Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The History of Faceless Dolls - REVISED 5/19/09

Several years ago I wrote a post for my Linda's Blog on "The History of Faceless Dolls" and subsequently posted that same article on my "The Best FREE Craft Articles" blog. After my article was posted on "The Best Free Crafts Articles" blog I received an anonymous comment telling me that the Dominican Republic had a tradition of "faceless dolls."

I was intrigued by this comment and have been wanting to research the faceless dolls in the Dominican Republic for quite some time. I just have not had the time to do so.

Well, in researching my recent article on A Little Research Into The History Of The Goddess Doll, Spirit Doll, and Healing Doll I ran across some information on the "faceless" dolls of the Dominican Republic so I thought I'd revise my original "The History of Faceless Dolls" article to include the new information.

Here's my REVISED article with the Dominican Republic "faceless" dolls included, as well as additional information on other "faceless" doll traditions I have found out about:

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" corn husk dolls. Some say they are the oldest form of doll known in America. The corn husk doll shown to the right is a picture of a corn husk doll that is in the USU Museum of Anthropology.

Shown below is the information from the Utah State University website:

Object ID: 98.01.189
Cultural Affiliation:North American Pioneer Child’s Doll
Date of Manufacture: 1800 to mid-1900 (Pioneer Settlement 2004)
Place of Manufacture: Pioneer homesteads and farms in North America

This doll functioned as a child’s toy.

Manufacturing Technique - The husks were harvested while they were still fresh and dry. They used only the unblemished part of the husks and saved the fullest, heaviest, and cleanest husks for dolls. They also saved the better corn silk for use as hair (Merrill, 2004). The husks were then soaked in lukewarm water in a pan or shallow basin to soften them. The doll was then assembled by creating the head, arms, body, sleeves, and skirt. Next the apron, hair, bonnet and broom were attached. The doll was then dyed using natural dyes and the eyes, nose and mouth were inked on. (Merrill 2004).

Materials - corn husks, corn silk, cloth, cotton (stuffing), ink, dye and quilting thread.

Designs/Symbolism - The doll is designed to look like a mature pioneer woman with a broom and an apron to show the woman was doing daily chores. Toys for pioneer children helped to show them their place in society. Dolls were used to teach girls how to love and care for a baby to help them become better mothers (Corn husk Dolls 1976).

Size - 17.5 cm tall, 7.5 cm in diameter, and 5 cm wide.

The corn husk dolls pictured to the left are from the "Library and Archives of Canada - The Kids Site of Canadian Settlement". If you would like to learn how to make simple corn husk dolls the "The Kids Site of Canadian Settlement" website has a wonderful pictorial on how to make a corn husk doll from 10 to 15 corn husks.

The Manataka American Indian Council website also has a wonderful tutorial for making corn husk dolls. The Tutorial is entitled "How To Make A Corn Husk Doll" under the Oneida Corn Husk Doll page.

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.

Also, while researching corn husk dolls I came across some pictures of some beautiful Mexican corn husk dolls that use dyed corn husks decorated with ribbons and accents. If you'd like to see pictures of the Mexican corn husk dolls dressed in traditional Mexican costume please CLICK HERE.

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" like those depicted in the picture of the "Amish Doll Patterns By Jan Steffy Mast" book to the left.

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.

In the Dominican Republic ceramic "faceless" dolls like those shown in the picture on the right from the GoDominicanRepublic.com website are handcrafted of clay and dressed in bright, colorful traditional clothing.

The dolls depict all different sorts of Dominican country life. Some hold flowers, some carry baskets on their heads, some carry pots, etc. Legend has it that the dolls are "faceless" because the Dominicans are a very diverse and mixed population (i.e. 75) of the population is mixed of Spanish, French, Indian, and African heritage) and it's impossible to create a doll with a face representing all Dominican women as no one knows for sure what one would look like as the population is so mixed. So, the doll is "faceless" as a symbol of an all-inclusive culture and to remind everyone that differences in color and appearance are meaningless.

Another legend of the Dominican Republican is the "faceless" dolls are handcrafted of glazed terra cotta and represent women selling produce door to door. They were vendors for the various cities and towns and were called "Machantas" which means merchant. They are "faceless" to this day to represent all the housewives who bought their produce for years.

The Dominican Creations website has a page on the Neoarte and Higuerito "Faceless" Dolls that they sell on their website. It's well worth visiting to read about the "faceless" dolls they sell on their website.

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.

There are several "faceless" dolls in ancient Russian history. Most were made of fabric and cloth and were made for children to play with. The dresses and costumes were always brightly colored and sometimes embroidered with various symbols. According to old Slavic superstition it was believed that if the doll remained faceless that the doll would be viewed as an inanimate object and therefore could not be possessed by evil spirits. Thus, the doll was deemed harmless and child could safely play with the doll without worry that harm might befall them.

In Russian peasant families young girls were encouraged to make dolls and play with them as teaching aides for being mothers. Plus, creating the dolls provided them with some of the sewing, knitting, and weaving skills they would need.

Also, in ancient Russian traditional a "faceless" bride and groom sewn together were given as a wedding gift with the hopes of preserving wealth and health to the newlywed's home.

In Japan "Sarubobo" dolls like the picture on the left from Wikipedia.com are human shaped "faceless" dolls, red in color and of various shapes and sizes. They are traditionally made by Grandmothers for their grandchildren. They are also given to daughters as good luck charms for a good marriage, easy delivery and healthy children, and a happy home. They have no faces so the owner can imagine it and the "Sarubobo" can reflect the owner's feelings. When the owner is sad the doll is sad - when the owner is happy the doll is happy.

I have been wanting to create some "goddess dolls" also known as spirit dolls, healing dolls, or mixed media art dolls for awhile and posted about this in an article on my Linda's Blog entitled"My Goddess Doll Adventure So Far!"

I also did some research on them which I posted about in my article on my Linda's Blog entitled A Little Research Into The History Of The Goddess Doll, Spirit Doll, and Healing Doll.

What I discovered was that "goddess dolls" or spirit, healing, mixed media art dolls have also been associated with voodoo dolls, pagan rituals, and witchcraft. But, they all relate to "the goddess" and "goddess traditions."

Some "goddess dolls" have been used for good purposes and some used, well, not for good purposes. They have been seen in various cultures all over the world, and in various religions - in various different forms and mediums. It seems that they are as old as time itself and traditional in almost every culture.

Some of the "goddess dolls" that I have seen are either faceless (which is fine with me) or have cloth faces, clay faces, have sun or moon faces, even beaded faces. Some of the face shapes are round or oval, some are square, and some are triangles. Some of the faces are made of clay, some of cloth and some are even made of beads.

Whatever the face is the dolls are meant to share your hopes, dreams, and listen to your fears. They provide comfort and solace in your time of need. They provide you with the strength you need to face the challengers in your life and empower you to succeed. To release your own "inner goddess." They are lovingly made and given out of heartfelt love from one human being to another. They offer nothing more than love, compassion, understanding, and peace.

In the book "Cloth Dolls From Ancient To Modern" by Linda Edward in Chapter 1 - Page 7 there is a wonderful illustration of a "faceless" 3rd century Roman rag doll made of linen, courtesy of Eric Edward, NVA. In Chapter 3 - Page 20 there is a wonderful picture of a "faceless" Amish Doll from the late 20Th century and the Pennsylvania Dutch area.

If you'd like to read my "The Book Review Corner" blog review of "Cloth Dolls From Ancient To Modern please CLICK HERE.

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 Adopt-A-Doll Project 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.

According to Gloria:"The dolls will act as a centre-piece for educating children about traditional Aboriginal culture, maintaining cultural integrity through a contemporary setting. As a teaching tool kit, the idea will be to plant seeds of survival skills concepts such as choice, strength, education, cultural connection and knowledge of self.

The kit will contain a doll in the same fashion as an Aboriginal Angel Doll, and will be presented as an “elder”. The doll will be known as Kookum RETA (grandmother rejuvenate, educate, traditional, acceptance) of the Aboriginal people from Turtle Island. The power of the elder teaching the young is a traditional aboriginal teaching method."

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.

And, finally there is "The Comfort Doll Project" by Pat Winter. I had written about this previously in my Linda's Blog in a post entitled Pat Winter's "The Comfort Doll Project".

"The Comfort Doll Project" benefits women of abuse and gives small mixed media dolls (some with faces and others without) to various women's shelters which are then give to a woman who has just been beaten, raped, or abused.

According to Pat Winter, "I know some may think making dolls to give to a woman who has just been beaten, raped, or abused in some way is like putting a band-aid on an amputation. Well, I see it as sending a message of hope,love,and encouragement. A gentle hug,a smile,a nudge to go forward and see there is sunshine behind the mountain.

Imagine a woman being handed a beautiful handmade doll with a message of hope attached. This doll ,from a stranger whom she will never meet,yet makes this connection of love and caring from one heart to another. A stranger who can imagine, if not know firsthand where she has been and hoping she will have brighter days ahead. The woman carries this doll in her purse, pocket, or perhaps pinned to her lapel, knowing someone cared enough to think of her. When she needs strength, she strokes it or admires it and her lips turn up with a smile and her heart warms. Yes, I am a dreamer but I do think this will happen. Actually I KNOW this will happen. Won't you join me?

If you'd like more information on the "The Comfort Doll Project" please visit Pat Winter's "The Comfort Doll Project" blog.

I think you all know that I, personally, love faceless dolls. Victorians, primitives, colonial, prairie dolls, rag dolls, or country style dolls. It doesn't matter. I love them all and I'm thrilled to learn that there are hundreds of artists and crafters who are now creating various types of "faceless" dolls.

In fact, I created a video to reflect my feelings about this which are: "Beauty lies not only in what is seen, but what is imagined. I believe the essence of a dolls faceless beauty should determine her personality." Please CLICK HERE if you'd like to view my "Linda's Faceless Beauties" video.

Why do I love the faceless doll so much?

Because I think by being "faceless' the doll can be anything you want him or her to be. You create the dolls personality to be exactly what you imagine it to be. Their personality, therefore, reflects your creativity and your feelings.

And, as we've seen from the above mentioned articles the application can be heartwarming, meaningful and beautiful.

Copyright © 2009, 2006 - All Rights Reserved - Written Linda Walsh of Linda Walsh Originals and Linda's Blog. Linda is a doll maker and doll pattern designer.


  1. Sandra10:15 PM

    I saw a faceless doll in a Native craftshop in South Dakota, with a very touching legend attached to it that went something like this;
    I have no mouth to criticize you,
    no eyes to see your flaws, no ears to hear-------
    I copied the legend, & lost it before returning home. Have you ever seen this? I would love to read it again.
    Sandra in Canada smacoleman@hotmail.com

  2. Hi, Sandra:

    Thanks so much for the comment. I, too, somehow remember seeing a verse that was something like that. So, I did a couple searches on Google and came up with nothing so far. However, I'll keep trying. The verse is so familiar. I'm sure I've read it before.


  3. Muslims also have a tradition of faceless dolls.




  4. Hi, Howardhijabi:

    Thanks so much for telling me that. I didn't know this was a tradition for Muslims, but will certainly be doing some research into it and including whatever I find in my next update. Have a wonderful day. Linda

  5. Anonymous1:22 AM

    There is another reason for faceless dolls. I knew I had started preferring to make dolls without faces when I was about 13. I have been dealing with suppressed memories in recent years, and the facelessness of dolls I created as a child coincide with the time following being raped by a doctor during a physical examination. I had thought I made the faceless dolls in order to imagine a variety of expressions for them. Instead it can mean that for some reason you cannot create a serene face at the time.