The roots of the hobby of doll collecting which today is enjoyed by enthusiasts around the world, took shape in early part of the 20th century. This growing interest in collecting dolls was fostered by doll collecting and doll making pioneer Emma Clear.
Emma was born in St. Louis on April 14, 1879. She grew up in Buffalo, New York. In high school she joined a doll club which made little dolls for the Children’s Hospital in Buffalo and she often spent her spare time fixing broken dolls for the neighborhood children. After high school, she studied commercial law, attended Vanderbilt University, and pursued her interests in sculpture and writing.
By 1908 Emma was divorced and looking for a means of support when she hit upon the idea of opening a specialty doll shop and hospital in Buffalo. In 1914 she left, moved to Cleveland, Ohio where she became affiliated with The Cleveland Doll Hospital. In 1917 Emma moved to Los Angeles, California and again opened a shop. Eventually, she moved her shop to her home and in 1928 she closed the doll hospital completely and she and her husband Wallace opened a chicken ranch in Redondo Beach.
The Great Depression hit the Clears hard, in 1929 their farm went bust and they had to go on assistance. Soon after the end of their business Emma became very ill and during her convalescence her thoughts turned once again to dolls. Doll collecting was regaining popularity as a hobby and remembering the boxes of dolls, parts and supplies she had packed away in storage she decided to open a new doll shop and hospital.
Emma was very knowledgeable about old and antique dolls and had the experience and proper parts to repair them as well as a staff of highly trained artisans, soon her business was booming. During WWI when the supplies of doll parts from Germany had instantly dried up Emma had experimented with making replacement doll parts. Now as her stock of old parts ran out, she started to make reproduction parts. This led to making reproductions of the china and untinted bisque dolls that were popular with collectors.
The earliest doll she produced was her Jenny Lind china doll. By the early 1940s she was able to offer collectors a wide variety of very fine dolls. She referred to her creations as replica dolls and stated that she was not trying to imitate old dolls but rather that she wanted to capture the beauty and charm of them.
The very first Clear dolls were unmarked but early on it was pointed out to Emma that unscrupulous dealers might try to pass her dolls off as antique and she soon began marking her dolls. The two types of incised marks used by Clear are represented here, they are the name Clear in script, often with the year of manufacture inside the C and the initials HDDH for Humpty Dumpty Doll Hospital plus the year of manufacture. Cloth tags as seen here were sewn onto the doll’s bodies, these read Humpty Dumpty // Doll Hospital.
Not satisfied with making only replica dolls Emma wanted a set of original design dolls depicting George and Martha Washington. To that end she hired sculptor Martha Oathout Ayers to design the pair for her. Mrs. Ayres was a well-respected artist best known for her bronzes of children and was listed in Who’s Who in America in 1927. Her portraits of the Washingtons show the couple in later life and are very well detailed.
With the success of the Washington dolls Martha Ayres went on to sculpt Danny and the Modern Madonna, which were sculpted after the artist’s own children. The modern Madonna portrayed a young mother of the 1940s. She wears a 40s hairstyle with a snood, and open toe shoes. She carried a baby called Bill.
Not only was Emma an astute business woman and a knowledgeable doll dealer, but as mentioned earlier she was an avid correspondent. She knew all of the major American doll collectors of her day as well as such doll world notables as Grace Storey Putnam and doll researchers Janet Johl and Eleanor St George. She wrote articles for Hobbies magazine.
In addition to all of her other roles she was a mentor to a generation of doll artists. Read any mid twentieth century book on American doll artists and you are likely to find the name of Emma Clear listed as a friend and helper. She was always willing to share her vast store of acquired knowledge about porcelain doll making, working with wax, wig making and so forth. Through her catalogs she provided wigs, corsets, eyes, shoes, and stands to other doll makers and repairers.
Emma Clear died on November 22, 1952 but her legacy in the doll world lives on in the beautiful dolls she created, in the work of the many artists she helped and inspired, and in a way within every porcelain dollmaking studio where people of today enjoy the hobby she so avidly supported.
Author – Linda Edward.
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