Photographs courtesy of B. W. Flowers
Name: Folk Art Character Dolls by Rosa Wilder Blackman
Made by and When: Rosa Wilder Blackman, 1941 to approximately 1951
Material: 1st Generation dolls have molded clay heads, hands and shoes; padded cloth bodies over a wire armature. Cloth was used for the hands and shoes of later generation dolls.
Marks: An address label (if present) under the wooden base includes the doll’s handwritten name and occupation and Blackman’s mailing address; later labels include the same information along with the doll’s description or role in society.
Height: The dolls shown are 8 to 10 inches tall with Reverend Mayfield being the tallest.
Hair, Eyes, Mouth: Human hair appears to have been used for the dolls with hair. The 1st generation dolls have black sewing bead eyes. Beads were used for some of the dolls’ teeth. White shells hand molded into clay with a dot of black paint for the pupils were used for later dolls’ eyes. The mouths are in various positions of expression; later dolls have crude and exaggerated facial features and bubblegum-pink lips.
Clothes: Blackman’s dolls wear highly-detailed, period and theme-appropriate clothing.
The faces of Reverend Roy A. Mayfield illustrate the progression from a dignified, well-sculpted folk art, character doll to a crude caricature with exaggerated facial features and bubblegum-pink lips.
Other: Blackman’s folk art character dolls were molded after real African Americans from Homer, Louisiana representing people from various walks of life. Reverend Roy A. Mayfield (1876-1944), for example, founded the Homer Normal Industrial and Bible Training School for Black Children.
The sculpts of Blackman’s 1st generation dolls are well-defined and look like real people. As her dollmaking progressed, the 2nd and 3rd generation dolls of the same characters and of different characters have cruder sculpts with exaggerated facial features as illustrated in the dolls that represent Reverend Mayfield above and Mariah in the next photo.
First through 3rd generation dolls of Blackman’s Mariah illustrate the progression from well-defined facial features with clay hands to cruder sculpts with cloth hands.
Magnolia was not named for a real person. She represents Black women who cared for white families. The Black baby was added to the doll on the right by the previous owner. She may not be a Magnolia; she might have originally been another character that held something other than a baby.
Three dolls named Fair Lilly dressed in fur coats are shown above. The center doll is a bubblegum-pink-lipped 3rd generation Lilly.
In the photo above on the far left is a 1st generation Aunt Mary Lewis. The doll wearing the yellow mink shawl is Lullaby; she has one gold tooth. The doll on the far right is a bubblegum Modern Negress with a gold tooth, who represents the changing modern Black woman, with lipstick and makeup.
Slideshow photos are:
- Mariah ironing
- 1st through 3rd generation Mariah dolls followed by a closeup
- Aunt Mary Lewis, Lullaby, and a Modern Negress followed by a closeup
- 1st generation Magnolia and a similar doll followed by a closeup
- Three Fair Lilly dolls
- Reverend Roy A. Mayfield
- Label types (Use the right arrow to advance the slide show images.)
Flowers, Beverly Washington. “Rosa’s Black Character Dolls Rosa Wilder Blackman (1881-1966),” Antique Doll Collector October 2020, pp. 44-50.
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