There were a few memorable dolls in my life growing up, although I was not fascinated with dolls until I was old enough to sew for them. My grandmother had a beautiful Shirley Temple doll, which I didn't actually play with because she was fragile and in perfect condition. But she must have impressed me, because I still remember her in my Nana's "glass room," a corner room in the apartment she and Grandpa lived in on the ground floor of the hotel they owned and operated.
But I adored paper dolls. There was a new wardrobe for Betsy McCall in my mother's McCall Magazine every month, which I clipped and tabbed faithfully.
Like Barbie Handler, the real little girl for whom the Barbie doll was named, I was more into paper dolls than baby dolls. It's interesting to read the history of the Barbie doll, which launched in 1959. As the story goes, Barbie's mom Ruth proposed the Barbie Doll to her husband Elliott, a co-founder of Mattel. Barbie's mother had noticed that Barbie liked to assign adult roles to her paper dolls. Barbie's dad wasn't the least interested at first, although according to Wikipedia over a billion have now been sold. The year they were advertised on TV for Christmas, my parents couldn't find one anywhere in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and my grandparents combed the stores in Spokane, Washington, all in vain. Like Cabbage Patch dolls in 1983, the stores could not stock them fast enough to meet the demand.
Some day in the distant future, when archeologists find remains of our civilization, they are likely to find Barbies by the dozen lurking in every space that was inhabited by a 21st century human family. They might find other action figures too-- GI Joes, Transformers, and of course every tiny animal imaginable including swarms of little plastic dinosaurs. If they are like many archeologists, they will possibly extrapolate theories that the ubiquitous Barbies were some sort of fertility symbol or religious icon.
Granted, the word "toy," doesn't begin to cover it. A doll is a toy by definition, but a little girl's relationship to her dolls goes far beyond play. The dolls that matter to little girls and their mothers might actually be a little closer to fertility symbols or religious icons. I believe many little girls love their dolls because of their innate longing to nurture their future children; and they love their Barbies because they are fascinated with the feminine ideal. A special doll sometimes becomes a toddler's best friend, and many mothers and grandmothers love dolls all their lives. When my mother was mute and dying in a nursing facility, the nurses gave all the women life-like baby dolls to hold as they were wheeled through their daily routines. It seemed to comfort them to have a "baby" in their arms. Our dolls are true and dear friends to the degree that we lavish love on them.
Here is my newest painting of my princess cut-out's face. I plan to do ten of these, to improve my technique before I paint the foam core doll. Below is the third practice face out of ten. This cut-out will perch on the corner of my table at Carrie Middlemiss's Seattle Cup Cake Camp next winter in a frothy ball gown. I hope every little girl in attendance will spot this princess a block away and love her at first sight.