The Most Unlikely of Places: A Doll Museum, and a Continuing Provenance for a Certain Brown-Eyed China Doll

In September, I drove “us girls” to Mt. Angel, Oregon for their annual Oktoberfest celebration. (Yes, it is held in September.) Mom, being a mid-westerner, and missing her Czech and polka festivals there, appreciates the live polka and waltz music at Oktoberfest, though we did forego the biergarten experience. Too bad she didn’t find a dance partner, as she is quite good at the polka and the waltz, not to mention the jitterbug! Brighde did some street dancing by herself, and drew favorable attention with her Irish step dance improvisation to waltz and polka tunes.

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We had been to the Mt. Angel celebration one other time, a number of years ago. At that time, there was a doll exhibition listed, but I never did find it.  The crowds at this popular event are quite heavy, and it takes some effort to wind and dodge your way through the town’s streets lined with artisan and craft booths and food vendors, not to mention the long walk from a parking spot. That year, we spent quite a bit of time standing in line for Brighde to try out the games, playground attractions, and pony rides at the kindergarten.

This year, there was not just a doll exhibition listed, but an actual doll museum. I intended to find it, but walking the vendor-lined streets, dodging people, finding Brighde the right PVC bow and arrows (in the rendering of Merida and Katniss), standing in line for German apple cake with butter sauce (SOOO GOOD!), then scouting out a comfortable place to eat it, snagging a great pair of deep red antique-style sofa pillows at the antique shop, a trip back to the car, several long treks to the least expensive bottled water vendor, and then to the cathedral to pick up Mom after a choir concert, and losing each other at the long row of outhouses, wore me out!

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The deep red sofa pillow, and a little fancy hair china doll.

I was ready to head back to the car for good, but Mom pressed me to try again to find the doll museum. She asked the hostess at the Glockenspiel restaurant where the Festhalle that held the museum was, and we headed toward the highway, near the water towers. All I found was a residential area, and I was getting frustrated, along with being people-cranky. We asked directions a second time, and headed through an uber congested three blocks of food vendors and biergartens—pure torture to my burned-out psyche and feet! Then the path cleared as we approached a large, low, hanger-sized building that exuded the pervasive oom-paa-paas. We rounded the building toward the front, and I saw the sign over the big double doors, “Festhalle.” So I headed that way, and I came face up to a small inconspicuous door with a sign in the window that said, “Doll Museum.” At last! And we still had half an hour before closing time!

It was cooler inside, and nice to be out of the sun glare, though there were still quite a few people in the small space. Glass cabinets lined three sides of the long, narrow room, and I began perusing the dolls. The first case was full of small bisque dolls, and I happily identified some of them. Then came a case with china dolls. Several of these were common lowbrows which I skimmed past, but there were some older chinas, too, and very well dressed. My eyes fell on a most extraordinary very tall doll with a Jenny Lind hairstyle, wearing a Victorian style skirt and a white lace-worked blouse. She was indeed enthralling! More cases held more recent collectors dolls, a little Japanese baby, just like one in my collection, and more bisques, this time large babies and toddlers.

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A Flat Top china and a Jenny Lind in the Elaine Annen Doll Museum. They are both rather large dolls. Interestingly, I caught Janice and Carol in this photo, in the glass reflection on the dark skirt.

I headed back to the large Jenny Lind to inspect her as close as I could through the glass, and to photograph her. I didn’t notice that the crowds were dissipating. Mom and Brighde found seats on a row of benches as Jenny held my attention. I took a seat at the other end of the benches, alone at last, and a sense of calm came over me.

As the calm washed over me, I realized that my two companions were having a conversation with the only other two people left in the room, the museum curators. It was closing time, but Janice and Carol did not hurry us out. I spoke with them, too, about the dolls, and my doll passions. We were in the Elaine Annen Doll Museum. Elaine is the “Matriarch of Mt. Angel,” and this museum is her dream become a reality. Meet Elaine, and take a peek at her museum,  at Elaine Annen Doll Museum.

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Jenny Lind wears a lovely lace-worked blouse.

Janice told me that the Jenny Lind doll came to Oregon as an Oregon Trail railroad migrant, on the lap of her young owner for the whole train ride. The Jenny Lind had provenance! (After 1869, the trans-continental railroad was completed, and migrating west was much easier by train than by covered wagon. The covered wagon migrants had to abandon many of their prized possessions along the way, including many dolls that were buried along the trail.)

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This brown-eyed covered wagon china in Elaine Annen’s collection has light pink tinted skin. Notice that the whites of her eyes remain white. The covered wagon hairstyle falls smooth from a center part, then has short sausage curls all the way around her neck. It is a simple hairstyle favored by women on the Oregon trail, and these dolls tend to be dressed in simple, informal styles.

Now, it would have been gratifying enough to have finally found this charming little doll museum amidst the jostle of the pleasure-seeking crowds, and the aroma of fried delights. But here is the coup de fourde. (Sorry, I don’t know that one in German!)  Janice then mentioned something about a brown-eyed china in the museum. Most china dolls have blue eyes, but a few of the older dolls were painted with brown eyes. This feature is quite desirable for doll collectors. I told Janice that I had purchased, about a year ago, a lovely old brown-eyed china at the Crossroads Doll Show in Portland. Her eyes became wide, and she said, “You bought that doll! I was coming back to buy her, and she was already sold!”

Being rather alone in my little world of dolls, I was first astounded that I had met someone who knew one of my dolls, and then mortified that I had beat her to a doll she had intended to buy! The doll in question, of course, is none other than Abbagale Brounell! (See September 14, 2013 Post, Naming Our Dolls.) All turned out well, though, Janice said, because after she didn’t get this doll, she found another doll she knew who had belonged to a friend. If she had bought Abbagale, she could not have bought her friend’s doll, who she decided was meant to come to her.

Of course, I told Janice about finding Abbagale’s provenance card in her neck. Now she was astounded! Janice confirmed that Abbagale was meant to come to me, because she would not have thought to unfasten her sew-hole tabs as I did. And so, Abbagale’s provenance grows.

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Abbagale Brounell looks pleased to be aquainted with the lovely chinas in the Elaine Annen Museum.

This story confirms to me, yet again, that dolls have a life, intertwined with, yet separate from, our own. The antique dolls have been on this earth much longer than we have, and most of them will continue to out-live us. They have known human mistresses before us, and are likely to know others when we are gone. Abbagale, and this Oregon Trail Jenny Lind, testify to this truth. Elaine Annen knows this truth as well. Thank you, Elaine, for letting us know your dolls through this beautiful and calming doll museum in a little town which is also calm most of the year, and sometimes not! And thank you, Janice, for sharing a little bit of provenance with me.

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