Tuesday, April 4, 2017
Doll Artist Sherman Smith
On September 22, 1907, an amazing woodcarver/ doll artist named Sherman Smith was born. For many years, his work was unknown. Now, there is a thriving interest on eBay in his creations. Collectors are specializing in his wooden dolls, and wooden dolls with bisque heads, some antiques, and some artist’s reproductions by Phyllis Park and Jean Johnson.
My first encounter with a Smith doll took place in 1975 when we visited the now defunct Dolly Dear Clinic, one of our local doll hospitals. [The demise of the doll hospital will be another topic]. The owner sold a few dolls and parts now and then, but while she was a lovely lady with a first-rate collection [Bru, Jumeau, complete Schoenhut families, rare china, wax, and Parian, all mint!]; she was a terrible doll snob. Since I was a teenager, she had hopes for me, but she sneered at my small lowbrow china head that needed parts. She sold me the Smith doll, about 8 inches, with porcelain “Marie Antoinette” head for about 12.00. My mom shelled it out, even though she thought the price was high. A similar doll was selling on eBay this week for 225.00. I have seen it as high as 350.00.
Mr. Smith began making dolls and carving after a heart attack in 1955. Allegedly, he was on bed rest for three years. His first projects were heart shaped pins and interlocking chains, good exercises for a man who had been a whittler since age 8. Soon, he was winning prizes, and inspired to carve a doll featured in a craft magazine. A meticulous craftsman, Smith spent a year perfecting his doll making skills. His first dolls were up to 24 inches high; these are rare and can command over $1000.00. He soon decided to carve dolls between ½ inch and 7 inches. Smith dolls were never dressed, and early dolls were not signed. Later Examples made in the ‘60s were signed. He carved Hitty, Miss Unity, Mary Poppins and other characters. He did tuck comb dolls, and tiny brooches with wooden dolls on them. The brooches were numbered. He began making the bodies with bisque heads. Some had his initials, some not. These bisque headed dolls resemble 1850 china heads with wooden bodies featured in John Noble’s books. He carved a souvenir doll for the UFDC in 1963 called Miss Angelita, and Patty Reed’s Doll for the Sacramento Doll Club. This doll represented the doll belonging to one of the hapless children of The Donner Party. Miss Angelita sold for 179.00 in eBay in 2012. There is a Sherman Smith Doll Club, and I have a Raggedy Ann they made, with their logo of a wooden doll and his name embroidered into the doll’s body.
Smith died in 1977, just two years after I bought my first Smith doll. Shortly after, a 5 inch, unsigned Penny Wooden joined my Marie Antoinette. Two four inch bisque headed twins joined them last year. Prices have spiked on eBay; I see ranges from 95.00 for small dolls with bisque heads, to 400.00 for characters with bisque heads like
there are books, newsletters and articles about his work. An Internet search will provide many good
sources to learn about this talented doll maker.