by Erin Doane, Curator
Handmade, Homemade: Crafting in Chemung County opened to the public just over a month ago here at the Chemung Valley History Museum. The exhibit focuses on the history of handcrafting with many examples of locally-made items. Fiber processing, knitting and crocheting, embroidery, sewing clothing, quilting, doll making, pelt processing, furniture building, woodworking, model making, scrapbooking, and jewelry making are all on display through April 2013.
One section of the exhibit entitled My Little Rag Doll explores the history of handmade dolls. Ragdolls are the most common type of handmade dolls and are one of the world’s most ancient toys. Made from and stuffed with rags or spare scraps, ragdolls are easy and affordable to make. Amish dolls are a type of traditional American ragdoll. The faceless dolls in plain clothing became very popular with collectors starting in the 1930s. Raggedy Ann is perhaps the most famous ragdoll. She was introduced to the public in the 1918 book Raggedy Ann Stories. Her brother Andy came along two years later. While both character dolls were commercially manufactured, patterns and kits were also available to make the dolls at home.
|Raggedy Ann and Andy, handmade by Aimee Lester around 1976|
The Beecher Baby Doll is the most famous locally-made doll. In 1885, Julia Beecher, wife of Reverend Thomas K. Beecher, was inspired to make a baby doll while she was mending stockings. The first doll that she made for her niece led to many more. In the next ten years, Mrs. Beecher sold 950 handmade dolls. Over $1,000 in profits from the sales were used for projects by the ladies’ organization of Park Church. Each Beecher Doll was accompanied by a note that read: If you will always take by the waist and never by the arm; if you will give your hand a wash before you play with me; if you will not leave me out in the dust or in the sunshine, and if you will not squeeze my face flat; I will be your pretty baby for a long time.
|Mrs. Beecher and her Baby Doll, 1893|
Apple dolls and cornhusk dolls are also traditional to the Americas. Dolls with heads made of dried apples with carved faces were made by people in rural communities. Apple dolls saw a resurgence in popularity during the 1970s. They were common at craft fairs, county fairs and country boutiques into the 1980s. Native Americans first made dolls out of cornhusks and the craft was taken up by early settlers. Cornhusk dolls traditionally have no faces. Legend has it that the Corn Spirit created the first cornhusk doll with a very beautiful face. As the doll went from village to village playing with children she was continually told how beautiful she was. All the compliments made the cornhusk doll vain so the Corn Spirit took away her face as a reminder that no one is better than anyone else.