To Have and to Hold: Introducing Miss Ruby, an American Folk Doll

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For average people with low incomes, like me, some antique dolls are just unattainable, and that’s that. I can barely afford the monthly payments, maintenance, and insurance on my used car, along with a few well-chosen, and not too expensive, antique dolls. (When I get a little money, I buy dolls and books. If there is anything left over, I buy food and clothing. 🙂 ) I certainly cannot afford a doll in the multiples-of-ten-thousand dollars range, plus insurance for it. Albert Marque bisque dolls, if you can find one for sale, cost as much as a house! Bru Jne Co. bisques cost in the range of a new car. 1840’s brown haired chinas, Queen Anne and English wooden dolls, and Izannah Walker American folk dolls tend to be in this price range as well. These are the dolls that I will have to admire just from the pages of books and magazines, and from opportune museum visits.

Fortunately, for those of us with less-than-wealthy incomes who admire antique dolls, there are some amazing reproduction doll artists making true-to-antique-standards dolls. Paula Walton is just such an artist, and the newest member of my doll family, a reproduction Izannah Walker American folk doll, is Paula’s creation.

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Miss Ruby wears her antique red print dress with her chemise’s lace showing at the top. She has her apron and her coral bead lecklace.

Izannah Walker

For most collectors and admirers of antique dolls, Izannah Walker is a household name. Any book about American folk dolls features her work at the forefront of this category of antique dolls.  Since her dolls are oil painted cloth dolls, many refer to them as three dimensional folk art, similar to the oil paintings of the time.

Izannah Frankford Walker was born on September 25, 1817 in Bristol, Rhode Island. Orphaned at the age of seven, she and two sisters were raised by her mother’s sister in Somerset, Massachusetts. As an adult, she lived in Central Falls, Rhode Island, making dolls in her cottage industry with the help of her three sisters and her aunt. She seems to have been making her dolls as early as 1840, though her patent was not registered until 1873. The pre- and post-patent dolls have slight differences to their construction.

Antique photo Mary Ella Jenks w Izannah doll close-up ca 1855

Ella Jenks with her Izannah Walker doll. circa 1855

Izannah Walker’s dolls were innovative for their time for several reasons. Most of the German and English dolls that were imported to the United States in the mid 19th century represented ladies. The china, papier mache, and wood that these dolls were made of could be hard and unyielding as playthings, and they, along with the bisque dolls later in the century, were breakable. Many of the imported dolls in the first half of the 19th century were meant to be for adults to admire, or they were symbols of wealth, only to be brought out and played with on special occasions. Izannah Walker dolls, however, represented children, allowing them to become playmates and confidants. And they were soft, and the right size for small hands to hold and play with.

Izannah Walker lived her life in relative obscurity, except for the beautiful folk art that she left as her legacy in the form of her dolls. She died in 1886.

Here are some sites for more information about Izannah Walker and her exceptional dolls:

“Izannah Walker’s Iconic Dolls”  Early American Life magazine, Christmas, 2011

Izannah Walker Doll Reunion Slide Show  The August, 2011 issue of Antique Doll Collector magazine featured a display of Izannah Walker Dolls for the 75th anniversary of the Doll Collectors of America. This slide show of the dolls is a real treat!

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Paula Walton’s antique 1860’s Izannah Walker doll, and her 2012 reproduction doll

Paula Walton

Even though Paula’s dolls are advertized in Antique Doll Collector magazine, I first noticed her work  in Early American Life magazine’s 27th Directory of Traditional American Crafts (August, 2012). By 2013, Paula Walton has been juried into this directory of the very best of traditional crafts people 29 times for her dolls and toys! Paula’s reproduction doll, True Blue, was featured in the 27th directory, and I admired this doll’s early American style so much that I eventually made the move to contact her artist. The rest, as they say, is history! Here is what Paula says about her reproduction Izannah Walker dolls:

The culmination of over 10 years of research and trial and error, these painted cloth dolls are reproductions of pre-patent c. 1850-1860 Izannah Walker dolls in my collection. They are made specifically for the Izannah purist who values a strict adherence to original construction methods and materials. My goal is to make each doll, as closely as possible, in the same way Izannah Walker made her dolls. I pour every bit of my 26 years of doll making experience into making my reproductions look like authentic antique Izannah Walker dolls from the inside out.

I drafted my patterns and made the molds for the pressed cloth heads directly from my antique Izannahs. The doll bodies are made from 100% cotton fabric, their heads are stiffened silk stockinet, and their “second skin” is made from glazed antique linen. They are stuffed with organic cotton stuffing to match the stuffing in the original dolls. All painted areas on the dolls are first painted with gesso and then with several layers of artist oils. I drafted the patterns for the doll clothing from the garments worn by my antique Izannah Walker dolls (which are original to the dolls) and from additional antique dresses in my collection. The dress fabrics are either antique fabrics or reproduction cotton prints, which are usually lined with brown cotton sateen, aka polished cotton. The sheeting used in the undergarments is taken from vintage cotton sheets and matches that which was used in the doll’s original chemise and pantalets. All buttons and almost all lace are antiques. I sew the clothing by machine and by hand exactly in the same manner as the originals.

[There is a base price for purchasing my dolls.] Dolls with bare feet, or clothing that is especially elaborate and/or made from antique materials, costs more. Accessories such as bonnets, pockets, and outerwear are additional. I am happy to offer layaway. There are two ways to purchase my dolls. You may either buy one of my completed dolls or you may order a custom doll made to your specifications. Each doll takes “forever” to make, so I never have very many finished dolls available at once. I list available dolls on my website, A Sweet Remembrance, and on my blog, Izannah Walker.

Paula now has three different Izannah heads to choose from for her reproduction dolls, using molds from two different dolls in her collection, and an additional choice from a third Izannah doll which belongs to a friend.

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The antique fabric bonnet frames Ruby’s face. She holds her rag doll and the crocheted doilies we sent to Paula to thank her.

Miss Ruby

I will join Paula’s chorus (about her antique dolls) and sing, “I love this doll!” Though I would have been satisfied with an already made doll from Paula, there were none available when I visited her store—they sell as fast as she can make them! I must say, though, that it was very empowering, and infinitely satisfying to be in on the creation process. Paula was very thorough with her questions to ascertain exactly what I wanted in characteristics for my custom doll—things that I never would have thought to comment on before this creation process. And choosing just the right antique fabrics for dresses from her “stash” was a treat in itself! All the attention to details makes for a very, very, special doll. With all due respect to Izannah Walker and her legacy, it is almost (but not quite!) insignificant to me that this little Miss, who I can now have with me, and hold to my heart’s content, is not an antique, but a new creation.

Ruby is light to hold, compared with the china dolls, yet she radiates her own substantial presence. Her oil painted face glows with warmth and her eyes suggest an aura of soul. Even the patina of her painted face, with the stockinet texture showing through in spots, adds to her realism. She has detailed hands with what my daughter calls “piano fingers,” because they are long and appear nimble. Her separately sewn thumb is marvelous! Her arms bend at her high elbows, so she can “hold” things on her lap. Though many Izannah dolls have painted-on shoes, Ruby has bare feet with sweet downward pointed toes. She wears knitted silk stockings, and red leather shoes with scalloped edges that Paula made. Her pantalets, chemise, petticoats, and apron all include intricate little details inherent in the antique textiles from which they were made.

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A close-up of one of the red leather shoes that Paula made for Ruby.

I wanted vivid colors for my doll’s clothing, and I am so impressed with the antique red fabric for her classic gathered bodice and puff sleeved dress, and the antique indigo blue of her morning dress. I chose an antique brown “coral” print that is very 19th century-looking for her bonnet. All the fabrics combine so well for her striking, yet unassuming, wardrobe. And to top all that, Paula offers a pattern for the doll’s wardrobe, too. Hmm, I think an all-white ensemble is in order for springtime. Be sure and view Paula’s photos of my doll before she came to her home with me.

There are some antique dolls that are out of reach and unattainable for collectors who are of less-than-wealthy means. Izannah Walker antique dolls tend to fall into the unattainable category for most of us. Yet with the skill, attention to historic detail, and exacting craftsmanship of artists such as Paula Walton, a reproduction Izannah Walker doll that is hard to distinguish from her original antique dolls, is an attainable alternative. This newly made antique type doll also has the advantage of being holdable, unlike some of her more fragile antique forebearers.

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Miss Ruby is comfortable and warm in her long sleeved morning dress sewn from antique indigo blue fabric.

Check back to see how Miss Ruby celebrates Thanksgiving in her new home with me. Then, I think you will be delighted to meet three fancy haired china dolls in my collection, and to learn a little more about the history of German china dolls.

Blessings to all of you,

Jennie

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4 thoughts on “To Have and to Hold: Introducing Miss Ruby, an American Folk Doll

  1. Jennie,
    Thank you for your very kind words and support of my work! You’ve made me blush more than Miss Ruby 🙂
    Wishing you, Ruby and your entire family – both human and dolls – a very joyous and bountiful Thanksgiving!
    Paula

  2. Paula,

    I am truly happy that I had the opportunity to work with you to manifest an amazingly authentic-style American folk doll to grace the antique theme I cultivate in my little home. We are sending you wishes for happy, cozy, and delicious, family times for your harvest holiday.

    Jennie

    • Billie,

      I’m so glad that you came to see Miss Ruby on my blog, as well as on Paula’s. You already know how amazing Paula’s work is. Of course, I think Ruby is the best reproduction Izzzy doll ever! And you must know how flexible Paula’s lay-a-way is. “A dream is a wish your heart makes.” I hope your dream comes true soon, Billie.

      Jennie

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