Collectors Fulfill Their Youthful Dreams as paths cross at Black Doll Expo
Wayne A. Young
When a coworker gave
then 35-year-old Joanna Banks of Capital Heights, Maryland an anatomically
correct black male doll in 1978, it fulfilled two of her dreams.
"Well, the dream goes back to my childhood," she recalls.
Banks was around
four when the Louisville, Kentucky native asked her mother, Mary Banks, if
she could have twin dolls, a boy and girl.
So, for Christmas, Mary Banks got little Joanna two White dolls,
Ronnie and Connie. "I
thought Ronnie would be made like my brother," chuckled Banks. "I took Ronnie's pants off and I was very disappointed
that he looked like my girl dolls," she continued.
Banks soon asked her
mother for her first "colored" doll. When they arrived at a nearby shop to get one, they met
disappointment together. "The
merchant presented us a round, dark, grinning Aunt Jemima doll wearing a
bandanna around her head. The
doll came with a buggy with a White baby in it,” says Banks.
"My mother then
wrapped her robe of righteous indignation around her and told the merchant
that she would not buy that doll for her little girl. And I never asked for a colored doll again!” asserted
The coworker's gift
fulfilled Bank's childhood wishes: one, for an anatomically correct boy
doll and two, a Black doll that mirror the African-Americans she sees
around her. “It also
propelled me to become a serious doll collector," says the
Smithsonian Institute Anacostia Museum educator.
The now 58-year-old
collector has about 200 dolls in her collection.
Her medley of dolls mainly consists of soft sculptured Black doll
babies. However, she recently
began attending doll making workshops and creating soft sculptured
anatomically correct adult female dolls.
85-year-old mother hasn't become a doll collector, she remembers her
little girl's dream. Between
Christmas 1979and until recently, when she became physically unable,
"my mother has bought me a Black doll and it reminds me that she
always tried to give me every thing that I want," says Banks.
Dolls also play an
important role in the warm relationship between 68-year-old Frankie Lyles
and her 46-year-old daughter Lynn Reid.
Along with Reid’s husband, Gerald, they jointly own Angie’s
Doll Boutique in historic Olde Towne Alexandria, Virginia. “We complement each other, Lynn likes making dolls and I
like collecting them,” laughed Lyles.
Lyles, whose mother
was a domestic, often brought her daughter White dolls that her
employer’s daughter no longer wanted. “The color of the doll didn’t
make me any difference,” says Reid, “partially, because I had no idea
that a doll could be Black.” Llyes
love of collecting dolls carried over into her later years where she began
making little Black cloth dolls, but doll collecting barely interested her
only child, Reid. “I prefer
making dolls,” says Reid, "because I find it relaxing and I enjoy
the challenge of making a perfect doll that others will find
small bustling shop was a thrift store.
However, around 1976, they began to notice that many of their
customers would ask for dolls, but wouldn't identify themselves as
collectors. "We were a
thrift store for about a year before we assumed our new identity, but our
change also helped many collectors come out of the closet," joked
Santana, a 69-year-old dollmaker in the Dominican Republic also prefers
making dolls to collecting them. Like
most young women in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean country,
Santana learned from her mother how to make her own toys when she
was young. "Growing up
in the Dominican Republic is not like growing up in the U.S., poor people
have to use their imagination and make their own," she said through
her interpreter, her son Ricardo Santana.
A former tailor,
Santana began making dolls to support herself and two sons as
mass‑produced clothes lowered the demand for tailored-made items. She makes them from rags and calls them Chana, after a Black
servant in a popular Venezuelan, South America soap opera.
In the capital city,
Santa Domingo, she makes only jet Black dolls, but when in the United
States visiting her son, she makes dolls of various shades including White
ones. "Believe it or not, the people who ask for light-skinned dolls
are African-Americans," she says.
Carolina dollmaker Ida Clowney has had a similar experience.
“At first I made jet Black dolls, but I figured that
if I started making them of all colors - my sales would go up,”
she says. Her sales did go up and her designs even got the
attention of Mr. Rogers of PBS’
Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.
In 1997, she got a
call from him. “He saw my
work in a Pittsburgh shop and called me to ask if I would be his
neighbor,” she recalls. Though
she was already satisfied with her career choice, she says that her brief
stint on national television was “good for my self-esteem and
While many doll
collectors and makers gained their first exposure to dolls from females,
Pamela Wade of Waldorf, Maryland developed her passion for collecting
dolls from her fiancé, nearly eight years ago.
"He is a collector of basketball cards and antique furniture
and I always had an interest in collecting, but never found anything that
touched my heart," she says.
However, Wade found
her passion for collecting when he bought her Katy from the Daddy Long
Legs Collection for her 31st birthday.
"Now I have over 20 special friends that only come out at
Christmas,” she continued, "I display them in my living room
because that's where my other family and friends gather to celebrate the
birth of Jesus."
Washington Black Doll Show promoter Malinda Saunders also traces her
passion to her youth. She
says, "I began collecting dolls because I didn't have that many when
I was a little girl." However,
Saunders, who recently retired from Federal service, has not retired her
love for dolls. “I still
love dolls, like to collect them and plan to pass
them on to my granddaughter.”
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