Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The History of Faceless Dolls!

If you're a reader of my Linda's Blog then you know that I just LOVE research. In thinking about my recent post on my Victorian "faceless" dolls I started to wonder exactly what the history of faceless dolls was. So, of course I had to find out.

I figured that there had to be a history of faceless dolls or, at least, some cultures and norms. Believe it or not but there isn't a lot of information on either the history of faceless dolls or cultures and norms that started such a tradition.

There is some information on two of the most popular and widely known faceless dolls - Amish dolls and Corn husk dolls. And there is the legend surrounding Raggedy Ann and "faceless" dolls. I was also surprised that there wasn't more information on "faceless" dolls throughout history. I thought for sure that they had to have been around for a long, long time.

In doing my research, what I was pleasantly surprised with was the application of "faceless" dolls for so many current charities or organizations. More on that a little later.

Probably the oldest legend has to do with "faceless" Cornhusk dolls. Some say they are the oldest form of doll known in America. The cornhusk doll shown to the right is a picture of a cornhusk doll that is in the USU Museum of Anthropology.

According to Iroquois legend the Iroquois people had three sisters - corn, beans, and squash or the "sustainers of life." The corn spirit wanted to do something extra for her people so the Creator allowed her to create a beautiful doll from her husks which was to roam the earth and bring brotherhood and contentment to the Iroquois nation. The doll went from village to village playing with the children. Everywhere she went everyone would tell her how beautiful she was.

One day this very, very beautiful doll went into the woods and saw herself in a pool of water. She saw how very, very beautiful she was and this caused her to become very vain and naughty. Kind of sounds like my "Celia" doll, doesn't it? Anyway, the dolls vanity and attitude did not sit well with the people or the Creator. The Creator warned her that this was not the right kind of behavior. She paid attention for a while (as all dolls do) but caught sight of herself in a pool of water again and thought to herself how beautiful indeed she was.

Suddenly out of the sky came a giant screeching owl that snatched her reflection right out of the water. When she looked again at the poll of water she saw nothing. This was her punishment. She would have no face and would roam the earth forever looking for something to redeem herself. Iroquois mothers passed the legend and "faceless" corn husk dolls down to their children to remind them that vanity is a bad thing and that they are not better than anyone else.

The Amish have strong religious beliefs which influence their daily lives. Their dress is plain and simple and so are the dolls they make for their children. According to the Amish tradition, the Bible says that you are not supposed to make anything that is in the image or likeness of a male or female. For that reason the dolls are "faceless."

In some Amish homes even "faceless" dolls were forbidden. Instead of a doll the children were given a piece of wood wrapped in a blanket. Since very few toys were allowed in an Amish household, boys and girls both played with the dolls. Both boy and girl dolls were made.

If you were to examine an old Amish doll you might see 4 or 5 layers of cloth on the head or the body. If the doll became too dirty, ripped or worn then it was covered with a new piece of material.

Most Amish women have been making dolls ( faceless and with faces) for their children for generations. This tradition has become a cottage industry for the Amish community. The picture top and left is of a popular "faceless" Amish boy and girl doll.

Over 20 years ago I bought a similar set of "faceless" Amish dolls. My dolls had on burgundy and black outfits but, pretty much, looked like the picture. I would have included a picture of my two "faceless" Amish dolls in this article but I can't remember where they are right now. They're here somewhere.

As far as Raggedy Ann is concerned, one of the legends surrounding her creation is that a little girl was rummaging around her Grandmother's attic and finds a faceless, battered old doll. She brings the doll into her fathers art studio and tells him all about finding it in the attic. He looks at his daughter and the faceless doll and decides to draw a whimsical face on it and then tells her to see if her Grandmother would sew two button eyes on. And so Raggedy Ann was born.

In doing my research on faceless dolls I was delighted to run across some websites concerning the application of "faceless" dolls today and why they were chosen or made "faceless." One of the websites concerned the Children With Aids Project (CWA) which was created by Joy and Jim Jenkins. CWA offers a variety of services to children infected or affected by AIDS. One of these services is giving "faceless" dolls to the children infected or affected by Aids. Why did they decide to make and sell "faceless" dolls. Because AIDS is a "faceless" disease. According to their CWA website, by buying one of the dolls you can support their mission to recruit families to provide loving, caring permanent homes for the HIV infected, affected and orphaned children.

Another article about "faceless" dolls concerned the dolls of Gloria Larocque. She has created 100 or more "faceless" dolls based upon the Iroquois legend that warns young girls about the dangers of vanity. According to the article her purpose, however, is different. Her dolls represent Canada's murdered aboriginal women, a group made faceless not by vanity but by neglect. Her project has helped draw attention to the plight of the murdered aboriginal women.

On the Girl Scouts of South Jersey Pines (GSSJP) website there was an article about a Girl Scout who made and donated 32 faceless dolls to the Pediatrics Department of the Salem Memorial Hospital to help ease the children's fears of being in the hospital. The dolls were made out of muslin with bright striped and tye-dyed polar fleece t-shorts. The faces were left blank. Attached to each doll was a piece of paper that told the child to "give the doll a face to make it their own."

And, finally, there was article by Brenda Tobias on the Cornell University website concerning Hurricane Katrina and something the alumni did to help the children affected by Hurricane Katrina. A group of 100 alumni got together to sew "faceless" dolls for the children. Doll decorating kits and coloring books were assembled and sent to the children to comfort them.

I think you all know that I, personally, love faceless dolls. Victorians, primitives, country style. It doesn't matter. I love them all. Why do I love the faceless doll so much? Because I think be being "faceless' the doll can be anything you want him or her to be. You create the dolls personality to be exactly what you want it to be. And, as we've seen from the above mentioned articles the application can be heartwarming, meaningful and beautiful.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Linda,

    For some time, I have been wanting to respond to your article, and then for a while, I couldn't find it. But i've come across it again, and i'm glad. My name is Gloria Larocque, and i'm glad you wrote about the doll project I created a few years ago, and your summary was very descript and accurate. I just wanted you to know I acknowledged your acknowledgement and thank you for bringing together the issue behind the project in light of your collecting information on something you value. All the best - Gloria