A glimpse of my world can be seen by perusing my Pinterest boards. I think you will especially like the ones I have set up that show images of antique Izannah Walker dolls, antique children’s photos for clothing references, my reproduction Izannahs and other antique dolls and toys!
Update, Charlcie has found her new home just in time for Christmas!
My first copy of the new Prims Winter 2013 issue arrived yesterday. Charlcie and Savannah couldn’t wait to open it and read all about themselves! The magazine is scheduled to be in stores on January 1st. Susie Belle has already moved to her new home in Virginia. Savannah is sold and on lay-away, so I get the pleasure of her company for a bit longer. Charlcie is very happy that her sisters have such wonderful new homes and hopes that she will find one of her own very soon!
To read more about Charlcie, or to purchase her for your very own please visit my website Paula Walton’s A Sweet Remembrance. If you would like to buy her and place her on lay-away call me at 860-355-5709 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. I am always happy to answer any questions you may have about my dolls and provide additional photographs. CHARLCIE IS NOW SOLD. THANK YOU FOR LOOKING. CALL ME OR EMAIL IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO PLACE AN ORDER FOR A CUSTOM MADE DOLL.
My copy of Antique Doll Collector’s November issue came today. If you don’t subscribe, you need to order a copy of this magazine right away! There is an article in it about Kelly Harpster’s collection. She owns 20 antique Izannah Walker dolls!!! She also has some amazing one of a kind home made cloth dolls and a lovely group of early Alabama Babies. Plus her house looks just fabulous. One of the photos shows some of her dolls in an unbelievably spectacular smoke grained cupboard… If you love Izannahs you will want to read this article and see all of the photos.
As you might suspect, I have never met an antique painted cloth doll that I didn’t love. This is especially true for Ella Gauntt Smith’s Alabama Indestructible Babies. They are lovely toys, just the right size and weight to cuddle in a young girl’s arms.
Ella Smith was an art teacher who created her Alabama Babies to be sturdy, unbreakable play things in an age of fragile and easily broken dolls. She was an interesting and enterprising woman, with a fascinating biography.
Early in 2007 I was asked by Doll Crafter and Costuming magazine to write a three part article about Alabama Babies, that included full instructions and patterns for making a reproduction doll. The series appeared in the March, April and May 2007 issues of the magazine.
The following is an excerpt from the March article. I’m running it here especially for Martha, one of my Izannah class members, who is also keenly interested in Alabama Babies and for anyone else who loves them as I do.
Making An Alabama Indestructible Doll
by Paula Walton
Level of Difficulty: High
Alabama Indestructible Dolls were made by Ella Smith and a small group of women employees in Roanoke, Alabama from 1905 until 1932. In 1904, Mrs. Smith traveled to St. Louis, Missouri to show her dolls at the St. Louis Exposition. Her dolls won a first place classification at the Exposition, and the following year on March 31, 1905, she filed an application for her first doll patent. Her patent number 800,333 was granted on September 26, 1905. Mrs. Smith went on to obtain a number of additional patents for improvements and changes to the design of her dolls.
This is the first in a series of three articles that will give you patterns and instructions for making a 22-inch tall Alabama Indestructible doll in the style of Ella Smith’s earliest dolls. The following is Miss Ella’s (as she was commonly known) description of her dolls as printed in one of her catalogs in her own words:
“My dolls are all made of the best white goods – no dyes used, as they rot the goods and cause the dolls to wear out sooner. They are all carefully Hand-made. Hand-painted with pure oil paints and can be washed like children. There is no glue or paste used in them. They are stuffed with cotton and sewed with the best thread. No cheap stuff used in the make- up of these dolls. They do not break from being dropped or thrown about. They have been tested by five years’ use. When they are worn and need new hands or feet or painting again, they may be sent back here to the shop and made to look like a new doll for a small sum. Our dolls may be provided with glass eyes, but we prefer the painted eyes – they look like life, and then there is no possible chance of a child to pick the fabric from around the eyes. If we were to use glass eyes we would have to cut the fabric from over the eyes and that would leave a new edge, and when the dolls faces were washed the edges would become rough and ugly around the eyes: and the glass eyes are only a shell and so very easily broken. These dolls are just what the people want if they are looking for something good and substantial, and every child is so glad to get one of these dolls. They look so much like a baby when dressed in long or short clothes, and when the dear little girl drops one of these dolls she don’t have to cry her little heart out because dolly has a broken head. She can just pick her up and go on happy and gay, because these dolls do not break from being dropped. Any one of these dolls may be provided with a wig, but most all people like the painted heads – they look so neat – and the wigs become tangled after a while; but they may be taken off and the heads painted the same as the others. These dolls are painted to represent all races of people. We mean to try to please all people as near as we can. We want our dolls to give perfect satisfaction.”
VISIT MT WEBSITE WWW.ASWEETREMEMBRANCE.COM TO PURCHASE MY ALABAMA BABY REPRODUCTION DOLL MAKING CLASS BY MAIL.
Up until now I haven’t sold individual patterns for my Alabama Babies. To start with, just after the articles were published, I didn’t want to infringe or compete with the Doll Crafter and Costuming articles, even though the magazine only had limited rights to the articles and patterns and I retained the copy rights. Later I hesitated to make the patterns available because the dolls and the pattern pieces are large enough that they require printing on oversize paper, which makes producing the patterns more difficult and expensive.
However I began to rethink selling copies of this pattern after I advised Martha to look for back issues containing the articles. I’ve done a little checking around and it doesn’t look like it is easy to find these issues. In the intervening years Doll Crafter and Costuming has ceased publication. A quick look on eBay showed other Doll Crafter and Costuming issues (but not March, April or May 2007) for sale from $9.99 each. Another issue is that the patterns included in the April 2007 and May 2007 issues of Doll Crafter and Costuming were printed at 50%.
So I have updated and revised my original instructions to include an option for making bare feet, as well as the iconic painted shoes that Alabama Babies are so well know for. I’ve added more than twice as many color how-to photos to the step by step guide and had full size pattern pieces printed (so you won’t have to go to the trouble and expense of making enlargements).
Full support and unlimited questions and answers are included with this 30 page tutorial, as they are with all of my patterns and classes. Making a reproduction Alabama Baby is easier than making a reproduction Izannah Walker doll, but it is still a complex and challenging undertaking, so it’s nice to know that you will have some help along the way if you need it:) I have also started a class member only Ning site, with bonus materials, extra photos and the opportunity for you to interact and “converse” with other class members.
Read More About Alabama Babies
The Alabama Baby Indestructible Doll 1899-1932 by Bonnie Gamble Ballinger
Freeman’s Dolls For Collectors – Encyclopedia American Dolls by Ruth S. Freeman
American Rag Dolls – Straight From The Heart by Estelle Patino
A Celebration of American Dolls From The Collections Of The Strong Museum by Dorothy A. McGonagle
A short Alabama Baby love story: As a romantic footnote to this posting I have to add that my husband, Brian, gave me my first Alabama Baby as a Christmas gift. I was so utterly captivated by that original doll that he searched for others, which he presented to me on subsequent Christmases and birthdays, interspersing them with several Martha Chase dolls. Just another reason why Alabama Babies are dear to my heart 🙂
I’ve always been rather fond of rick rack. It reminds me of my childhood. The dress I wore to my first day of kindergarten was trimmed with white rick rack and I remember seeing it on countless aprons and kitchen curtains during my youth.
In truth, rick rack or waved braid, as it was first known, has been in existence far longer than I have. 🙂 I haven’t been able to track down an exact date yet, but it was certainly available when this papier-mache milliner’s model was made in the 1830’s.
The waved braid on the dress above is an exact color match to the dress fabric. Both the braid and fabric are cotton and I am speculating that they were dyed to match. The dress is original to the doll. Three rows of waved braid circle the skirt and the bodice is adorned with a lavish combination of braid and knotting.
By 1882, when the following paragraph from The Dictionary of Needlework was published, waved braid was certainly common place and was being used to trim children’s clothing. It’s not a far leap from children’s garments to doll clothes, which explains why waved braid is often seen on doll clothing from this era.
“There are also waved cotton braids, used for trimming children’s dresses, which are sold by the gross, cut into lengths. The numbers are 11, 17, 21, 29, and 33. There are also waved worsted braids for children’s use, which are sold in knots of 4 or 5 yards each, and sold by the gross pieces. The numbers are 13, 17, and 21.”
In the 1880’s it was also popular to do crochet work using waved braid. Some fantastic laces can be created in this manner. I don’t crochet, but if you do and would like to read more about how to make this type of lace, follow this link.
No matter what name you call it by, waved braid, snake braid, corrugated braid, rick rack ( alternately ricrac, ric-rack or ric rac) is a very authentic choice for trimming historically accurate, mid-1800’s reproduction doll clothing.
Last month, when I went to the Harwinton (CT) Antiques and Design weekend, I happened across this fantastic portrait. At the time I had just spent several days painting scallop topped boots on what felt like an entire army of tiny feet and sewing yards and yards of gathered white ruffles and lace. Finding this painting felt like the hand of fate.
We’ve hung the portrait in our parlor, so that she over looks the wing-back chair and Sheraton sewing table, where I sit in the evenings to do my hand sewing. That way whenever my thread tangles, I have to rip out stitches, or just generally need a bit of encouragement, I can look up for inspiration. This tiny girl is a gentle guide to the look and feel of long past childhood, that I strive to convey in all of my dolls. I am so happy to have found her!
Last month, while in Kirkland, WA for a family wedding, I had the chance to visit the Rosalie Whyel Museum in neighboring Bellevue. Sadly the museum will be closing in a few months on March 1st, 2012.
If you can get to the museum before it closes, do so! The collection is wonderful. The highlights for me are the two Izannah Walker dolls, a lovely pre-patent doll dressed in red wool challis, with a trunkful of belongings and a tiny 13 inch patented doll with the molded shoulder-plate. The wooden dolls are also amazing, especially one 24 inch George II era English wooden from 1750-1760 with a large original wardrobe of superbly sewn garments.
Brian was quite a good sport about the length of time I spent in the gallery that houses both the Izannahs and woodens. About the time that I was performing a host of contortionist movements, in an effort to see the seams and hems of the clothing on the Izannahs and George II wooden, he laid down on a bench in the gallery for a brief nap. No, I’m not kidding 🙂 – it was a very slow day and we were the only visitors. Since he was occupied, if not terribly comfortable, I felt free to sketch and make notes to my hearts content.
The day following our museum tour we headed over to Rosie’s Too , which is a second, off site, collectible doll shop owned by the museum. I found a cute, tiny black bisque baby doll and an antique chemise just the right size for one of my Izannahs.
If you can’t visit in person, the museum sells a book entitled The Heart of the Tree, which chronicles their 2002 exhibit of the same name. It’s a lovely book and I didn’t mind paying the $49.95 cover price, but I do wish that it included the fantastic 24 inch 1750-1760 doll that I mentioned above. I had to make do with buying several postcards of her and her wardrobe. They also sell a small paperback souvenir book about the museum called Rosalie Whyel Museum of Doll Art Opening Our Doors to You for $11 or $12, which has a nice photo of their pre-patent Izannah. I did not buy their larger book “THE ROSE UNFOLDS”
RARITIES OF THE ROSALIE WHYEL MUSEUM OF DOLL ART Volume One. It wasn’t so much the $79.95 price tag as it was the size and weight of the book. I just couldn’t face dragging it around Washington, then on to California and finally back to Connecticut 🙂 I may have to break down and purchase it a some point, because it does have large lovely photographs of both of their Izannah Walker dolls.
You can also find photos of both the Rosalie Whyle Izannahs in the article “Izannah Walker – Godmother to Cloth Doll Makers” by Susan Hedrick, Soft Dolls & Animals, Summer 1998 and a photo of just their pre-patent Izannah in “Early American Stockinette Dolls: Part 1- Izannah Walker and Martha Chase Dolls” by Judy Beswick, The Cloth Doll, Fall 1998.
If you would like to read more about the museum there is a nice article on page 14 of the July 2011 issue of Antique Doll Collector.
Many articles have been written about Izannah Walker and her hauntingly beautiful, iconic cloth dolls. I have found all of them extremely interesting and well worth reading. However, it occurred to me that none of the articles that I have seen were written by someone who has actually made full size reproductions of Izannah’s pressed cloth heads and has experienced first hand the joys and frustrations of this unique type of doll making. So I’ve decided to join the ranks of doll lovers and historians who have gone before me in writing about this fascinating woman and her exceptional dolls.
It feels like I have loved Izannah Walker dolls for my entire life, although I know that can’t be true. When I look back, I think that I first became aware of her dolls right around the time that we moved to New England, 22 years ago. I do know that I have loved, and always wanted to own, antique dolls since my very early childhood. As soon as I knew that such things as really old dolls existed, I wanted one (or more!).
Izannah Walker was born in Bristol, Rhode Island on the 25th day of September in 1817. I have read there is documentation that she started making dolls in 1828. She would have been 11 years old in 1828, the same age that I was when I first learned to sew. Norma H. Robertson, Izannah Walker’s grand-niece, stated that her great aunt began making stockinette dolls in 1845 for friends, and as her business developed, she put her three sisters to work painting faces. Other research and information that I have seen states that Izannah had two sisters, plus several older half-siblings, and that Izannah, her older sister Jane and her aunt Jane Hintz were all three doll makers.
One of my favorite Izannah stories is a reminiscence by Mrs. Helen Pierce of when the Walker sisters were living on Main Street in Somerset Village, MA. Mrs. Pierce tells a tale of the Walkers hanging their dolls out on the clothesline to dry when it was too damp in the house and how the air in the neighborhood was then permeated with the smell of oil paint. I can certainly relate to that, having hung my share of dolls out on the clothesline.
The Mystery of Molds and Lessons Learned About Pressed Cloth Heads
One of the things that I find most endearing about the Walker dolls is their differences. This may be because three individual women had a hand in their construction, either working together or apart. It is also, in my opinion, a very basic fact of life when a doll maker is creating dolls with pressed cloth heads. While all of the original dolls are recognizable as Walker dolls, they do come in many sizes, from 13 to 27 inches* in height, and often have very striking differences from one another. The majority of the dolls are girls, although there are a few boy dolls and even fewer black dolls with lovely, short, nubby black wool hair.
There has been a great deal of speculation in the doll world about the number and origin of the molds Izannah Walker used to make her dolls. I can’t offer any clues about how the molds were made. Did she sculpt her own prototype heads and then have them made into metal molds? Did she hire others to create both the original sculpt and molds? Or did she commission molds from commercially available European dolls? Her patent information shows the use of a metal mold and dye, but did she always use metal molds? Is it possible that her earlier dolls were created using plaster molds, which were long established in the doll making industry at that time, and would wear out and need replacing more frequently?
What I can say with some confidence is that it is very likely that she used fewer molds than many people think. Obviously, she had to have a variety of molds for the different sized dolls that she made and it is equally obvious that her early dolls used very different molds than her later, patented dolls. What I have found when making pressed cloth heads is that heads made using the same mold will turn out quite differently from one another. When making pressed cloth heads, you do not get the same consistency as you do when casting materials, such as bisque, papier-mâché and wax, that can be poured into a mold and hardened. Izannah’s pressed cloth heads were made in sections that had to be joined together, a process that sometimes causes individual heads to come out a bit larger or smaller than each other. After the front and back sections of the head were sewn and or glued together, the head was stuffed with cotton, horsehair, sea grass or other materials. The pressed cloth heads are not rigid like the heads of a china or porcelain doll. They are somewhat flexible and their shape can be altered by how tightly the stuffing is packed into the head. All of these factors can and will change the appearance of the finished pressed cloth head.
Another point that I would like to mention here is that when studying photographs of Izannah Walker dolls, it is important to remember that the photographs do not always look the same as the doll does in person. I am by no means a professional photographer, but I am a person who takes an inordinate number of doll photos, using several different cameras and lenses. The type of lens used to take a photograph will have a big impact on how the doll looks, as will the lighting and angle from which the photo is taken. People who have only seen Izannah Walker dolls in photographs are often very surprised when they first see one of the dolls in person. The dolls are smaller and much more delicately proportioned than they often look in photos. Their eyes are not as large and their foreheads aren’t quite as curved and pronounced as people expect. I am fortunate enough to have been able to visit several museums and view dolls in person that I had previously only seen in photos and I can attest that there is a real difference. I see this same difference when I photograph both my antique Izannah Walker dolls and the reproductions of them that I make. So some Walker dolls may look more similar in person than they do when compared in photographs. Especially when they are photographs taken by different people, using different cameras, lighting, etc.
The painting style is another variable from doll to doll. Again, this may be due to more than one person wielding her brush, or it may be because when a doll maker paints a doll, each one is slightly different from the next. Even if you have never made a doll in your life, I’m sure that you can relate. Think about your signature. It is something you do over and over again. Is it exactly the same every time? When you make your favorite recipe, the one you know by heart and don’t have to look up, does it turn out just the same every time? Izannah Walker’s dolls were made over a long period of time. Even if a single person painted them all, it is natural that they would change. When I paint my dolls, the colors will vary a bit since I don’t use a “recipe” to mix my paints. Some days, I paint finer lines than others, paint better curls, make more blushing cheeks and crisper bootlaces. Such is the nature of hand made artistry and it is why Izannah Walker dolls are so well loved and enduring. The hand of the doll maker shows in each and every one of them. They are similar and yet individual works of artistry.
I like to think that the women all worked together, even when they were separated by distance (which they were during different periods in their lives). My sister and I make reproduction samplers together, even though she lives in Nebraska and I live in Connecticut. Both of us work on every sampler that we make, each doing our own part to create the final product. It would have been possible for the Walker sisters and their aunt to do the same, and I hope that they did. My sister and I enjoy working together and I’d like for the Walkers to have had the bond that shared goals and joint work brings about.
Construction Features of the Walker Dolls
Like any other reproduction-sewing project, making an Izannah Walker doll is an eye opening experience to the difference between 19th century and 21st century sewing construction. People in the 1800’s obviously viewed pattern making and sewing construction differently than we do today. The shapes of many of the pattern pieces used to make these dolls and their clothing are unfamiliar to modern seamstresses.
Izannah’s earliest dolls had heads that were made of molded and pressed cloth joined to the bodies at the neck. This is different than the later patented dolls that had molded and pressed cloth heads and shoulder plates that were glued onto the bodies. I think the early dolls are prettier than their later sisters, and they are the type of Izannah Walker dolls that I prefer to reproduce. The front of the pre-patent doll’s head is joined to the back just in front of the ears. The back of the head has a partial center seam.
Often you will see that the dolls have repaired ankles. This is because they have a seam at the ankles that connects the foot to the leg. Modern cloth dolls are seldom made this way. The dolls have narrow waists, with wide shoulders and hips. The unpainted portions of their bodies are covered with a “second skin,” which gives them a neat, finished appearance, and points to the care with which they were made.
I find all of these details intriguing. They are part of what draws me to study Izannah Walker’s dolls and have kept my interest in them so strong for many years.
Izannah Walker dolls were made using molds. That does not mean that they took less work or are less desirable than a doll that has a one-of-a-kind sculpted face. For me, understanding how the Walkers made their dolls and using those same techniques to make dolls of my own gives me an even deeper love and appreciation for the originals. Through years of experience, I know exactly why some of the dolls have that characteristic crease at the hollow of their throat, why the paint on the earliest dolls cracked and peeled, why the hands have such a wonderful shape and how to make that slight curve at the wrist. I treasure the experience, the knowledge and the insight and I would urge you to try your hand at making a doll using Izannah’s methods. It will give you a wonderful glimpse into her world and her art.
Izannah Walker managed to capture an evocative moment of American history and very firmly convey a sense of her time and place in a child’s toy. These toys continue to be treasured, loved and marveled at today.
* There are rumors of a “life-size” doll that was owned by members of the Walker family.
American Folk Dolls by Wendy Lavitt (Knopf 1982)
American Rag Dolls Straight From The Heart by Estelle Patino (Collector Books 1988)
“An American Master of Cloth” by Helen Nolan, Dolls, February 1995 (this article is about Martha Chase and only has a brief mention of Izannah Walker)
“The Art of Dolls 1700-1940” by Madeline Osborne Merrill, Doll Reader, April 1985
Cover Photo by Dorothy McGonagle, Doll News, 1989
“Dolls by Izannah Walker” by Donna C. Kaonis, Antique Doll World, September/October 1993
The Doll Collection of Helen Gage, Auction Catalogue by Marvin Cohen Auctions, December 1984
“Dolls of Rhode Island” by Carolyn Guise, Two Hundred Years of American Dolls, The New London Doll Club United Federation of Doll Clubs Region Fourteen Meeting, May 1977
Early American Dolls in Full Color, by Helen Nolan (Dover Publications 1986)
“Early American Stockinette Dolls: Part 1- Izannah Walker and Martha Chase Dolls” by Judy Beswick, The Cloth Doll, Fall 1998
Encyclopedia American Dolls by Ruth S. Freeman (Century House 1952)
“The “Holy Grail” of Early American Dolls” by Catherine Riedel, Yankee magazine, November/December 2009
“Izannah Walker – Godmother to Cloth Doll Makers” by Susan Hedrick, Soft Dolls & Animals, Summer 1998
“Izannah Walker’s Iconic Dolls” by Edyth O’Neill and Dixie Redmond, Early American Life, Christmas 2011
“An Izannah Walker Reunion” by Carol Corson, Antique Doll Collector, August 2011
“Izannah Walker: The Mystery Deepens” by Helen Nolan, Dolls, August 1994
“The Little Doll With The Little Curl” by Maurine S. Popp, The Jenny Lind Doll Club of Southern Connecticut Region 14 of The United Federation of Doll Clubs, April 1968
Made to Play House: Dolls and the Commercialization of American Girlhood, by Miriam Formanek-Brunell (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998)
“The Mystery of Izannah Walker” by Helen Nolan, Dolls, September 1993
“The Search for Izannah Walker” by Monica Bessette, Doll News, Spring 1994
“Stitches in Time” by Diane Goff, Doll Reader, July 1993
Summer in Marseilles at the Turn of the Century Auction Catalogue by Theriault’s 1993
“They’re Just Down-Home Folk” by Wendy Lavitt, Dolls, May 1993
The Treasury of Beautiful Dolls, by John Noble (Weathervane Books, 1978)
“Walker Dolls: A Family Affair” by Monica Bessette, Doll News, Summer 1998
This article and the accompanying images, like all posts and photographs on this site, are copyrighted by Paula Walton and may not be published or reproduced in any form without the express written consent of the author.
Here is a glimpse of the dolls that I am currently working on. Email or call me if you would like to see more photos of a particular doll, or would like to ask questions and prices. Paula@ASweetRemembrance.com or 860-355-5709.
She has SOLD, thank you for looking.
I got a little carried away when I was listing items and set up twenty five auctions. I’m selling several antique dolls, vintage teddy bears and some antique cooking implements. If you’d like to look at every thing I have listed on eBay, click here. Most of these auctions have closed, but there are a few still running for Izannah and Spun Cotton Classes.
Do you want to learn how to make reproduction Izannah Walker dolls??? The sign up deadline for my September doll making retreat is approaching fast. If you can’t come to Connecticut, my class by mail is the next best thing.
My favorite reading this week is the August issue of Antique Doll Collector magazine. It has a fantastic eight and a half page article about the Izannah Walker Reunion held last November by the Doll Collectors of America. The article is full of glorious photos of the 31 antique Izannah Walker dolls that attended. If you don’t already have a copy of this magazine, you need to get one immediately.
Another Izannah Walker article to be on the look out for is one being published in the Christmas issue of Early American Life magazine. I’ve just finished working on my advertisement for that issue, nothing like thinking of Christmas in July! I’m very proud to say that I will be in the 2011 Holiday Directory of Traditional Crafts that will also be in the EAL Christmas issue. Thank you Early American Life!!! This is the 24th time that I’ve been chosen for the Directory 🙂