Sunday, July 6, 2014
For Uncle Tom, who Collected Dolls for Me
For Uncle Tom, who Collected Dolls for Me, and whose Birthday would have been July 5th Collectors have interesting stories to tell about how they got started colleting. This is one reason I invite my readers to share theirs with me, and I will be posting more of them at About.com Doll Collecting as a receive them and compile a file. As far as my collection goes, I started officially collecting dolls when I was 3. Yes, 3! My grandmother’s house was full of national costume dolls, mainly souvenirs of travels taken during the late 40s and 50s. Many found their way home to me through the years, but the 3 dolls that started my collection at age 3 were two Greek dolls, a male soldier or Evzon wearing the traditional kilt and vest, and an Amalia doll, named in honor of the first queen of Greece after the Greeks gained their independence form Turkey in 1821. Amalia and king Otto were originally Germans from Munich. Contemporary diplomacy and politics fated them to become the new Greek sovereigns. Amalia created the outfit named for her by blending popular Biedermeier fashions with the traditional outfits worn by Greek women. The third doll was my own Greek “squeaky bunny,” my first doll which I still have. Standing about 8 inches, Bunny is all rubber, and has molded clothing, a set of yellow bunny pajamas with long ears. A human child’s face peaks out from the bunny ears. I remember the summer day I had these three lined up on the floor, turned to my mother and said “I’m going to collect dolls.” The rest is history. My mother’s brother, Tom, was an artist who worked in a studio 90 miles away. He had attended the School of the Art Institute after the Korean War, and made many beautiful things. His specialty was airbrush, and he counted as clients Dick Blick, Helen Gallagher, Caterpillar, various liquor companies, and other businesses that needed catalogs and graphics. He and I were very close, and he bought me my first oil paints and often provided art supplies for all my projects. Every weekend, he came home. He always brought me a present, almost always a doll or doll related object. Every week I waited for him, excited to see what he had found. He only complained once; when he brought Giggles home for my birthday, she giggled her way the whole 90 miles. He could hear her even though she was in his trunk! I owe many dolls besides Giggles to him; Real Live Lucy, my first Japanese dolls, my first Korean dolls, some that he brought home from the war, my first Chatty Cathy’s and Chatty Babies, many miniature dolls and furniture sets, robots, and more. He never forgot me. One year when I was six, right before Christmas, he was in a terrible car accident. He was hurt very badly, and his car demolished. It was a brand new Bonneville, too. He could barely talk because he was in pain and had broken his jaw, but the first thing he asked my mother was whether they had gotten my dolls out of his trunk. That was how badly he hated to disappoint me. Many of the dolls were drink and wet babies, and one walking doll had frosted pink hair that matched her pink chiffon dress. There was a “big eyed” doll made in the image of the Big Eyed children by Margaret Kane that were so popular at the time. I actually had a copy of that painting, and some others of these wide-eyed children in my room at home. When I was a little older, and my parents knew Uncle Tom was arriving on Friday night, they would go out and leave me at home to wait for him. Sure enough, about 6 pm, he would pull up, open the door, and take me with him to the local A&P where we picked up the delicacies only the two of us liked to eat. We would go home, and I would turn on “The Jackie Gleason Show,” a favorite of ours. He would put on a steak, and then I’d watch it while he unpacked. He carried some of his smaller things in an old cigar box, wooden with a pastoral scene set in the center of the lid. I admired that box my whole life. I inherited it when he died, at the very young age of 52. I use it to keep tiny doll heads and shards in it. Because he was an artist, Tom was very clever. He learned to repair my dolls and doll furniture so that you couldn’t tell they had ever been broken. I restrung a tiny metal astronaut that had come apart. He fixed my Madame Alexander’s when their rubber bands broke. He turned a new leg for a very tiny Strombecker buffet table. You can’t tell which one was replaced to this day6. He put together my first Nancy Ann bisque storybook doll that had had a bad accident and painted her so that you can’t tell where the breaks were. He was very good at making anything, and he and my dad refinished one of my hope chests one winter. Tom did not collect dolls, but he enjoyed collecting them for me. He endured many trips to flea markets and thrift stores, and even scouted out new ones. He brought me home figurines and one of kind toys the other artists created at his workplace; these are among the most unique additions to my collection. If it weren’t for him, I don’t know if I would have appreciated the art of dolls as much as I do, or if I would have wanted to make my own. He loved beautiful things and all kinds of art, and I think that rubbed off on me. When I see a broken up doll or android, or a toy like the mechanical Charlie Weaver that is still at my grandparents’ home, he lives again. Even now, Friday night comes around, and sometimes, I think I hear the door of a Bonneville close, and I forget myself and run to the door to see what kind of doll he brought me.