|For both the Calistoga and Napa County Fairs and their parades, Irene Cowan has been engaged to wear her fantastic hats, with appropriate costuming, to represent various colorful, and even shady||
ladies of the past: Lola Montez,
Lilly Langtry, Lillian Russell, and even Martha Washington.
Decked out in her flowing dresses and Dolly Vardens, she is a
reminiscent figure from the past. Indeed,, many oldsters have
come up to her dewey-eyed to tell her how nostalgic those
costumes are for them. These particular hats echo of Gainesborough, and the Reconstruction Era, of the Old South.
But, aside from-these feathered and floral beauties, there are
subtler turbans, some with trailing scarves to be draped
around the neck, that summon up images of misty figures in a
seraglio. Then too, Irene Cowan has recently produced some
very mod, deep-pile fabric cloches. And a nearly edible,
intensely grape-colored gaucho riding hat, that she modelled
jauntily atop her halo of white hair.
She unfolded a piece of crochet and held it up, in filet
stitch, her Mother had reproduced, without a pattern,
DaVinci's Last Supper. Irene plans to mat this on purple
velvet and frame it in antique baroque gold. And she'll no
doubt hand it on one of her matching lilac walls. Purple,
purple everywhere, and nary a grape to drink! Even a purple
feather duster dangling from the antique single-tree hanging
above her marble-topped work table in the kitchen. "Purple
has too long been associated with funerals, Lent, and old
ladies, " she quipped, "I'm going to grow older, but I'm never
going to be an old lady!"
By way of personal history, Irene relates, "When I was
born, I weighed under four pounds. We had a country doctor,
who gave me up for dead. Even my poor Mother had
accepted the idea I wouldn't live. But my sixteen year old
sister put me in a box padded with cotton, and stayed up two
days and nights keeping the fire blazing and holding me hear
it for warmth. I guess- that's why I have always felt
especially close to her, and kind of have a sixth sense about
"Actually, there were eight children in our family. Seven are still living.- I have two brothers in Sacramento, my sister in Corpus Christi, and the rest live in St. Louis. Our Dad was a contractor, and built several lovely homes in St. Louis. Besides learning farm work, I also learned a lot of carpentry from Dad as a child. I guess I was more boy than girl in those days, " she laughed.
Irene was born and mainly raised in the little burrough of Bucyrus outside of Huston, Mo., near Cape Girardo (great fishing there!). Later, as a young woman, she lived in Minnesota. Where, she says proudly. she learned to be quite self-sufficient in nature's realm. "I learned how to fish through the ice, and then smoke the fish to preserve them. I even got in some bear hunting.
It was in northern Minnesota that Irene Cowan first came into serious contact with the art of millinery. Although she does recall that a girlhood teacher, Miss Wilson, used to encourage her in her admiration for hats. She had a friend in Minnesota who owned a hat shop. observing and practicing the tricks of the trade, Irene soon mastered the intricacies of special stitching and difficult methods of shaping and stretching the various fabrics.
Then, during World War II, she moved to Washington. She met her husband, Don Cowan, in Klamath Falls, while he was an M. P. on duty at Tule Lake. They married there, but didn't move to Calidfornia till the end of the war. in fact, their eldest son was born during that hectic week when armistice was declared, and she didn't see her husband for three days while he remained on around -the- clock duty.
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Rev 2b: 3 Dec 1999 : rdk
Copyright 1999, Yoakum Archives
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