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Friday, January 15, 2016

Doll Art

Girl with Doll, ca. 1765, Jean-Etienne Liotard, (a Swiss artist from the 18th century).
I've long maintained that the one type of artist which touches are daily lives most frequently and most deeply is not the painter, or the sculptor or even, in the broader sense, the musician, or the writer. The artist whose work we are most indebted to is the designer. Virtually every inanimate item we touch has first been touched by a designer. Yet we so take them for granted that we seldom give them a thought except on the rare occasion when we encounter some item which has been poorly designed. In the past I've tried to rectify this abysmal lack of recognition by highlighting the work of various types of designers from architects to automobiles, from fashion to food. Today I choose to do the same with a certain rare breed of designers without whom the life of virtually every little girl and in this era, a surprising number of boys, would be significantly less enjoyable. I'm talking about a particular type of toy designer, namely those who make their livelihood designing dolls. (The topic of toy designers in general is too broad for a forum such as this.)

Dolls from the 19th century and before. The Moravian rag doll (above, left) is a modern-day copy.
Archaeologist tell us children's dolls have been around in one form or another since at least the third or4th-centuries BC, though it's sometimes difficult to differentiate between such toys and items of a similar nature used in religious rituals. The design and manufacturing of dolls dates back to the 15th-century in northern Europe. These were made mostly of carved wood. Dolls made of soft material seldom survive to become artifacts. During the 18th-century, paper mache, leather, wax, and porcelain came into use as details attached to cloth bodies stuffed with feathers or other soft materials, then dressed in the latest, hand sewn fashions, augmented with human or animal hair. Until the 19th century, all facial details were painted on. That would seem to be the case with the doll held tightly by the young girl in Jean-Etienne Liotard's 1765 Girl with Doll (top). However by 1900, as seen in the German bisque doll (above), designers had worked out the ways and means to allow dolls to open and shut their eyes.
Ceramics made dolls realistic; color lithography made them affordable.
Regardless, little girls' imaginations made them fun.
Until the advent of the 20th-century, even mass produced dolls were far to expensive to indulge most young girls, who instead, had to make do with the sewing expertise of their mothers and grandmothers, though various ceramic doll parts were available in the latter decades of the 1800s to aid in the effort. Thus the earliest doll designers were likely mothers. For the most part, Santa Claus didn't start delivering babies until after the turn of the century. By the 1920s, as the photo at top-right suggests, a family's affluence might be best judged by the number of dolls in their children's "playroom." In most cases, there was little effort expended to adhere to accurate facial anatomy as can be noted in the German porcelain doll (above, left).
By the 1930s, Hollywood and current events fed the imaginations of doll designers.
The Depression once more brought back the homemade doll.

During the 1940s, Shirley Temple grew up, Scarlett O'Hara's mammy took care of white babies, and the Kewpie doll sold like hotcakes, at least on the west side of the Atlantic.
During the halcyon days of the 50s, the baby doll evolved into the sexy doll. Hollywood's lovely June Allyson couldn't compete on paper with the grossly distorted plastic female anatomy of Mattel's Barbie, born in 1959/
In the 1960s, dolls learned to walk, talk, urinate, cry, and get married. Those who didn't, presumably became British nannies or old maids ala Mary Poppins or Mrs. Beasley (from the TV series Family Affair.)
Having become almost human, dolls during the century took a collectible turn as with the Trolls or simply became unrealistically "cute."
Doll designers hit a rich vein during the 1980s when the homely little Cabbage Patch Kids arrived with their factory assigned names and birth certificates, Hulk Hogan made it socially acceptable for boys to play with long as they were called "action figures." Barbie met Ken, and babies became" anatomically correct."
Motion pictures served as the primary inspiration for doll designers during the 1990s as never before. It didn't even matter than Scarlett O'Hara and her mother's portieres had been around for almost sixty years nor that Madonna never had a hit movie in her entire life.
Boys playing with dolls? What's this world coming too? Better father's perhaps?
In more recent years, doll design has veered off into some rather unexpected directions. First it was action figures, then doll houses and now it's permissible for boys to play with baby dolls, so long as it's within their role as would-be pediatricians (above). Let's just hope they don't want to branch out into obstetrics. Meanwhile, some boys, as they get older, have taken a liking to inflatable dolls, none more so, or more realistically, than such older boys in Japan (below).

This Japanese doll is definitely soft, but not inflatable,
and definitely not suitable for children of any age.
Danbury Mint Porcelain Doll. He (or she) is likely
laughing all the way to the bank.
Outside the bedroom, dolls have also taken on the role of investments. When the Danbury Mint begins making ceramic dolls (left) worth many thousands of dollars, these children's toys are likely going to find themselves taking up residence in bank vaults rather than children's rooms. Perhaps the most startling development in doll design is the popularity of portrait dolls, created by artists much as if they were painting portraits of young children, except that these are made of highly realistic porcelain, sculpted and dressed to appear (in photos, at least) as indistinguishable from the real, live babies from which their modeled. Rosa Bayes (below) proudly displays a whole crib full of babies she's created, at prices the Danbury Mint might envy.

Okay, altogether now..."ahhhhhhhhhh." Cute, cuddly, with minimal maintenance.

Little girls can play with life-size dolls too, as
with this early creation by the late doll designer,
Lee Middleton of Belpre, Ohio.

Guess who now has their own "action" figure.

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