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The word "Doll" is rather modern, known from 1700, but dolls of incredible variety go back in time far beyond recorded history. Dolls are figurines which are designed to look like people, primarily, and sometimes like animals; or like divine beings and other creatures of the human imagination. Probably the most exciting dolls are made in the image of men, women and children, images which project the aura of the artisan who made them and also of the model, real or imagined, which the doll portrays. Usually dolls are not strictly speaking portraits, but rather abstractions emphasizing certain features and leaving others to be evoked by the imagination. And although dolls have been devised to serve many purposes, most dolls today are influenced by generations of children, young and old, who have played with dolls in nearly every land and time.
Little Old Woman Who Lived in The Shoe with her "family" of archetypal miniaturesClick here for The United Federation of Doll Clubs
"I can remember, when I was a very little girl indeed, when we were alone together, 'Now , Dolly, I am not clever, you know very well, and you must be patient with me, like a dear!' And so she used to sit propped up in a great arm-chair, with her beautiful complexion and rosy lips, staring at me-or not so much at me, I think, as at nothing- while I busily stitched away and told her every one of my secrets."_ Charles Dickens (Bleak House)
THE PLACE OF DOLLS IN HISTORY
The very first doll was made so long ago that no one remembers it. A few neolithic stone figurines of the eternal woman have been found and some very early dolls have survived from burials in Egypt, Cyprus, British Columbia, Peru and elsewhere. Doll-like figurines represented deceased ancestors in the religious rites of Rome, Australia and many lands. The use of dolls, fetishes, talismans, puppets,etc, have been recorded in virtually every culture; ancient and modern, but dolls as toys which were played with by the children of this world have seldom been made to last for ages, and we can only surmise what they may have been like.
One kind of doll, represented by our gingerbread man, was made of dough and paste to be eaten on festive occasions. These were popular in Europe from the Middle Ages to the present time. Their success has explained why none have survived.
There is a history of dolls used in the world of fashion to show to distant customers the newest styles. Minatures of tradesmen and their wares hung in the street to advertise their business. It is only a short step from these representational dolls to using dolls in the theater. Puppet dolls are known from China, Burma and many other lands and cultures.
The Christians of medieval Europe made dolls to represent the history of their festivals. The Christmas Creche is still a hallowed part of worship. The artisans who created these dolls also made special dolls as toys for the customers who could afford them. This craft of making special dolls of the finest materials has survived in certain european towns to this day. The art of doll-making has a very similar history in China.
Although the fact is not always recognized and acknowledged by art historians, dolls have always held an honored place in the history of culture and their significance is never limited to the world of children's play. As a mirror of style and custom, dolls are one of the windows through which we gaze into their secret worlds. Like all art forms, doll-making serves to harmonize us with our fellow human-folf of different ages as well as to create peace between the artisan and his materials.
THE PLACE OF DOLLS IN ART
The arts and rituals had a common origin in the expression of our relationship to divine powers and the spirits of the past. Each culture contains within it the seeds of doll-makers' inspirations. Thus dolls may serve the highest and widest of our aspirations and reflect our deepest insights even as they are used in play, in the theater, in religious rites, in commerce, or as gifts to the spirits of the dead.
We should not make our categories too rigid. The Katchina Dolls of the Hopi Indians represent the masked faces of dancers in the kivas and on the plazas of the pueblos. Now the dancers' masks hypostatize the holy forces which empower the dancers and sanctify them. The dolls portray the icons of the masks. If we classify all this too scrupulously we explain away the mystery. Clearly art and rite here spring from a common source in the hearts of people.
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