Collecting Black Americana Part One: Antique Black American Folk Art Rag dolls As a lover of American Folk Art, my choice for the title “Folk Art at its Finest” are Black American cloth or rag dolls! Why? The answer is LOVE!
When I look at these wonderful handmade dolls I don’t
Hair is another characteristic collectors of Black American dolls search for. Some dolls have hair made from wool, or other types of thick yarn. Collectors also search for unusual types of hair or hairdos. One of our dolls has a very fancy “coif” that I haven’t seen before consisting of many tight individual curls.
Collectors of Black American cloth dolls also seek out unusual clothes. The fabrics chosen tell yet another story. From the type of fabric collected, the value of the fabric & variety of patterns & colors one can almost tell the socioeconomic level of the family. Some dolls clothes were made from feed sacks while others were dressed in nice woolens, some had organza aprons, boys frequently wear jackets Collectors look for special applications, perhaps a little lace, pearl buttons, or a satin collar.
Black American mothers often added aprons to the dresses, some with an occasional pocket, bloomers & occasionally leather shoes. One of our doll even has the name “Kathy” embroidered on her frilly apron. Boys were often dressed in some type of dungarees or overalls, some have pockets. Boys stand out when their outfits are a little more “unusual” then the value generally is higher.
Girls were the most commonly created Black American dolls, then boys, twins consisting of one boy & one girl, then twin boys & the most uncommon adult dolls, adult doll couples! I still remember how thrilled I was with the purchase of my first “adult male” doll, he even has glasses on & a snazzy beret, but he was definitely a “working man” doll.
Early Black American dolls were made without commercial patterns. Patterns became more plentiful in the late 40s or early 50s allowing the “less talented” of mothers the ability to create a handmade doll with a little assistance. One creative mother made her child a cute doll with velvet head & arms, no torso or legs, her dress was intended to be a pajama bag.
Black Americana consistently falls into difficult to grasp or define categories. This is especially true when dealing with commercially produced items from the '20s through the '50s which quite often insensitively stereotyped Black Americans.
In Part 2 “Collecting Black Americana” I will touch on several collectible items. Black Americana covers a wide range of subjects. Those subjects include kitchen items, salt & pepper shakers, cookie jars, advertising, coffee & tobacco tins by Luzianne, folk art carvings & toys & dolls. There is yet another whole field of “ephemera” that includes books by & about Black Americans, early jazz records, cookbooks, post cards & stereo cards.
However my personal favorite collection will remain American Folk Art & I personally find the rag dolls made by Black American women to be the highest form of American folk art!
Those gifted women had such great love for their children. She hoped & prayed for a better life for her child, that love was exemplified in their creations!