StoryCorps in the Valley: A Crafty Mom and Her Legacy

Jun 16, 2021

Ellyn Voss as The Mouse House lady at the Mountain Heritage Arts & Crafts Festival in Harper's Ferry - June 1973.
Credit Shared with permission from Amy Voss-DeVito

As part of WMRA’s partnership with StoryCorps in the Shenandoah Valley and Central Virginia, we’re sharing a conversation today between sisters, Amy Voss-DeVito and Beverly Harrison.

They reminisce about their mother Ellyn Voss and her stardom in the craft world, in particular, her popular mouse creations. They have also created a Facebook Tribute Page and you can see some other Ellyn Voss creations here.

Amy Voss-DeVito and Beverly Harrison, pictured with a few dolls created by their mother, Ellyn Voss.
Credit StoryCorps

BEVERLY: So we're talking today about Mom and Mom's what… amazing artistic endeavors, and how it was that we grew up with that right?

AMY: Right, right.

BEVERLY: I would say one of my earliest memories is just how mom’s crafts, the mouse dolls that were felt dolls, very simple… but that she had somehow crafted from a design, sort of took over our lives from early childhood until I think I was a teenager. And we went to the craft show out where, near where we live, the Harpers Ferry craft show.

AMY: Mountain Heritage Craft Show. Right.

BEVERLY: Mom was so popular, and it was the '70s, that people would crowd, four and five people deep, around her booth.

AMY: Her booth.

BEVERLY: And it would get so hot that I remember mom would send me under the table and tell me to lie on the ground because a breeze could come through people's ankles.

AMY: Right, mom was worried about Beverly having heat stroke.

BEVERLY: Which I did. We passed out numbers when people were waiting outside in line. And so you had a number, and you would get called to Mom's booth. And you were allowed to buy two…

AMY: No, one doll. Because people would come in and wipe out her inventory.

BEVERLY: And it was our father who had the idea of having a big Whitman’s sampler. And so he would go through the line, and pass out people's numbers, and give them candy, and try to keep everybody calm. Because people got hot under the collar when they were, you know and you could only have two or three people at Mom's table signing, because they might want the same doll. And more than once, mom had to referee people.

AMY: And what they looked like… they were, they started out shorter they grow a little over the years, but they were about six inches high. They looked like a felt stuffed doll to look like a mouse standing up. And it had always had a white mob cap with this tiny perfect little satin bow at the back that she tied.

BEVERLY: Somehow, cuz she had big kind of chunky fingers, but she’d make these teeny tiny little things. 

AMY: She could do these incredible little tiny miniature crafts. And it would have this little wool dress, with a white color collar, and a white felt apron. And the white felt apron always had this little minute pocket that was holding a tiny little pair of scissors, or this little tiny gold safety pin. And in these little felt arms she put a million props.

BEVERLY: Yes!

AMY: And that was, I think, the part she enjoyed the most, was making the props. And before a show, it would take here all year to make several hundred of them. And then she'd sell out in three days. And before every craft show, she would get every blessed one of them out to look at them. And you'd have swarm, you'd have armies of these mob-capped dolls, when you're a little kid, marching over the dining room table, or the buffet on the top.

BEVERLY: Yes, and the freezer!

AMY:  And the freezer. At one point we were so hard pressed for space, storage, that she turned off, defrosted our downstairs full-size freezer. Emptied it out and we stored dolls in it. And it was so freaky to open the door and think you were going to get ice cream and see something like 75 dolls staring at you!

BEVERLY: And I have to say the other thing about mom that was fascinating, was how she took this whole doll-set thing, and the craft shows, and it was became such an integral part of our life.

AMY: It was a life style.

BEVERLY: It was, and we were craft show kids, it was great, we’d get to go out.

AMY: So much fun. You know we would walk around and we would find the other really popular crafters that had people standing around, and um…

BEVERLY: It was like being the child of a rock star, but at a craft show.

AMY: It was. It was craft show rock star status!

BEVERLY:  But mom taught us a lot of things through the craft shows. Like, we learned how to make change Amy was not about math so, Amy was not allowed to make change and handle money.

AMY: I packed a lot dolls and was nice to people, that was my job.

BEVERLY:  And even though I was four years younger, I got to handle the money, and make the change, and do the math ‘cause that wasn’t Amy’s thing. And it was amazing. And she taught us all about customer service, and patience, and just putting on this delightful demeanor of warm and welcome, and it was wonderful.

AMY: Anyway, thanks for listening to us.

BEVERLY: And letting us share this.

AMY: And honor our mother and her fearless creativity.

BEVERLY: So, look for Ellyn Voss, its spelled E L L Y N.

AMY: Because it was short for Llewellyn. Ellyn Voss, Ellyn Voss dolls.

BEVERLY:  And the Mouse House. People knew it as the Mouse House or the Mouse Lady. And our father because, he was graphic designer, graphic artist, he painted a sign that said “The Mouse House”. And I got that from Mom and Dad's house. And so, that is over my inside front door. So I have the Mouse House in my house now. It's pretty awesome.

AMY: It's awesome. Ellyn Voss dolls rock on!

BEVERLY: Yeah.

AMY: Thanks for sharing.

BEVERLY: Thank you so much.