Posted in Dolls

by Ruby Lane

Black Dolls & American Culture

Dolls play an important role in Black History month, and they are a study in themselves. Entire museums and collections are devoted to them, as are many books and articles.  For example, author Myla Perkins’ Black Dolls, an Identification and Value Guide Book, Volumes I and II are collectors’ items in themselves.  Also interesting is Pam and Polly Judd’s photo study Asian and African Costumed Dolls.

‘Who won Second Place in Omaha?’ is a photo study in black and white of the amazing collection put together by a gifted African American art teacher and doll collector, Lenon Hoyte, formerly Aunt Len’s Doll Museum, Harlem. Photos of her collection were featured in Life’s 1970 Christmas Issue.

Photo via Cultural Heritage Books

Debbie Garrett is one of the nation’s leading authorities on the art of Black doll collecting and she authored a two part series for us last year on the “Art of Collecting Black Dolls”. We invite you to go enjoy part 1 and part 2 from her series for a review of her fascinating look at black history.

Debbie Garrett is one of the nation’s leading authorities on the art of Black doll collecting. She didn’t purchase her first Black doll for herself until her mid 30’s and today, she has authored three books focused on the subject. Garrett is a Black doll enthusiast and doll historian with a mission to document Black dolls from the past through the present simultaneously as she collects. Some of her most prized dolls came from Ruby Lane. Debbie Garrett takes us through these purchases in a special two-part guest blog, “Searching for Black Dolls on Ruby Lane”. Let’s take a virtual walk with Debbie and share her passion for these important dolls.
Black Hilda In Silk Brocade Chinese Costume

Black Hilda In Silk Brocade Chinese Costume

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12″ Ebony Sonneberg 111 Belton

German Black Bisque Head Character Doll by Simon & Halbig

German Black Bisque Head Character Doll by Simon & Halbig

The Philadelphia Doll Museum specializes in Black Dolls, and a festival devoted to them is the Festival of Black Dolls held at the Oakland African American Museum and Library. Rare 19th-century wooden examples were sometimes carved by slaves. Below is a fantastic virtual tour of the Philadelphia Doll Museum. They discuss the importance of black dolls in our culture and curators show us the exhibits on display.

Ancient African dolls and idols are national treasures. Particularly interesting are ancient iron dolls from the ironworkers of Benin and examples from Burkina Faso.  Related to them are magnificent African masks; one inspired Picasso and the Cubists. Dolls from the Caribbean are important cultural objects.

Antique Brazilian folk art
One-of-a-kind Black Cloth Child Doll

 Black cloth dolls from the US are considered to be museum quality artifacts. Black Beecher-type dolls are in the realm of folk art. Jumeau, Bru, Steiner, Shoneau and Hoffmeister, Armand Marseilles, UNIS, S.F.B.J and other makers all created dolls in brown or black bisque.  Folk dolls from the south made of pecans and other nuts are coveted by many collectors, too. Gambina dolls of New Orleans made portraits of Marie LeVeau and other important local figures.

Antique 20 inch Beecher-type Black Cloth Doll circa 1893 Missionary Rag doll
Black Stockinet Beecher Type Baby
All original 1920 Black Cloth Doll

 Leo Moss, with his tearful “Lillian”, is a doll making institution, (read a wonderful blog about Leo Moss dolls here) as is artist Floyd Bell.  There are also paper dolls, souvenir dolls, Georgian wooden dolls, artist dolls, wax dolls, Alexanders, the 60s and 70s hard plastic and vinyl dolls, and many more to choose from.

Photo of Leo Moss Doll via dollsinblack.blogspot.com

Photo of Leo Moss Doll via dollsinblack.blogspot.com

Brad, a black Ken style doll by Mattel and Black Barbie made their debut in the 70s, while Julia, based on Diahann Carroll’s famous TV character,  was a hit in talking and traditional varieties.

  Black dolls play a crucial role in American and World history as works of art and cultural artifacts.

Black doll OOAK sculpt

Black doll OOAK sculpt

1940's Black Hard Plastic Baby Doll

1940’s Black Hard Plastic Baby Doll

Bonnie Lu by Terri Lee

Bonnie Lu by Terri Lee

12 inch Scootles doll

12 inch Scootles doll

About the author: Ellen Tsagaris has collected dolls since she was three years old. She has made dolls, priced dolls, repaired, dressed, and studied dolls.  She has set up at craft shows and presented papers on dolls and their history at the Midwest Modern Language Association.  She is the author of several articles on dolls that have appeared in Doll Reader, National Doll World, Doll Designs, International Doll World, Hope and Glory, Doll News, Adventures, and The Western Doll Collector. She is the author of two books about dolls, Bibliography of Doll and Toy Sources and With Love from Tin Lizzie; A History of Metal Heads, Metal Dolls, Mechanical Dolls, and Automatons.  An active blogger, she features two blogs about dolls, Dr. E’s Doll Museum, and Doll Museum.  She lectures on dolls for various organizations and has displayed part of her collection in museums.

“Dolls are among the oldest cultural artifacts, and perhaps are the oldest toys.  My passion for dolls began when I was a toddler, and it has never stopped. Explore the wonderful world of all things ‘doll’ with me.”

 

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