Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The History Of Faceless Dolls - Updated February 2015 - Part VIII - American Primitive, Prairie, Pioneer, Wagon Train, Appalachian and Folk Art Rag Dolls

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 of the "Cloth Dolls From Ancient To Modern" by Linda Edward 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.

According to, "A rag doll is a children's toy. It is a cloth figure, a doll traditionally home-made from (and stuffed with) spare scraps of material. They are one of the most ancient children's toys in existence; the British Museum has a Roman rag doll, found in a child's grave dating from the 1st-5th century AD.  " Amish dolls are a type of traditional American rag dolls which originated as children's toys among the Old Order Amish people. The best-known type have no facial features. Today, many rag dolls are commercially produced to simulate the features of the original home-made dolls, such as simple features, soft cloth bodies, and patchwork clothing."

The doll in the picture to the right is the Roman Rag Doll at The British Museum mentioned in the article. According to the museum it is a linen rag doll, filled with rags and papyrus, from the Roman, 1st-5th century AD, that was made in Egypt. If you would like to read more about this doll please click here.

As far as American rag dolls are concerned it doesn't matter if you call them primitive rag dolls, Appalachian dolls, prairie dolls, prayer dolls, wagon train dolls, or folk art dolls they're all basically cloth rag dolls and Americans have been making them since colonial times 1630 - 1762.

There are many different styles of primitive rag dolls.  Some are faceless, some have button eyes, some have hand embroidered or painted on simple faces, some have stitched fingers and toes, some have round heads while others have flat heads. Most are made from rags or scraps of cotton, calico or unbleached or stained muslin fabric and stuffed with fabric scraps, straw, or sawdust.

The Memorial Hall Museum Online has a wonderful American Centuries .... View From New England website where you can,  "Explore American history with hands-on activities, exhibits, lessons, historic documents and artifacts. "

Part of their online collection includes the Bangwell Putt Rag Doll  which is a faceless rag doll that was made for Clarissa Field of Northfield, Massachusetts in 1765.

Here's what the website had to say about this doll, "Clarissa Field of Northfield, Massachusetts, was born blind in 1765. This doll was made for her and she fancifully named it Bangwell Putt. Bangwell lacks facial features but her ten carefully constructed fingers suggest the importance of touch in Clarissa's world. Bangwell has a homespun body and is dressed in 18th century fashion, including corset. Clarissa kept Bangwell until she died in her eighties. Bangwell Putt is thought to be the oldest surviving rag doll in North America."

Wendy Lawton, who is a world class porcelain doll maker, made the  Clarissa Fields and Bangwell Putt doll, shown in the picture on the right in 2000. Her porcelain doll was named for the owner of the Bangwell Putt doll and she is holding the rage doll in her hand.

If you would like to see a picture of the actual Bangwell Putt Rag Doll, please click here.

On the website I found the rag doll in the picture to the left.

The description is as follows:

This is a very early home and hand made rag doll. Completely hand-stitched and made of cotton material and stuffed with cotton batting. A wonderful example of an early primitive doll. It is in fairly clean condition with two small stains on the bottom and opposite side. Otherwise in very good overall condition. Stitching is tight and she would be perfect for any doll or child's setting. 4-3/4" H x 4" W at arms. Item ID: RL01428

On I found the antique rag doll in the picture to the right. She has a rounded head and, according to the website, is thought to have been created between 1800 and 1899.

The description is as follows:

Size Type/Largest Dimension: 14" tall
Type: Antique Cloth Rag Doll
Region of Origin:US- Midwest
Material: Fabric
Date of Creation: 1800-1899
Style: Naive, Primitive

As far as the Appalachian rag dolls are concerned toys were scarce in the mountains so an Appalachian mother could make a rag doll from scraps of fabric as a way to provide her child with a toy to play with.

In Appalachian Toys and Games from A to Z By Linda Hager Pack is an A to Z book about Appalachian Toys.

On Page 27 - the R's we learn that, "A little girl's rag doll was carried, snuggled, rocked and loved throughout an entire childhood. Toys were scare in the mountains, and making a rag doll from scraps of fabric was one way an Appalachian mother could grant her daughter's wish for a rag doll......Normally the dolls weren't sewn, but rather scraps of material were rolled together and then tied to form legs, arms, and a body."

If you would like to read more of this article please click here.

If you would like to watch a video on YouTube by hope2fly0228 for making a Pioneer Girl Rag Doll please click here.

There was an article entitled, Local ladies bring back the art of pioneer doll-making  in the Perryville News Republican Monitor by Amanda Keefe about a group of women who meet at the Saxon Lutheran Memorial to make pioneer, or prairie dolls for the gift shop.

According to the article, "Dorene Grebing holds a piece of muslin firmly in her seasoned hands as she rips it into strips; the first stage of creating a rag doll, fashioned after those in the pioneer days...... The dolls are simple, made and bound by muslin strips, then given their own dress, apron and bonnet, and even a head of hair (made by all kinds of materials)."

On YouTube there is a two-part video series by Katie Waller showing you how to make the rag dolls shown in the picture to the right.  According to Katie, "This is an easy, torn fabric, no-sew rag doll that is fun to make, play with... and to give away! :)"

How To Make A Rag Doll - Part 1 video by Katie Waller

How To Make A Rag Doll - Part I1 video by Katie Waller

According to the website early pioneers used unusable table cloths to make Table Cover rag dolls, like the picture on the left for their children.

Here's what they had to say, "In the homes of our early pioneers many items were left on the supper table for their next meal. Grandmothers used the muslin from the table cover once it became stained and unusable to make dolls for their children. The aprons and bonnets were made from the scraps from the ragbag."

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