I have loved Victorian dolls since I was a little girl and can blame my grandmother for that. You see, as a young girl she gave me a Godey’s Fashion print for August 1870 that belonged to my great, great Aunt Flossie. From that moment on I was hooked. I was captivated by the beautiful dresses and wanted to create dolls wearing them.
Eventually I was able to design my own Victorian "Lady" dolls, like the one pictured on the left, who are all faceless. Now you might be wondering why they are faceless. It's because I wanted each to have its' own distinct personality.
My feeling is that faces overwhelm the dolls personality and have a greater impact on their personality. I wanted the clothing, clothes, hair, color scheme, etc. of the period to determine the personality of the doll.
As far as I am concerned "Beauty lies not only in what is seen, but what is imagined. I believe the essence of a dolls beauty should determine her personality."
You could compare this to the use of mannequins by museums. Most mannequins in museum dress & textile exhibits are either headless or have heads, but they are generally faceless. Or, they have the sculpted definition of facial features but they are not painted. The idea is to not distract from the beauty of the dress or textile piece on display. The same holds true for store window displays.
I have also been a history buff since I was a little girl and loved doing research for history projects all throughout my school years. I especially loved to research everything and anything about the Victorian Era. Their history, their etiquette, their fashion, their hopes, their desires.... In fact, sometimes I think I was born in the wrong era.
Designing handmade faceless dolls was not a novel idea as faceless dolls have been around for a long, long time. However, given my penchant for history I, of course, was curious about the history of faceless dolls. So, back in 2006 I decided to do a little research on the history of faceless dolls and wrote a research article for my Linda's Blog that I subsequently updated in 2009.
I figured that there had to be a history of handmade faceless dolls out there or, at least, some cultures and norms. Believe it or not but there wasn't a lot of information back in 2006 on the web on either the history of faceless dolls or cultures and norms that started such a tradition. There was a little more when I updated my research in 2009.
There was some information on two of the most popular and widely known faceless dolls - Amish dolls and corn husk dolls. And there was the legend surrounding Raggedy Ann and "faceless" dolls.
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.
I was hoping that now, in 2015, things would have changed a little and there would be more information on their history. I'm happy to report that there is a lot more now and that over the last few years there is a growing trend towards creating faceless dolls in all sorts of doll mediums - which thrills me to no end.
Part of the new trend has to do with creating eco-friendly and nature dolls and part has to do with allowing children to use their imagination more. It also has to do with comforting children facing tough medical situations. Without a face the dolls can be happy or sad, they can be laughing or crying - in essence, they can mimic the emotions of the child holding them. Putting a face on the doll defines the emotion of the doll with the child - which may or may not be comforting.
So, I decided to update my history of faceless dolls research article and include new research as well as some of the new trends. I hope you enjoy it.
Part 1 - Corn Husk Dolls and Native American Indian Faceless Dolls
Probably the oldest legend has to do with "faceless" corn husk dolls. Some say they are the oldest form of doll known in America and have been around for more than a thousand years. 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 back in 2006:
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.
During the colonial times American colonists learned to grow corn from the Indians as they depended upon it for their main food staple. The Native American Indians taught them everything they could use corn for - including making corn husk dolls.
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. 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.
The Metropolitan Museum Of Art has a wonderful example of a faceless mother and daughter corn husk doll from the 19th century. If you want more information on the corn husk doll please click here. Shown below is the information from the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the doll shown in the picture to the left:
Geography: United States or Canada, New York or Ontario
Medium: Corn husk, cotton, wool, Native-tanned skin, glass, silk
Dimensions: H. 10 3/4 x W. 5 in. (27.3 x 12.7 cm)
Credit Line: Ralph T. Coe Collection, Gift of Ralph T. Coe Foundation for the Arts, 2011
Accession Number: 2011.154.22
I was pleased to see that their are several websites now concerning Native American Indian corn husk dolls, their history, and showing how to make them.
According to the Native American Technology and Art website corn husk dolls are made from brittle dried corn husks soaked in water.
Girl and boy dolls are made the same way with different designs for the clothing. Corn silk tassel is used for the hair. The feet and body are stuffed with leaves. Arms and legs are made from braided or rolled husks. The dolls range in size and are generally faceless.
Sometimes a face is drawn. Sometimes red dots are applied for cheeks. Clothing may or may not be added and can be made out of corn husks, animal hides, or cloth.
On the Wisconsin Folks website we are introduced to Kim Nishimoto, an artisan whose family has been making faceless corn husk dolls for five generations.
Kim is a member of the Oneida nation. a part of the larger Iroquois Nation of New York and Ontario. Oneida people moved from New York to Wisconsin in the early 1800s.
If you would like to read about Kim, her heritage and the making of corn husk dolls in her family please click here.
If you would like to read about how Kim creates her corn husk dolls please click here.
If you would like to make a girl and boy corn husk doll the Native American Technology and Art website has an Instructions for Corn Husk Dolls page showing how to make the dolls pictured to the right.
It also has a pictorial showing how to make the women's clothing and a pictorial showing how to make the men's clothing. Just click the links below for their pictorials:
The Institute For American Indian Studies - Crafts For The Classroom website has a wonderful .pdf tutorial showing how to make corn husk dolls.
If you would like to read or download the Corn Husk Dolls .pdf tutorial please click here.
The Corn Husk Doll page of the Nature Dolls chapter of The Complete Photo Guide To Doll Making book by Nancy Hoerner, Barbara Matthiessen, and Rick Petersen has a tutorial on making a faceless corn husk doll on page 62 & page 63 that shows how easy it is to make a simple faceless corn husk doll. According to The Complete Photo Guide To Doll Making book - Page 62, "Corn Husk dolls were loved by many country children. How ingenious their mothers were to make dolls with so few supplies. This folk art is still taught today."
The National Museum Of The American Indian website has a wonderful picture collection of 269 Native American Indian dolls including the picture shown below. If you would like to view their collection please click here.
Shown below is the information for the faceless doll shown in the picture to the right:
Object name:Doll with cradle/cradleboard
Date created:circa 1890
Media/Materials:Wood, hide, glass bead/beads, wool cloth, cotton cloth, brass nails, embroidery floss, human hair
Techniques:Loom beadwork, edge beaded, nailed, tied
Collection History/Provenance:Collected by Mark Raymond Harrington (1882-1971, MAI staff member) in 1908 or 1909 during fieldwork sponsored by George Heye.
Dimensions:16.5 x 5.5 x 4 cm
You also learn about Native American Indian dolls on the Smithsonian website which also has information on corn husk dolls. Their Smithsonian Education department created a Smithsonian In Your Classroom Fall 2004 Native American Indian Dolls issue celebrating the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in Washington, D.C. They created the issue and also generated a .pdf of this issue which can be viewed and downloaded here.
According to Clara Sue Kidwell - University of Oklahoma (Choctaw/Chippewa) who wrote the article for the Smithsonian In Your Classroom Fall 2004 Native American Indian Dolls issue, "The universal appeal of dolls makes them useful for teaching about cultural differences. "
According to Clara, "Dolls can prepare children to deal with adult decisions and decision making. Dolls also encourage the imagination. Those without faces allow a child to give the doll any sort of
characteristics he or she may wish. The doll can become an extension of the child’s personality rather than a personification of a specific being. In some communities, the facelessness also teaches an important lesson about not being vain or preoccupied with one’s own appearance."
The Smithsonian In Your Classroom Fall 2004 Native American Indian Dolls issue contains information on Native American Indian dolls and interviews with five very talented Native American Indian doll artists including Seneca doll maker, Lillian Kane, who makes beautiful faceless corn husk dolls.
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. The doll in the picture to the right is one of those dolls.
According to the GourmetSleuth.com website, " Corn plays an essential role in Mexican culture. Every element of corn is used from the silks for medicine to the fungus on the kernels (huitlacoche). This is an example of one of the most dramatic uses for corn is in Mexican crafts."
If you'd like to see pictures of the Mexican corn husk dolls dressed in traditional Mexican costume please click here.
On the My People website Linda RainsOn Rous, who is of Native American Indian heritage makes faceless Indian dolls carved from wood, like those shown in the picture to the left, that represent the faceless characters of Native American Indians from all nations inhabiting the North American continent.
According to Linda, "My People are taken from history and folklore of various North American Indian nations and some from nature itself."
"No Face Dolls: Are not idols, Kachinas or toys. Recording the history of a culture, they are storytellers of history and teachers of morals and tradition. Tradition of the culture is kept through oral teaching. No face indicates an overall message of vanity - what is in the heart is more important than what is seen on the surface."
"Many nations of the First People have used faceless dolls for thousands of years. Some of the better known are the leather and bead dolls of the Sioux, the cloth dolls of the Navajo and the corn husk dolls of the Iroquois."
The faceless doll in the picture to the right was created by Diane Tells His Name who is a (CIB) registered member of the Oglala Lakota tribe of Pine Ridge, South Dakota. She is a very talented artist whose dolls are exhibited at several museums including the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC; the May Collection at USD in San Diego, and the Barona Cultural Center and Museum on the Barona Indian Reservation.
Diane Tells His Name makes Lakota cloth dolls that are traditionally decorated with beaded costumes and accessories. Most of her dolls have been inspired by family stories from her ancestors.
If you would like to learn more about Diane-Tells-His-Name and see more of her beautiful art dolls please click here.
Lakota faceless dolls are similar to the Northeaster tribes corn husk dolls in that they are faceless to instill humility in their children. However, the dolls clothing is usually adorned with bead work, like the traditional clothing of the Native American Oglala Lakota tribe. The dolls may be outfitted with baskets, knives, hunting tools, or cradle boards.
According to the Diane Tells His Name, Lakota No Face Dolls page of the Horsekeeping website, "Lakota Dolls are traditionally made from buckskin. The bodies are stuffed with cattail fluff or buffalo hair. The hair is usually horse hair or buffalo hair."
"Why do Native American dolls have long hair? As legend has it, when you die, if you don't hear your name called, you can't cross over to the other side. So, just in case you don't hear your name when it is called, if you have long hair, someone on the other side can grab your long hair and pull you over."
Joyce LaPorte is a Fond du Lac tribal member whose Indian name is giiwedinanangkwe (North Star woman) who demonstrated her doll-making at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. She is a traditional Ojibwe doll maker who has been fascinated with traditional Ojibwe dolls since she received a small faceless doll from her grandmother at the age of 5. The doll was made from scraps of buckskin, stuffed with fluff from cattails, and hair from her grandmother. The doll was faceless as was common among the Ojibwe tribe and other Native American Indian tribes.
Joyce is a gifted doll maker who has been making dolls for 35 years and uses her grandmother's doll as a prototype for the faceless dolls she creates. Joyce stuffs her hand sewn dolls with cleaned buffalo hair and uses split buckskin for the body, tanned hide for the clothing, and clean horse hair.
Several of Joyce's dolls can be seen in the picture to the right from the article by Sue Erickson: Traditional Ojibwe Dollmaker Demonstrates Skill at Smithsonian in the Mazina'igan - A Chronicle of the Lake Superior Ojibwe Fall of 2005 - Page 12 shown above. If you would like to read that article and more about Joyce and her heritage please click here and scroll down to page 12.
In the Coming back a new person Joyce LaPorte gathers from woods in the creation of “Odaminwaagan” -- the Ojibwe faceless doll article by By Jane Skalisky in the December 2008 - Nah gah chi wa nong • Di bah ji mowin nan Issue - Page 3 Joyce talks about the difference between the traditional doll making of her grandmother and her dolls, her motivation for creating, her late husband, and her life. If you would like to read that article please click here and scroll down to page 3.