Saturday, May 16, 2015

Perhaps It's Time I Made An Apple Head Doll

Image Courtesy of The National Gallery of Art

According to the Apple-Head Trio illustration shown above from the Dolls from the Index of American Design Collection at The National Gallery of ArtThis apple-head trio was designed and made in North Carolina about 1892. Apple-head dolls probably originated with the Iroquois Indians. The expression on the face was produced by pinching the surface of the apple when it began to shrink.

Jane Iverson (artist), American, active c. 1935, Mrs. Almira Smith (object maker), Wenham Historical Society (object owner), American Dolls, c. 1936, watercolor, graphite, and pen and ink on paper, Index of American Design, 1943.8.15576

Viewing this illustration got me to thinking about apple head dolls and their history.  So, of course, I had to do a little research.

While doing my research on the "History of Faceless Dolls" I ran across the Wisconsin Historical Society website that had an amazing collection of 23 apple head dolls, including the beautiful apple head doll shown in the screenshot above.

She is described as, "Applehead doll, woman, black dress, white apron, USA, 1952-1956." I loved all the dolls in the collections and think it is well worth seeing. If you would like to see all 23 of the apple head dolls in their collection please click here.

According to, "An apple doll is a North American cultural phenomenon where the doll's head is made from dried apples. The apple is peeled, then carved with the facial features of the doll. Next the apple is left to dry for several days or weeks. When completely dry, the apple is positioned on the top of a wire frame which is shaped into the rest of the doll's body. The rest of the wire frame is covered up by the doll's clothing, which is usually sewn by hand. In modern times, apple dolls are mostly used as decorations or to display craftsmanship, rather than as children's toys. Because of the different effects drying produces, no two dolls are alike."

That latter statement is definitely true and all you have to do is look at the 23 apple head dolls in the Wisconsin collection above to see that no two dolls are alike.

According to the Encyclopedia of American Folk Art, "Unlike corn hisk dolls, which have dual origins in  the European and Native American cultures, nuts and apple dolls were largely indigenous to American soil."

"Americans made the first apple-head dolls.  As pioneers came into contact with various tribes, they began to copy their dolls.  Traders persuaded Native Americans to dress their apple-head dolls in bright costumes with elaborate ornamentation, for sale to tourists. Their apple faces were either carved or pinched in, to create the features before they shrunk as they dried."

The Springfield-Greene County Library District Springfield, Missouri website had a Bittersweet article in 1974, Volume II, No. 2, Winter 1974 by Verna Lucas entitled APPLEHEAD DOLLS.

According to Verna's article, "Dolls are one of the oldest forms of entertainment in the world. Now they are made with fancy clothes and delicate hair, with mechanical insides that enable them to walk, talk and drink. But when times were not as affluent and parents could not afford to buy them, they made their own from whatever their ingenuity could devise--from rags to walnut shells. A unique, yet humble, homemade doll is the applehead doll. Nona King who has been making applehead dolls for fifteen years showed us how to make them."

"The applehead doll is made in two parts, the head and the body. For the head all you need are a solid apple, potato peeler, paring knife, a small piece of wire about 8 to 10 inches long, a teaspoon and some lemon juice."

The apple head doll in the picture above is from that article.  If you would like to read that article please click here.

Image Courtesy of  The Skookum News - An Online Newsletter for Collectors

A lot of the websites and articles I read referenced the "Mary Skookum Indian Doll" like the doll in the picture above.    The Skookum News - An Online Newsletter for Collectors had an article about these dolls which is very interesting to read.

It seems Mary Dwyer McAboy was the originator of the Skookum Indian Doll in 1913. She was the first to make apple head Indian dolls wrapped in blankets. The dolls became so popular Mary filed a trademark on April 19, 1917 claiming use of the word "Skookum" since the fall of 1913 and she applied for a design patent for the dolls on November 29, 1913, which was granted on Februay 17, 1914. The patent was for three apple head doll designs: male, female, and female with baby.

At the end of 1914 Mary merged her doll business with Harry Heye Tammen, founder of H.H. Tammen Company which began mass production of Mary's dolls.

If you would like to read the article about Mary's Skookum Indian Dolls please click here.

Image Courtesy of has a section on the Skookum Doll, like the doll shown in the picture above, as well.
According to their article, "She had difficulty processing large numbers of apples, as excessive moisture led to rotting. She consulted with chemists at Montana State University in an attempt to control the problem. But demand grew so rapidly that she moved to mass production techniques within a year, and soon almost all of the doll heads were made out of composition. A product that began as women's handicraft had rapidly shifted to factory production with mostly male workers. From that time on, the dolls were manufactured by the H.H. Tammen Company in Los Angeles, and distributed in the east by the Arrow Novelty Company in New York City. Starting in the 1940s, the faces were made of plastic. McAboy supervised production of the dolls until she retired in 1952."

If you would like to read the whole article please click here.

There is a delightful "Vincent Price Shrunken Apple Head Sculpture" video on the Choclodite Lensman YouTube channel from 2011 which is a short documentary about the apple head dolls made by Melinda Henning. If you would like to view that video please click here or click the go arrow above.

Most of the apple head dolls are delightful creations. However, some apple head dolls have been created as "shrunken heads" for children to hang during Halloween.

Image Courtesy of Martha Stewart website.

The shrunken head shown in the picture above is from a how-to project on the Martha Stewart website describing how to make shrunken apple heads.

According to Martha's website, "These shrunken heads, made from peeled, carved, and dried apples, are as spooky as the scariest Halloween masks -- and just as much fun to create. Martha transforms a Granny Smith apple into a truly frightening fruit; although any variety of apple will work, Granny Smiths are ideal for this project because of their round shape."

If you would like to read that article please click here.

There is an article on the Mother Earth News website written by Julie and Robert Downes
July/August 1980 about the history of apple head dolls and a slideshow showing how to make an applehead doll.

According to their article, "The Seneca Indians were reportedly the first people to make dolls out of apples ... but the craft was later adopted by mountaineers in Appalachia, where such handmade toys are still produced as part of the area's cottage industry. The miniature figures command a surprisingly high price, too! We've seen applehead dolls on sale in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains for as much as $20 each ... which amounts to quite a tidy profit from a toy that requires an initial investment of perhaps 50¢!"

If you would like to read their article and watch the slideshow please click here.

There are thousands of websites showing how to make apple heads dolls.

Image Courtesy of

The Wiki-How website has a very easy to understand article entitled How to Create an Apple Doll that shows you how to make an apple doll.  Please click here for that article.

There is an unusual apple head doll in the Victoria & Albert Museum collection doll collection who is a Peddler Doll from England, Great Britain circa 1840 here. For more information on this doll please click here.

The Apple Doll is a delightful children's book written in 2007 by Elisa Kleven.  The description is as follows:"Lizzy loves the big apple tree in her yard more than anything. So when the first day of school comes, she picks a beautiful apple, turns it into a makeshift doll she names Susanna, and takes it along to keep her company. But her teacher tells her that dolls aren't allowed at school. Even worse, her sister says that Susanna won't last forever. Then Lizzy's mom shows her a way to turn Susanna into a real apple doll. And with the help of Susanna the Apple Doll, Lizzy overcomes her shyness at school and makes plenty of new friends to bring home to play in her beloved apple tree."

"Detailed, delightful collage illustrations accompany this sweet story about one girl's success in bringing together her home world and her school world. Instructions for making an apple doll just like Susanna are included!"

If you would like to read the "How To make An Apple Doll" .PDF instructions from The Apple Doll book for making an apple doll like Susanna's please click the picture above or click here.

Of all the dolls I've made I have yet to make an apple head doll.  Perhaps it's time I did. Maybe she'll have a Victorian outfit. Now wouldn't that be a surprise.....

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