While Janna took a nap in the shade after playing with the trains in the Toy Shop, I ventured into the Variety Unit, where the museum stuffs all its small collections that don’t really fit anywhere else. I avoided that which did not interest me and made a beeline for the dolls.
I could have spent all day in there, trying to get good shots of the diversity of small populations. However, I photoed selectively, trying to achieve focused, detailed pictures of the ones I thought most intriguing. I came out about 40 minutes later with ~150 photos, which I whittled down to the results below.
Welcome to Creepy Manor. We assure you that you will in no way be disturbed by the constant gaze of thousands of tiny, lifeless eyes.
I sure wish that the labels provided the measurements of the dolls. I’m guessing this one is ~18 inches. Bisque head, breast plate and lower arms; leather body; glass eyes; human hair wig. Obviously made for sitting in chairs, rather than standing.
The smooth sculpt, along with the bright, pure colors of the paint, give this one a stylized, perhaps even slightly abstract, look.
Hey look — a ball-jointed doll!
I really dig the way that Jumeau [and Bru — see below] sculpted their dolls. Both companies made their dolls’ eyes larger than those of other sculpts at the time, so this makes the dolls seem more lively and engaging, at least to me. I’m sure I also respond favorably to them because their facial and body proportions remind me of my BJDs.
The Chinese Door of Hope dolls enchanted me the most of all. Approximately 1:6 scale, they have delicately carved pearwood heads with uniformly serene expressions. Underneath their authentic, layered outfits, they supposedly have cloth bodies, which I could not see well.
Young lady, ~ 1902. Simple sculpt and paint, beautiful effect.
Bride, ~1902 [<1914].
Manchu woman, <1914. One of my favorites. Much taller and wider than the others, also the only one showing teeth in a friendly grin. I have no idea if she’s that wide because she’s fat or because of her many layers. I’m entertaining myself with the conclusion that she is tall and fat and incredibly cute.
Cantonese amah and baby, ~1902. My other favorite. I especially like the way that the kid is looking to the side, trying to peer around the woman to see what’s going on.
This doll and the one below her are both labeled "Lady, Germany, ~1835, papier mache shoulder head." I assume the elaborately rendered hairstyles allowed the curators to date them so precisely! 2.5 feet tall?? They’re huge.
Gibson Girl, Germany, ~1910, tinted unglazed porcelain shoulder head. Her raised eyebrows and slightly pursed lips give her the confident look of the athletic, fashionable, independent Gibson Girl.
Girl, Germany, 1886-1895, tinted unglazed porcelain socket head. 9 inches tall?? Interesting because of her expression, somewhere between anxious and annoyed.
Lady, 1830-1850? [my guess — no date given], papier mache shoulder head. What a gentle face.
The lady comes with a gentleman [left] of the same size. They’re large, maybe 3 feet high? While the lady stands well with a stand circling her chest, right under her bust, the gentleman suffers the poor support of a saddle stand. He appears to be staring grimly into middle distance, as he prays for the saddle to stop wedging his junk.
Bebe, Bru Jne. & Cie, France, ~1883-1890, tinted unglazed porcelain swivel head on unglazed porcelain shoulder. Her side glance gives her an air of alertness that the forward-facing dolls lack, while her asymmetrical eye sockets provide an unexpected touch of realism.
Bebe, Bru Jne. & Cie, France, ~1880, tinted unglazed porcelain swivel head on unglazed porcelain shoulder. I like her fat little hands with dimples on the backs.
Lady, Germany [head], USA [body], 1885, decorated parian-type shoulder head. Vibrant colors on this one.
Lady, Germany, ~1895, porcelain shoulder head. Just guessing here, as I forgot to shoot the label. This denizen of Creepy Manor can see into your soul.
Don’t even try getting into a staring contest with her. You will fail miserably, and she will remain impassive, unimpressed.
Lady, Germany, ~1870, pink-tint china shoulder head. Large, maybe 2.5 feet tall? Her upturned eyes give her a dreamy air.
Two-faced doll, Germany, 1880, wax over papier mache swivel head. Words cannot adequately encompass how disturbing this doll is. First of all, it has two faces. One can only hope that face #2 doesn’t look like it’s going to leap for your jugular. Second of all, the knitted brows make it look incredibly pissed. Third of all, it lurks in a case near the ceiling, possibly so as not to make small children burst into tears upon beholding its grim visage. Fpurth, it commands a position near the exit, thus ensuring that your overarching impression of the Shelburne Museum’s doll exhibit will be one of insomniac terror. I heard a lot of discussion about "zombie dolls" amongst traumatized
viewers victims. Clearly they were referring to this hellbeast.
This is the matron of Creepy Manor. This is the reason no one ever returns to Creepy Manor…because the Matron never lets you escape in the first place.
In conclusion, I really like the Shelburne Museum’s extensive doll collection. Containing mostly French, German and U.S. dolls from 1850 to 1900, the displays offer more of a snapshot of doll history, rather than a comprehensive overview. I wish that the exhibits would give more context about the dolls so that I could get an idea of which ones were for child’s play, which for fashion information and which for display/collectible purposes. However, I appreciate the large scale [a lot of 1:3 and 1:4 scale] of many dolls so that I can admire their finely detaled clothes and the subtle permutations of their headsculpts. I also like that the soft LED lighting permits relatively successful flashless photography. Targeted at people who like looking at old, pretty things, rather than people who want to study dolls, the collection, despite its limitations, fascinates me.