Last week we posted Part One of Black doll historian and expert Debbie Garrett’s illuminating advice and knowledge on the art of collecting Black dolls, particularly her finds on Ruby Lane. As one of the nation’s leading authorities, she is the author of three books on the subject. Here is the second part of her piece and we are fortunate to feature her as a guest blogger. You can also read more on her popular blog Black Doll Collecting.
“In January 2013, using the keywords “black doll” in the search box on Ruby Lane, I was overjoyed to find a 15-inch bisque and cloth character doll with tears that stream from its eyes, made in the fashion of Leo Moss dolls. This Moss artist doll was made by the late Betty Formaz, a doll artist and collector, attributed as the person to bring Leo Moss dolls to the attention of the doll community. Leo Moss, a handyman from Macon, Georgia, made mostly black dolls in the likeness of family members, friends and on commission during the late 1890s through approximately 1932.
In the early 1970s, Formaz is said to have purchased several Moss dolls from one of Moss’s daughters. In 1973, one such doll was entered in a United Federation of Doll Clubs competition and won the fourth place blue ribbon. The ribbon-winning original Moss doll was owned by a friend of Formaz, doll historian and author, Myla Perkins. Beginning in the 1970s, Formaz began making artist renderings of the now highly sought-after original Leo Moss dolls that usually sell for several thousand dollars in today’s market. I have since acquired other Formaz Moss artist doll, but the baby, found on Ruby Lane, remains one of my favorites.
In December 2013, a 7-inch celluloid souvenir doll, Didine, by Sandra Dogue circa 1940s, was purchased from a Ruby Lane shop owner from Canada. Sandra Dogue dolls are noted as higher-end, French-made souvenir dolls sold in the French West Indies. My doll has delicately painted facial features and wears a plaid headscarf and multicolored dress typical of souvenir dolls from Martinique. An attached slip, undergarment, gold beaded earrings, molded-on socks and shoes complete her detailed attire. The original hangtag is printed in French and English. The English text on the back reads: Exact reproduction original costumes of Caribbee/Dressed in Caribbee.
Two of my most prized Ruby Lane acquisitions were purchased in June 2014. They are an incredible pair of 16-inch wax dolls by Gladys MacDowell, who made dolls from the 1940s through the 1970s. MacDowell was a member of the National Institute of Doll Artists (NIADA) and a member of the Dollology Club of Washington. These doll siblings are made of wax with brown cloth bodies and brown inset side-glancing glass eyes. Both have bare feet. Tuesday, the girl, has rooted brown hair of mohair styled in six sectioned-off plaits with yellow fabric tied at each end. She wears a blue calico-print dress, yellow undies and a white beaded alphabet bracelet that spells her name. The back of Tuesday’s breastplate and extending onto her brown cloth back is marked: Tuesday = Gladys MacD./Tuesday #1./To-/Marie Mae Schwartz/by/Gladys MacDowell. The boy is unmarked and was later discovered to be attributed to another NIADA artist, I. V. Roberts, who reportedly worked closely with MacDowell. Upon arrival, the boy had sparse reddish brown rooted hair. I later made the Afro wig he now wears. He wears his original clothing of yellow shirt made from the same muslin fabric as Tuesday’s undies and royal blue short pants with cuffed hems. A harmonica attached to a white string hangs around his neck. Using the first letters from the names of three important males in my life, I have named him Cal.
Tuesday and Cal have a very interesting story. The owner of the former Ruby Lane shop, Mama Jo’s House of Dolls, Jo Maeder, is the great niece of Gladys MacDowell. Jo also owns one of MacDowell’s Tuesday dolls (that we now know number approximately 10). I became aware of Maeder’s Tuesday through her Facebook page: Mama Jo’s House of Dolls. I inquired about the possibility of purchasing, but because of Tuesday’s sentimental value to Jo, she was not willing to sell. Who knew I would eventually find my own Tuesday and her brother a few months later and that finding them would be made possible by Jo? Further details of Tuesday and Cal’s purchase are documented in detail on my personal Black Doll Collecting blog. For the sake of conserving space and not rewriting their story, readers are referred to that post.
For several weeks during the fall of 2014, I contemplated the purchase of a circa 1950s, 19-inch celluloid doll with flirty green eyes and thick human hair eyelashes. The doll was offered by another Ruby Lane seller and eventually arrived at her new home in November 2014 after my purchase. The manufacturer of the doll is unknown; however, she is quite similar to dolls made in Italy by Furga, a company documented to have made dolls from 1872 through the 1970s. This doll has a black human hair wig styled in two side buns with pinned braids in the back. One bun is accented with a faux emerald and pearl barrette. Joined at the waist, this lovely girl poses well. She wears an ivory dress, white underpants, hip-high socks and black faux leather shoes. A faux pearl necklace adorns her neck. Sold as a black doll because of her light tan complexion, the doll most probably represents an Italian girl or other olive-complexioned persons of Mediterranean descent.t
My last Ruby Lane purchase to date is a unique one-of-a-kind photo-faced doll by artist, Judi Hunziker. This 14-inch cloth doll was sold by my favorite Ruby Lane shop owner, Judy Kappron (Artistic Differences). The doll wears a full-length red and white striped dress, has a cloth face with the image of a real child and human hair with two side ponytails decorated with ribbons. Through an Internet name search, I was able to communicate with the artist who offered additional details about the doll, which include the fact that a male child’s photo was used for this female doll’s face.
Through the years of doll shopping and browsing the various shops of Ruby Lane, I have been quite pleased with all purchases. Today when others ask where I purchased a Ruby Lane acquisition, I freely divulge the source. Am I robbing myself of future doll finds there? No. At this time, I possess all the dolls I will ever need. Whatever I am supposed to have, I will have it, dolls included. I also realize there are enough doll finds to go around especially when you know where to look and for me, Ruby Lane continues to be one such place.”
Here are a few of Debbie’s favorite dolls from the shops of Ruby Lane:
Photos courtesy of Debbie Garrett
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