Sunday, January 19, 2014

"It is an anxious, sometimes a dangerous thing

to be a doll. Dolls cannot choose; they can only be chosen; they cannot 'do'; they can only be done by.”   ~Rumer Godden

       And do we ever have dolls to choose!  My able-bodied designer - also known as my "elf" - came into a phenomenal collection of Annalee dolls.
 If you have been following my train of thought (when it is on the track), I have been promoting made in America.  These dolls were made in America-in Meredith, New Hampshire, actually,  for 65 years, and, even though they did go to China the first part of this century, the current owners are trying to have some assembled here.  Their explanation:
            "We worked very hard to find a company that could manufacture our dolls to the quality level coming from Meredith, which we did. However, we always had the goal of bringing the manufacturing of Annalee Dolls back home to New Hampshire.  After a positive response with our seven-piece Christmas, Home for the Holidays line, we have decided to take the next step. In March, we will be launching our early season, Home for the Holidays Assembled in America collection! It will consist of about 18 styles including Spring and Easter, Patriotic and Everyday designs! Our goal is to see if you, the folks who enjoy our products, would like to see us continue to expand this offering. Whenever you see the American flag heart symbol next to a design in our catalog, it means that it has been Assembled in America! We hope you will decide to make these pieces part of your seasonal gift giving and decorating traditions."
        This doll artist was named Barbara Annalee Davis, and, according to my research, she designed the faces to resemble hers!  I was only able to find small photos of her...guess she figured...look at the doll...look at me!
Born in New Hampshire in 1915 and called Annalee, she loved to make dolls, and, when her friends went off to college, she took her doll making to an entrepreneurial level by selling them through the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen and later moved to Boston and sold through S.S. Pierce.
Now, the story gets 1941, she met Charles "Chip" Thorndike, a Harvard graduate. They married and moved to Meredith, New Hampshire, where they raised a family and opened Thorndike's Eggs and Auto Parts (I am not making that up!  Fix the wipers and scramble an egg?). 
That business survived until 1950 when the price of eggs and poultry fell, and Annalee wanted to see if she could make money selling her dolls again.
The Thorndikes sold off a section of the poultry farm and used the profits to create a small line of skier dolls. The line was a success, and slowly the Annalee doll "Factory in the Woods" was born. This continued until, in 1955, Annalee Mobilitee Dolls was incorporated as a company.
Her dolls did sell...the faces do pull you really are forced to stare back!  From Santas to mice to bunnies and the beloved "Logo Kids," these felt-and-wire characters all meet their creator's stated goal: "To make people smile!"
And, by 1960, the dolls were in 40 states, Canada, and Puerto Rico.  Up to this point, the dolls were being made in their house.  Then, the Annalee Doll "Factory in the Woods" was located on Reservoir Road in Meredith on fourteen acres of land dotted with seven buildings containing 34,000 square feet.  In addition to being the location where the dolls were made, it was a major Lakes Region tourist destination, including, among other things, shaded picnic and play areas, a display of antique cars, a covered footbridge, the Annalee Doll Museum, and a gift shop.
Annalee Dolls came into the spotlight again when, in 1975, a New Hampshire state legislator gave President Gerald Ford a selection of dolls to decorate the White House Christmas tree.  In 1990, Annalee Dolls became the headgear sponsor for Christopher Pederson, a member of the United States Ski Team. The Annalee logo was placed on all of his headgear, and, in exchange, the company sold a special "Victory Ski Doll" of which five percent of the sales went to the ski team.
Now, if you read last week's post, you know I talked about how Mom and Pop style businesses did not seem to work with sons and daughters.  In 1992, Annalee and Chip gave each of their sons, Townsend and Charles, 48 percent of the doll making company, and in 1995, Charles took control of the everyday operations of Annalee dolls.  In 2001, the sons outsourced production to China, but kept the design and marketing ends in the Meredith.  They decided that buyers did not care where they were made, and that collecting anything was not in vogue.  They were not out of's buyers go for the look, not necessarily the authenticity of something.  Anyway, Annalee died in 2002, and I have to say it was probably a blessing because the sons created a series of lawsuits over company ownership that even went to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.  The lawsuit started in 2003 over a Santa doll.  The one brother had interest in Annalee Mobilitee, the other in the Design Studio.   The lawsuit made its way to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, and it appears that it was settled in 2008.
The company was eventually sold to David Pelletier, Bob Watson, and the Imagine Company of Hong Kong, the company which builds the dolls.  They sold off the factory property to a theatre company, but they did keep the corporate headquarters (chicken farm building).
Annalee dolls are durable and bendable due to wire construction, but have a soft felt body on the outside.  In the original construction of the dolls, Chip Thorndike would make the wire frames while Annalee would sew and paint the dolls. Chip also would create small wooden props to match the theme. Starting in the fall of 1986 the label sewn onto each doll began to include the year the doll was made.
When you see one of these dolls, now you know the rest of the story.  And, from another New Englander, a thought about the creative spirit that obviously filled Barbara Annalee Davis Thorndike..."Creativity is not the finding of a thing, but the making something out of it after it is found." ~James Lowell

Creativity is not the finding of a thing, but the making something out of it after it is found.

Creativity is not the finding of a thing, but the making something out of it after it is found.


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