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Saturday, April 28, 2012

APPALACHIAN CHINA HEAD DOLL


LATE 1800s CHINA HEAD APPALACHIAN DOLL

A material object has a silent language that we can read to understand its possible history. As an example, I will use the small china head doll in the photo above to explain how I read a material object. I found this above tiny doll in an Appalachian area. 


I am not a doll collector -- rather I am a story gatherer. I look at an object or listen to folks to gain pieces of their culture. I attempt to put the pieces together to understand  their culture. With many pieces gathered a story begins to form. It is not the absolute truth but it is similar to the truth. No one can capture the absolute truth -- at least that is the way I feel. 


I know that china head dolls of the above style are old. How do I know this? Through handling and becoming deeply aware of their attributes over time -- combined with research.


CHINA HEAD DOLL -- 8 INCHES LENGTH

Now I move into the story part once I have established that its age is from the latter part of the 1800s. The head of the doll is manufactured. The body is homemade consisting of an early cotton covering with wool stuffing. 
I look at the cotton cloth used and determine it is early scrap material  probably taken from the perennial scrap bag that most Appalachian households had. The stitches are both fine and primitive. Apparently two persons were involved in the stitching. I feel one was the household seamstress, probably the mother, and the other, a child practicing stitching on her doll. One question in my mind  -- is the body original to the china head? If not, I still do believe that the body is from the same timeframe as the china head. 


Although available in late 1800s stores, no china shoes or hands were assembled on the doll. Was this because the family did not have the money to buy these extra parts for the doll? Also, the china shoulder is broken and has worn through the  body cloth. Water stains are the large brown ripples on the body cloth. The doll has no clothes. Now all this information scatters my thoughts. When did this all happen? 


I have come up with these deductions:
- One is the doll suffered neglect with its original owners.
- Or, number two, that it was in great shape during its early life and then lost its status with its recent owners?
- Or number three, I am way off base on my deductions.
- plus more . . .


The clues I am looking at are the silent language that I try to read. I will not be able to really determine what  happened to this little doll but one thing I can say is that it has suffered abuse. Now it is my turn to take care of it. It will have a good home for now. Plus it will have my thoughts of how it managed to survive for about one hundred years. 









12 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for this. I enjoyed reading about your sleuthing and your thinking and your wondering.

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    1. marcia -- And thank you for the nice words. It is fun to poke and prod to hopefully find possible answers to why things are the way they are. -- barbara

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  2. What a beautiful find Barbara. I've never seen many old dolls but I imagine at one time some little girl treasured her.

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    1. Mamabug -- Don't you feel that everything we see has a great story behind it. Blogging seems to lend itself to this idea. Especially photography blogs -- the mind's imagination lights up with a photo.
      thanks -- barbara

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  3. Fascinating sleuthing, Barbara! I know the doll will have a wonderful home, now!

    Elora

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    1. Elora -- Bloggers are all sleuthers (such a word?). They move their fingers across a keyboard and give us interesting stories. I learn so much from bloggers. --thanks -- barbara

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  4. I learned a lot there today. But that doll is still a bit spooky.

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    1. Birdman -- Emotions gleaned from a story is necessary. Spooky is a word I hadn't thought of but now I can see how one could interpret it to be so. Another dimension to my story. thanks -- barbara

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  5. The body is not very well proportioned in and of itself, nor is it well proportioned to the delicate head. I think one can infer from this that the people, probably mother and daughter as you surmise from the stitching, were not people who had honed their artistic sensibilities, they probably had very little education and very little acquaintance with artistic objects. If this is true (which it might not be, of course) I imagine the pretty head must have been especially precious, especially if your inference that they could not afford china feet or hands is correct. Being a story teller myself, although not a trained ethnographer, I am trying to imagine mother and daughter in a primitive home in the mountains working together with needle an thread making the body for the doll and subsequently, surely, a dress for her.

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    1. June -- I believe you are right -- that the body indicates that it was made by someone that lacked artistic skills. One of the stories that I came up with in my mulling over the doll is similar to yours. I thought that perhaps the doll head was given to the family after the shoulder broke. It had a chunk missing. The body was attached and sewn over the broken shoulder. In a family where money is scarce this could have been a scenario of reuse of the doll head. thanks for the comment -- barbara

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  6. Very interesting. I tend to agree with Birdman that often the old china dolls are a bit spooky with their little heads and large bodies. I don't collect them either, but I do love to see them and hear about them. And wonder about the owners who first had them.

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    1. NCmountainwoman -- I do agree especially when they have the staring type of glass eyes. I had a friend that had a full length cabinet filled with these types of dolls. It sat in her dining room. Every-time I sat in her dining room I felt like I was being watched by many eyes. thanks -- barbara

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