Three Bears dolls. Despite the success of her quilting project, she was at first unsure of her abilities as a doll-maker. “‘I can’t make one of those things!'” she told the teacher. “But now,” she says, “I’ve made a thousand.”
Renfro’s “storybook dolls,” which include characters like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and about twenty others, are her most popular creations. The bestseller is Little Red Riding Hood, a three-faced flip doll that also features Grandma and the wolf. A doll that she calls “God Loves All the Little Children” has faces of four different races.
Although she did not learn directly from her mother, Renfro remembers her mother as an accomplished quilter, who got together with other local ladies to sew. Renfro’s daughter is also a craft artist, and her eldest granddaughter represents the fourth generation in a family tradition of expert seamstresses and craftswomen.
Mrs. Renfro’s dolls, as well as her quilts and other work, are available for purchase at Asheville Home Crafts in the Grove Arcade. Queries and commissions should be directed to Asheville Home Crafts, which will in turn contact Mrs. Renfro.