Sunday, October 23, 2011

“Those who shun the whimsy of things

will experience rigor mortis before death.”
~ Tom Robbins

As my shop is being transformed, no one can accuse moi` of not being whimsical--loosey-goosey all the way! Here is one side that is still a work in progress...

And, that whimsy struck big time at auction this weekend. Years and years ago I became fascinated with doll making. Not the porcelain types...but the old fashioned cloth dolls...rag doll. Of course, the most famous is Raggedy Ann, made in 1915 with brown hair and shoe button eyes. Other popular rag dolls sought by collectors are two-headed Topsy Turvy dolls, Babyland Rag dolls from the early 1900s, and faceless Amish examples. They are one of the most ancient children's toys in existence; the British Museum has a Roman rag doll, found in a child's grave dating from 300 BC.

Dolls have always been an important confidante for a little girl. Sure, batteries and bells and whistles are replacing so many of the imagination-driven toys in the 21st century, but I am sure in beds around the nation...and world...little children still have a soft cuddly toy by their pillow. (Just like curling up with a good Kindle doesn't connect for me.) But, rag dolls were a great money saver for families in the 17th and 18th centuries. Instead of purchasing an expensive doll at a store, rag dolls were a creative craft to make at home. Oftentimes, mothers would save scrap material from other sewing projects to be used for rag dolls.

Even though Raggedy Ann is one of the more famous rag dolls, Babyland Rag cloth dolls were sold by FAO Schwartz, Macy 's, and Gimbel Bros. ranging in price from 24 cents to $2.00 in the early 1900s (about $45 today). They were 13-28" tall, white or black, all cloth with a flat simple with little detail, painted face, mitt like hands; some have mohair sewn to top of head, clothing is removable, marked: Genuine Babyland Trade Mark or unmarked. Some may have the date printed on the lower edge of the head plate, PAT'D JULY 8th 1901; it is believed these were made by Albert Brückner for the Horsman Co.

But...back to auction...and cloth dolls. When I first started making dolls in the 1980s, I was fascinated by a doll designer, Gretchen Wilson. It seems her inspiration was the same as the mothers of the past...young and poor and in search of a doll for her daughter. She found a few scraps of muslin, an old hat, toddler's shoes and hand-me-down clothes. She sat at her kitchen table with a needle and thread, and a doll was born.

Years later, along with a friend, Colleen Charleston, she founded Little Souls in 1986. According to an article in 2001 People, "their plump-cheeked creations, which sell at stores nationwide for between $180 and—for custom-made models—$3,000, have shown up on Oprah and, according to Wilson and Charleston, in the collections of Demi Moore, Whitney Houston and Susan Sarandon. The fiber-stuffed muslin dolls 'have big feet, and some are having bad-hair days,' says Richard Bloom, who sells them in his Portland, Ore., store. 'They have an emotional impact because they're not perfect.'"

The dolls were made in their factory in Bridgeport, Pa., and they had a 28-member production crew that included ex-welfare mothers, a former homeless person and immigrants from Nigeria and Cambodia.
The article also noted that Charleston and Wilson "imported doll clothes made by underprivileged women in places as far-flung as Tibet and Ghana, providing daycare programs for the seamstresses' children. 'They're generating a higher quality of life for people in developing nations,' says Christopher Gallagher, president of the not-for-profit Social Venture Network, a group of philanthropic entrepreneurs."
In a New York Times article from 1991, it talks about how the company was now up to 40 artists who designed the dolls and helped scout flea markets for buttons, tin brooches, toys, handmade socks, overalls, sweaters and shirts. "We try to find toys and hats that are old, and new clothes that have some texture and character," Ms. Wilson said. "We try to see things with a different eye." It mentions that they bought 2,000 hats made in the 1920's. Wool meant for making rugs is used for the dolls' hair, and odd-lot shoes in toddlers' sizes serve as footwear.
So...flash forward to auction Friday night...there they were...lined up...and so, my whimsy took over. I had not seen her dolls since the days when we admired them in the windows of unique shops in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia...she is still designing, but she does them in true designer fashion one of a kind now. These are from earlier production, but they are signed and have a tag with a number. Here is Eve, designed for 2000, and then Mother Goose interpreted as a Little Soul.

So, as this quotation from Heather Kent says, "It has to be fun. Whimsy and wonder are important. Keeping things light makes it easier for people to look at them."


The Tote Trove said...

I love the yellow of your shop. And all the details about rag dolls were very interesting, especially Gretchen Wilson's story. You're right; even with all the technology at our disposal, little girls still prefer old-fashioned dolls as one of life's basic comforts.

Just a bed of roses said...

Toyland at the YELLOW Dutch Rose!

Lisa said...

love your yellow shoppe wall! i think as girls, we never outgrow the love of dolls...the doll in my studio and the vintage tutu on my mannequin add some femininity in my otherwise male dominated home!

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