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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Followers, Folk Dolls, and other Good Things

I would like to welcome my new followers. I will continue my histories with a discussion of older books about dolls and doll collectors, and with summaries and commentaries of Laura Starr's The Doll Book. Here are some photos to enjoy. Don't forget to check out Dr. E's Doll Museum, Dr. E's Greening Tips for the Commoan Person, Memoir, Writing your Life Story; Miss Charlotte Bronte meets Miss Barbara Pym, and An Apologia for Countess Erezebet Bathory; these are my other blogs. There are tidbits and photos of dolls on all of them. I'd like to cover folk dolls a little more in this blog, following up with later with sources mentioned above. Dolls have been made literally of every material imaginable. Folk Dolls are technicall dolls made by artists with no formal aritstic or industry training, but the category has expanded to include dolls made by hand, various costume dolls, folklore figures, artist made dolls. Wherever a lot of handwork is involved, the doll becomes a folk doll. Wendy Lavitt's American Folk Dolls is a great place to start researching them, as is Loretta Holts, The How to Book of International Dolls [please forgive spelling and inadvertent typos; my eeys are allergy ridden. my arthritic hands bad]. Also, my book, A Bibliography of Doll and Toy Sources, available from me, also has many, many listings for folk dolls and handmade dolls.
Other authors that cover the subject very well include all of Mary Hillier, particulary her class Dolls and Dollmakers, Eleanor St. George in her books Old Dolls, The Dolls of Yesterday, The Dolls of Three Centuries, All of Clara Hallard Fawcett's books, Helen Young [also an artist], The Complete Book of Doll Collectin 1967; Carl Fox The Doll, Laura Starr, The Doll Book, Lesley Gordons' books on dolls, with her own illustrations, Gwen White's books on dolls, Janet Pagter Johl's books, Catherine Christopher's The Complete Book of Doll Making and Collecting, and Evelyn Chisman, Small Dolls and Other Collectibles. Karl Grober's book on toys and dolls, 1928 has some great examples, and my friend R. Lane Herron covers the subject well in Much Ado about Dolls.
I have dolls made of paper derived from elephant "Poo", cornhusks and cobs, taxidermied allegators, taxidermied frogs, fur [mink]; animal skulls, bone, ivory, rocks, bottles, baby bottle nipples, corkscrews and spoons, wooden spoons, soap, newspaper, glasses, clay, bowling pins, bricks, wax and candles; grasses and woven grains, mud, cloth, dried apples and dried prunes and fruits, gingerbread, breads and cookies, candies and marzipan, rice kernels, insect parts, pecan resins, coal, yarns and fibres, flowers and other seeds, wood, dried fish [heavily varnished!], seashells, lobster parts, paper, clay, pencils, found objects, skin and leather, precious and other metals, semiprecious stones, you name it. Many Native American dolls I bought outwest and on other trips show the mark of skilled folk artists. Ethnic dolls often are mde this way. A good article covering them is in the 1956 Volume D. of Worldbook Encyclopedia. [I also like to collecti encyclopedia volumes D,dolls, T, toys, C, Costumes, P, Puppets, etc. Libraries are only too happy to give away the print copies!] I am still looking for a set of dressed Mexican fleas and will follow any leads.
Some of these dolls began life as ritual figures; others were meant to be toys. I made dolls out of broom straws and Kleenex to amuse myself when I was little. I took a broomstraw, and bent, but did not break, the top to reach half as much to the bottom. This was a tiny fairy girl with long hair. I made dozens of yarn dolls, and figures for the doll houses with playdough. Many of these still exist in my collection. My little friend R., who now lives 2 houses down from me, and I live in her sisters old house, made me a doll using nails, an old ruler cut and fitted like a cross, with hair made of strips of old bed sheets and clothese to match. I've also used pins and nails, a well as nuts and bolts. My dad carved us dolls out of twigs one summer after he mowed the lawn. They were named Brook and Ellen, for me and my best friend. I made baby dolls out Marshmallows impaled, as it were, on toothpicks, and many dolls out of Xeroxed photos of dolls built up with cloth and playdough. These had cloth bodies, and often extensive wigs and wardrobes. I made Joan of Arc in her armour out of a doll mask, foil, and cardboard. These exist today, and were recently refurbished and exhibited in a Christmas display at church. They got rave reviews. Pillow dolls and handkerchief dolls are easy to make, and often fun to display. They also serve as a comforting object to a little child, especially late at night. There are many handmade examples of the dolls of poor children, including one made of a shoe in one museum, The Museum of Childhood in Edinburgh. The Benaki Museum in Athens has handmade clay examples and other examples made of dough and traganth. Grober talks about traganth dolls, too.
Starr devotes chapter after chapter to fence post dolls, ritual figures, sign post dolls, etc. Many shell covered dolls and pinchushion dolls were handmade objects, too.
Cornhusk and apple dolls enjoy periodic Renaissances, and some were even reproduced in porcelain. Clothespin dolls are great, and my friend Deb Ritter of Uneek Designs on Etsy makes terrific artist verisons of historical and literary people. I have a Tin Man made of strung cans, and flower pot people. Our neighbor has one of these life-sized. I love scarecrows, and making puppets out of newspaper papier mache as well.
Frozen Charlottes and their accompanying ballad have entered the realm of folk dolls in Helen Young's book. There is even a song about them in Natalie Merchant's album, "Ophelia." My artist Friend Jeanne O'Melia creates wonderful figures and dolls from all sorts of found objects. OOAK dolls and Barbies fit this category rather well, as do some of the early reborn babies.
Somerset Studios has lots of ideas for handmade assemblage dolls, and their Art Doll Quarterly is a revelation. Ancient Children in Greece and Egypt often made their own toys, and the stuffed linen rag doll that is 2000+ years old is one example.

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