John Buford Cowden (1921-2015) owned John Cowden Woodcarvers in Sevierville, Tennessee, up in the Great Smoky Mountains, just north of Pigeon Forge. He learned to carve wood from his father, Wilburn Redmond Cowden (1896-1981). This beautiful wren was carved of maple by John, circa the 1970's. We've included pictures of some pages from a 1977 brochure that advertised Cowden's shop and his carvings. The price list states that his carved wrens sold for 7 and 10 dollars at that time. It also bills the shop as "The home of the oldest woodcarver in the area" (Wilburn). There's also an undated photo of John busy carving, with a display of his works in the background.
This songbird has metal legs that perch it on a slice of tree branch with the bark covering three sides. Its eyes are carved into the wood and the wing feathers carved for a natural look. The bottom is stamped "John Cowden Woodcarvers Route 9 Sevierville, Tn 37862 Ph. 436-5479" (Some of the stamp is blurred; we got the information from the price list. Note that zip codes were introduced in 1963). Standing 5 inches tall including the base, the wren is itself is 7 inches long, the base 2 3/4 by 1 1/2 inches and it weighs about 5 ounces. It's in very good condition and displays handsomely on a table or shelf. Just a great carving from a renowned Tennessee carver.
>>>The following is an excerpt from The Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community History online:
" No one planned it when the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community developed in Gatlinburg, it just happened. For years, artists and craftsmen practiced their specialty in downtown Gatlinburg. Sometimes in studios and galleries and often, out on the street where visitors and residents could watch them develop their creations. People came and watched, and the craftsmen did what they do best; they crafted.
Around 1937, John Cowden and several other craftsmen decided to go home…weather, increased traffic, excessive commissions to shop owners, and other disruptions were impacting their ability to work as they wanted, and they decided to move their craft shops to the Glades, where many of them lived. They left downtown to the shop owners and set up their own shop, studios, and galleries, in or near their homes. (Note: John would have been 16 or 17 years old at this point.)
They invited the visitors to Gatlinburg to come out to the Glades to see their facilities and look at their wares. They soon realized they could do even more and better work, because of the availability of their tools and supplies. Not to mention the reduction in stress because of being close to the comfort and surroundings of home and family.
Shortly after John Cowden made the move, another long established artisan and member of the community, Carl Huskey, a furniture maker, followed suite (sic) and opened the Village Craft Shop in the Glades. Soon after that dozens of other artisan and craftsmen started migrating to this new center of activity, and the seeds were sown for the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community."