Friday, November 9, 2012

The first in our
A fellow New Englander who is know widely for her eye for folky country antiques, textiles, and love affair with folk dolls.
She will next be showing at the

by Kathy Schoemer

Well, I guess what happened is that at an early stage in
 my education as a fledgling dealer, I noticed them. 
Sometimes a thing draws one's full attention, creating a real encounter.
I think my first meaningful moment with a rag doll was in the wonderful little cape on Peaceable Street in South Salem, N.Y., where Gretchen and Jack Sharp lived. 
Gretchen kept a beguiling shop in a large red barn behind the house.
I was very young and Gretchen nurtured me,
 along with Judy Lenett and Patsy Orlofsky.
 We made up a threesome: Gretchen's Girls

We all loved her. She was a gracious and brilliant old-fashioned lady with a twinkle in her eye and a powerful personality that took no prisoners. A cigarette in a holder constantly dangled from her lips.
Her buying trips were legendary. We all rushed to see the goodies as soon as she landed from a foray to New York State or New England.
As we grew in her affections, we earned treasured invitations into the tiny house after we perused the shop. There would be an icy cold gin and tonic served in an aluminum tumbler with a wedge of lime perched on the rim and sometimes a tray of cheese and crackers. Nothing has ever tasted better. Gretchen and Jack were true originals.

There was however, an iron clad rule: absolutely NOTHING in the house was for sale. On a little early chair sat a rag doll, picked by Gretchen out of an old homestead in nearby Ridgefield, Ct. We learned patience and politeness about those possessions and never, never asked.

At the ultimate on-site Skinner auction in 1976, I waited until the doll in the chair came up and bid until they were mine. She lives with me still despite a terrible brush with a mischievous Welsh Terrier years ago and Gretchen lives on too, in my heart.

Raggedy Ann was my first companion. I didn't much care about all the stories, but she captivated me; a mop of yarn hair, and her sweet clothing with the red and white candy-striped stockings. Mine is lost in time, but that encounter was probably seminal in my journey into the world of rag dolls.

I've read many things written about cloth folk dolls- born out of Mamma's rag bag, usually cast in poor situations in the countryside where people couldn't afford the real thing in china or bisque. True, yes but...I have made the acquaintance of many, many folk dolls in the past 40 years and there is one thing I know for certain: these toys were born of love.

It is common in literature to find that a child of privilege will choose her rag doll over the fancier ones. The directness and simple design of the cloth doll engages the attention of the observer in complex ways.
 That is the nature of all the folk arts.

Adding to their homespun appeal, cloth dolls are textile documents.
 The fabrics, trims, adornments and shoes
 tell us the story of that moment in time.
 The love of cloth dolls is often accompanied
by a fascination with textiles.
 The collectors I know are keenly discerning
 and want the textile history of a doll to be as compete as possible.

Warning: Don't tamper with the original ! 
In surfing websites of cloth doll dealers, I see lots and lots of tampering.
 Collectors love blue calico, therefore... lots of blue calico dresses missing the telltale elements we look for in authentic costume.
The real dresses FIT, and I mean FIT. The fabric of the dress conforms perfectly to the shape of the body, with folds from years of sitting, fading and melting of fabrics on the front of the dress from oxidation, staining from damage during attic storage etc.
The undergarments are complete, sometimes with many layers. The waistbands are tight, the length of breeches, underskirts and frocks conform to the height of the doll. The oxidation of the body exactly matched the exposure to light and the dolls are stuffed with rags or sawdust.

Lest we get too serious, the major appeal here is DELIGHT !
A folky cloth doll in a  room full of period antiques added a smile to the space. There was once a real child, now long gone, who kept that doll, cherished it, passed it on and here it is !
It was not "utilitarian; it's only purpose was to please.
 A miracle of time has preserved it.

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