Dolls touch everyone’s life one way or another. Even those who claim they have no dolls or don’t like them have had a doll or doll-related object in their lives. Here are some dolls and doll related objects that fit the doll theme, or what Lea Baten calls “The Doll Motif.” Basically, anything that is figural, portrait related, loved as a doll or toy, paper dolls, or stuffed animal is, well, a “doll thing.”
Here are some ways that dolls infiltrate and enrich our lives.
1. Toy soldiers and little plastic men, including railroad figures in all scales. Miniature figures are written about all the time I doll books, including the classics like Carl Fox’s The Doll and Max von Boehn’s Dolls. The Little Green Army Men from Toy Story fit the bill, so do the classic plastic Native American figure currently on display at The Museum of the American Indian.
2. Figurines, including the popular collectibles Hummels, Dresden, Lladro, Precious Moments, Cherished Teddies, Joseph’s Originals, Royal Doulton, and Lefton. Figurines are indeed figural, and many were made by factories that also made dolls, like Hummel, Royal Doulton, and Precious Moments. Figurines, especially Victorian bric-a-brac, are often found in doll collections. Hybrids include penny dolls, Frozen Charlottes, piano babies, and pincushion dolls.
3. Action figures: G.I. Joe and Big Jim appear in a lot of doll collections. So do Mego action figures, WWF figures, McFarlane toys, Stretch Armstrong, Major Matt Mason, The Universal Monsters, and more. The term “action figure” is just another term for dolls for boys. Yet, action figures are gender-bending; girls love them and have their own versions like The Golden Girls by Galoob, She-Ra by Mattel, and Princess Leia of Star Wars.
4. Gingerbread cookies, chocolate rabbits and Santas, fancy cookies, Peeps, Sour Patch kids, Gummi Bears and other edible dolls and toys. Who among us has not enjoyed at least one of these treats? Who hasn’t had an ice cream cone clown, or a pancake with a face done in raisins and berries? Edible dolls have a long history, dating to ancient times when dough figures were made to use in fertility rituals and other festivities. The Gingerbread Man has his own story and co-stars in Shrek. Doll cakes are trendy at parties even today, the age of cyber play and Soccer Leagues. Sugar skulls and Marzipan figures are favorite holiday items as well. The late artist Frida Kahlo was a doll collector who also loved to collect sugar skulls.
5. Puppets: What child hasn’t watched a puppet show, The Muppets, had a bath hand puppet of terry cloth, made them in school? Finger puppets are still favorite ways to entertain young children, and puppet theaters have been built for centuries to entertain children and adults. Plato alludes to shadow puppets in his “Allegory of the Cave” from The Republic.
6. Stuffed animals and animal figures: Boys and girls love to cuddle and collect these. Vintage model horses and My Little Pony figures are very popular; Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Margaret had toy horses that they liked to “water” and put to bed each night. Teddy bears have been a hit for well over 100 years. Steiff has made all kinds of animals, and all are lovingly collected and studied. Nearly every child in the U.S. has played with sock toys, knitted animals, Beanies, teddy bears, dinosaur figures, vintage Snoopy and Woodstock toys, and Noah’s Ark and Farm animals. These are often given names, and characters like Mickey Mouse, Mighty Mouse, and Goofy are anthropomorphized.
7. Bobble Heads: These have their own museum, and their ancestors are bisque nodders. They have been props in The Office and other TV shows, and they are given away at sports events all over the world. Sports mascot memorabilia fit the category, too. People who would never think of themselves as doll collectors are avid collectors of these things.
8. Paper dolls, portraits, photographs, etc.: Paper dolls are often pictures of real people cut from magazines and made into dolls. Two-dimensional human images capture our attention and forge a relationship with those who see them the way dolls do. Think how many millions have fallen in love with The Mona Lisa. Anyone who has been fascinated by a painting or portrait has succumbed to The Doll Motif, and a doll related object has touched his or her life.
9. Holiday Figures: Santas, snowmen, scarecrows, angels, witches, vampires, the ephemeral jack-o’ lantern, the leprechaun, cupid figurine and Easter bunny toys are all examples of holiday dolls. There are many ornaments of these, and a lot of them are wooden, made the tradition of German Erzgebirge toys. Nearly anyone who has celebrated Christmas has ornaments shaped liked dolls.
Added to these examples are advertising figures like The Cigar Store Indian, the old Holiday Inn mascot, The Little Midshipman, Ship’s figureheads, Department Store Mannikins, and statues. Students of folk art and sculpture begin to notice after a while that similar techniques are involved in doll making. Artists use lay figures and mannikins as models and are influence by dolls as were Marque, Picasso, Cornell, and Degas. Dolls are used in the medical and psychiatric fields as learning tools, and the fashion world uses them to create couture. Santos and religious figures are still prominent in many religions. Early automatons and robots are very close relatives of mechanical dolls and vice versa.
Dolls are everywhere, and they touch every life. They are our storytellers, and as artifacts that live after us, our historians.
About the Guest Blog Author: Ellen Tsagaris has collected dolls since she was three years old. She has made dolls, priced dolls, repaired, dressed, and studied dolls. Besides dolls, she has studied other antiques and collectibles at museums, antiques shows, auctions, and flea markets since she was in grade school. 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. Ellen is also the creator of the popular Facebook page, Doll Universe.
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