Wednesday, September 7, 2016
What our Dolls Say About Us; Collecting Choices
How a collection is selected tells us something about the person. A doll collection is a portrait of its curator. In fact, one branch of the relatively new discipline of The Study of Material Culture queries why a collector chooses to add an object to her collection. How the item is chosen is equally important.
Nearly 70 years ago when doll collectors became organized, many collectors enjoyed collecting all types of dolls. The publication by Kimport, “Doll Talk” was a true microcosm of the many, many types of dolls and related items people enjoyed collecting. Early writers, including Eleanor St. George, Clara Hallard Fawcett, Janet Pagter Johl, Luella Hart, Mary Hillier, and John Noble, stressed variety. Helen Young also explored doll making and interesting children in doll collecting. To paraphrase Eleanor St. George, doll collectors were never single-minded people.
It is sad that current collectors have, in some cases, denigrated the pioneering books of these authors. They sneer at their choices in collecting, and their exaggerated refined taste has pretty much doll-boxed them into a corner. They simply can’t find anything to collect, unless they are super wealthy, and then can happily limit themselves to the items that are $10,000 and up.
I am reminded of a comment by one of the founders of The Enchanted Moment Doll Museum who stated on a YouTube video that she collected everything because she was planning a museum, and she needed the items to tell the story of dolls and their owners and makers.
We can still create microcosms of museums by cleverly selecting what is available and what is in our budget. A porcelain doll is still essential if we want to represent the history of dolls. Porcelain and ceramic dolls revolutionized the industry and are among the most sought after dolls today. What I find interesting is that the type of porcelain doll we might choose to add says something about us. Perhaps we can add an antique French or German bisque doll. Maybe we only have one, or one of each, but it represents the genre. If we want to have a more inclusive history of French doll makers, we might include an antique or two, but if cost is prohibitive, or the doll is rare, we might make a doll to represent what is missing. We could buy a doll from a reproduction artist like the impeccable and wonderful Branka Scharli, or we might select an artist’s rendition of a porcelain doll. Even a mass produced doll or a “Walda” in old fashioned clothes contributes to the dialog of the history of dolls by representing a ceramic example.
Helen Young suggested making or carving simple wooden dolls to begin the story of wooden dolls, Queen Anne’s, and. peg woodens, while she recommended wax figurines to represent the wax dolls that are often so elusive to collectors.
Ancient dolls, like Ushabti or the Venus figures are represented in some collections by modern replicas or by good photos, or even books or paper dolls. Medieval dolls could be represented by Nativity figures, Renaissance angels, or handmade examples.
International dolls abound; they are often dismissed as “touristy” and noncollectable. I disagree vehemently for many reasons. These dolls initiate valuable discussions of diversity and multiculturalism. They are wonderful educational tools, and are often the last vestiges of many cultures and folk traditions. Laura Starr in The Doll Book (1908) describes many dolls that represent people who no longer exist as a cultural group.
All of this is my opinion I like to say my collection runs from the sublime to the ridiculous, and I’ve tried to represent as many dolls and types as I can. I am planning a museum, and several more books, but I also never get bored learning about dolls, even if they are dolls I do not or cannot own. The study of dolls cultural objects fascinates me, and would even if I didn’t have any dolls.
Still, everyone has a few dolls, action figures, or figurines lying around. There is no culture I can find that does not have them.
So, take heart. If you want to collect, collect anything you want. Walda, Marque, Jumeau 201, Automatons, paper dolls, Danbury mint, old, new, plastic, creepy, dumpster dollies, Barbie, Monster High, bobble head, CPK, folk, etc., it doesn’t matter.
Collect what you like, and choose that way. Consider as you add to your collection, or upgrade, or weed it, what do your choices say about you? What do they contribute to this amazing hobby of doll collecting.