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.
You can read all of Debbie’s doll blogs and find information about her popular books on her blog Black Doll Collecting.
“When created in an aesthetically pleasing manner to represent the people they portray, black dolls constantly renew my spirit. As a former extremely unfocused black-doll collector, today my emphasis is chiefly on vintage to modern dolls, one-of-a-kind dolls and dolls made by African American artists in a variety of categories and media. Spanning nearly two and a half decades, several avenues have been used to create my eclectic family of three-dimensional inanimate reflections of people of African descent.
Prior to 1998, most purchases were made either in person or through for-sale advertisements in periodicals. Waiting for the next doll publication to arrive created a rather sluggish doll-hunt-and-chase. After 1998, however, my use of the Internet to network with doll collectors and merchants sped up the process by which dolls entered the collection. Several online doll-buying sources became responsible for instantaneous purchases and the rapid growth of the collection ensued.
Ruby Lane has been one online source for finding vintage and unique black dolls. As an admittedly covetous collector, for quite some time I kept Ruby Lane my best kept doll-buying secret. I did not desire competition in my quest for elusive and one-of-a-kind dolls.
My first Ruby Lane acquisition in May 2009 is a doll I named Temperance and was purchased from Judy Kappron’s Artistic Differences shop. I had already become acquainted with this doll’s artist, Gloria Young (now Gloria Rone) of Massa’s Servants Collectibles, and wanted Temperance to join the doll family.
Temperance represents a newly freed American slave. She appears to be approximately age eight. Her distressed-looking dress is tea stained. A red bandana is tied around her neck, and her black shoes and hair are molded. The doll is seated on a wooden bench that has the image of a horse’s head at the base. Her “freedom” diorama measure 11 inches, which includes the top of a flag pole that holds what appears to be a waving American flag. The flag, picture of Abraham Lincoln and basket of cotton add to the “freedom” theme the artist created.
All my Ruby Lane transactions have been positive with dolls that arrived as described. However, because of the unique and often one-of-a-kind black dolls found in Judy’s shop, some of which she makes herself, she remains one of my favorite Ruby Lane sellers. I browse her shop frequently.
In February 2010, Judy offered a 21-inch one-of-a-kind doll made in 1989. This lovely doll has painted brown eyes with papier-mâché head, lower arms, and lower legs. The upper arms, upper legs, and body are made of cloth. The hair is uniquely fashioned into molded cornrows. Representing an early 1900s girl, she has a smiling mouth with teeth. Her white cotton print dress with smocked bodice and a two-tiered skirt was possibly made from a child’s garment. Marietta Myers 1989 appears on the doll’s neck. With an unknown given name, I named the doll Marietta, after the artist. A Facebook page dedicated to the late Marietta Myers indicates she also worked in clay for over 35 years.
Likewise offered by Judy Kapron, Jaelece and Patsy arrived in August of 2010. Both are her own creations. According to Judy’s description, “heads and boots are polymer and everything else is paper clay. They are one of a kind original sculpts, 11 inches tall including the old wooden blocks on which they stand. The clothing has many layers of paint to give a nice primitive look. Each one has its own doll.” Judy continues to offer these “block” dolls in her shop. As a gift for a friend, I purchased an additional similar one that was made at my request and specifications, including the color of its dress and the alphabet on the block stand.
In March 2012, an unmarked 12-inch doll with composition head, sculpted in the likeness of Horsman’s circa 1910 Baby Bumps, was found in another Ruby Lane shop. Horsman’s doll was designed after the German, circa 1909 Kammer and Reinhardt Kaiser Baby #100. Other doll companies were said to have copied Horsman’s Baby Bumps, which led to lawsuits or threat of legal action against the makers of the pretenders. It was Horsman’s claim that they owned the copyright to the Baby Bumps mold. My Ruby Lane find quite possibly is one of the Baby Bumps copies.
Horsman’s Baby Bumps bears the company’s hallmark. My doll has WA9 incised on the back of its neck. The body is brown muslin cloth; the arms and legs are brown cotton of a different color. Possibly due to its “Baby Mine by Ideal” tagged romper, the doll was identified by the Ruby Lane seller as Baby Mine. My research reveals that this doll, however, is not Baby Mine. Baby Mine had a different face and was all composition with straight legs. Whether or not a black Baby Mine was manufactured is unknown.
Several years after purchasing my Baby Bumps look-a-like, another collector shared a photo of an identical doll, inherited from her grandmother. Her doll wears the same Baby Mine-tagged romper. In addition, a circa 1910-1920 cabinet card image of a young child with a doll like mine is included in Black Dolls From the Collection of Deborah Neff (Radius Books 2015). The doll in the Black Dolls book is not identified by name, but clearly it is a doll like mine wearing an identical romper.”
Read more in Part Two next week!
Here are a few of Debbie’s favorite dolls on Ruby Lane:
A primitive doll with puppet, made by one of my all-time favorite doll artists, Gloria Young (Rone), is offered in the shop of one of my all-time favorite Ruby Lane sellers, Judy Kapron (Artistic Differences).
Whenever I see the head sculpt of this antique doll, my heart goes pitter-patter.
This big baby by Linda Murray, made me click the QuickView link.
Black boy dolls are not often seen. Tyrone, made by Judy Kapron, offered in her Artistic Differences Ruby Lane shop, would enhance any collection.
Photos courtesy of Debbie Garrett
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