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Sunday, May 11, 2014

Cultivating Doll Gardens and Housing Fairies

During the late 60s and through the 70s, there was a series of postcards that featured antique dolls photographed next to prize winning flowers and plants. Lovely china heads posed next to award winning tomato plants, and delicate Parians were juxtaposed with delicate rose bushes. There was also a book published. The dolls and the plants were art of one woman's collection. The postcards had lots of fans. They show up even today occasionally in the column Mr. Barry Mueller writes in his family magazine "Doll Castle News" where he writes a column featuring postcards and dolls. Maybe this is why I have always loved flowers, and dolls made from them and other natural plants, fibers, and seeds. You can literally "grow your own dolls" if you go this route. I still have my first hollyhock doll, made by my mom for me from a bloom harvested in Battle Mountain, Nevada, many, many ears ago. Mom also managed to embroider tiny French knots on the flower to create a face. Pansies and violas, even little violets captured my imagination. They looked like little faces, and snap dragons with their mouths that moved like a ventriloquist dummy's intrigued me. I liked making pictures and flower people using them by ironing them between sheets of wax paper. Hint: if you have allergies, never use goldenrod in these experiments. The heat from the iron accentuates the scents of the goldenrod, and you have instant allergies. I loved the name Queen Anne's Lace because, of course, I thought of Queen Anne dolls. Mandrake root often resembles human form, and is mentioned in books on doll histories like "Dolls" by Max von Boehn, and in poems by Metaphysical Poet John Donne ("Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.". When I was little, I also made cornhusk dolls, dolls from broom straws, dolls and animals from milkweed pods, dolls from whittled sticks [Dad's specialty], and I read about dolls made from acorns and walnuts. Miss Hickory, created by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey, is about the most famous of these. There was also a story about a small fairy who was looking for a house in which she would live, but she kept getting evicted from old hornets nests, beehives, glass jars, until a little girl who believes in her lets her live in her doll house. Now, we would create a fairy garden or terrarium for her. I always set up a few of these and love Christmas Village figures to populate them. I have a gnome village set up under a fairy door attached to a mighty oak, and many garden figures which I consider my "outdoor" doll family. I make ponds with bits of mirror and trees from interesting twigs. I use lots of small rocks and plants as well, and love various railroad accessories in different scales. Later, I got a "real" fairy house made from a very little, hollowed out gourd. I had also read about gourd dolls in books by Lois Lenski, and even grew my own gourds one year so I could make more dolls. At the California Renaissance Faire one year I bought a Beefeater made from a gourd. I have a scarecrow and maiden with gourd heads, and many small dolls and animals from Peru made of etched gourds. I even have a doll purse made from a gourd. At our annual gourd festival, I saw a wonderful, jointed one of a kind doll made entirely of gourds. You wouldn't have known it to look at her. Pumpkins, of course, are sort of special gourds/squash. They are ephemeral, and don't last, but I do have a couple small, painted and preserved pumpkins that have lasted. They can also be carved or mad from realistic latex and plastic pumpkins sold in craft stores during the fall for just this purpose. Carving pumpkins are also among my favorite things to plant because I get to create Jack O' Lanterns from them, and scarecrows if the mood takes me. These kissing cousins of folk dolls intrigue me. They are often reproduced in clay and papier mache, and there are antique versions, and contemporary versions by D. Blumchen, and Bethany Lowe, two name just two artist workshops that make them. Also related to the harvest are corn dollies, often made in abstract circular shapes associated with fertility goddesses, Midsummer Straw men, often life-sized from Scandinavia, Swedish Tomte or elves, and plaited Swedish goat ornaments. Cornhusk dolls are important in Native American doll history and in early American childhood history. Corncobs also make interesting dolls, and these were made famous by Susan, Laura's corncob doll from "Little House in the Big Woods." I loved making these, and got an A for one I did in art class. Many examples exist, and I saw a wonderful small Christmas Tree at Nieman Marcus one year that was completely decorated with miniature corncob dolls dressed in dyed colors of husk. Cornhusk dolls are also made in Mexico and South America, and dolls of plaited wicker come from Mexico as well. Some Native American Dolls are also made of basket woven fibers and are dyed. Others are made of dried apples. Many artists make dolls from dried apples and pears; my most macabre example lies in her own miniature casket. I recently bought an artist's doll made of seeds, nuts, and fibers on eBay. The doll was made by Marie Gleeson, and came MIB. She was made in the Bermuda. Hawaiian dolls are made of palm fiber, and some from coconuts. Kimport's dolls featured many dolls made of natural plants and seeds in "Doll Talk" over the years. these are still great resources and appear frequently on eBay. Kimport also featured antique dolls that were made in the style of Kate Greenaway, and bonnet heads of unpainted bisque that wore flowers on their molded hair as hats. This year, I planted marigolds, pansies, geraniums, black velvet petunias, primroses, chocolate mint, lemon basil, cinnamon basil and more. I am coaxing wildflowers from seeds, and closely watching my black columbine and hollyhocks, which are perennials. I have tried sunflower seeds, often the inspiration for felt dolls or dolls dressed like models for Anne Geddes. Many dolls have been named for fruits and flowers, from Veggie Tales, to Strawberry Shortcake and friends, Daisy Quant, Shrinking Violet, Victoria Plum, etc. One year, I'll grow my own flax to spin into cloth for doll projects, and consult my favorite encyclopedia article on dolls, the 1956 World Book, Volume D, to make Swedish birch bark dolls and acorn dolls. There are more ideas on my blog, "Dr. E's Greening Tips for the Common Person." May you have happy hardening and doll collecting adventures this summer. As for me, I may start my long awaited project of creating a set of flower paper dolls called "Herb's Daughters."

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