Black Dolls Continue to Renew My Spirit

dbgGuest Blogger: Debbie Behan Garrett is a doll-collector, blogger and doll historian. She is also the author of ‘The Definitive Guide to Collecting Black Dolls,’ ‘A Comprehensive Guide to Collecting Black Dolls’ & ‘The Doll Blogs: When Dolls Speak, I Listen.’ You can learn more about Debbie at her Black Doll Collecting website.”

Sometime during the early 1990s, after reading a passage in a book or article by bell hooks on the aesthetics of blackness where she wrote: “black art renews the spirit,” I had an instant ‘aha’ moment. The ‘act of renewing my spirit,’ explains exactly what black dolls, at that time, had begun doing for me. They still do.

I had been collecting black dolls only a few years when bell’s words so profoundly touched me. In the same manner that black art reflects positive images of people of African descent with an ability to renew the spirit, I find these three-dimensional inanimate representations of black people rejuvenating to my whole being.

I have always been extremely connected to my culture, proud of my heritage, and have always delighted in surrounding myself and my offspring with positive reflections. As a child, living happily in a black world, I was unfortunately, unable to own black dolls as playthings. Very few were available in our area. Those that were offered were not aesthetically pleasing to my mother, who viewed them as negative representations of black people that she would never allow in our home.

While my childhood excluded black dolls, in my early adult years, I subconsciously delighted in them through doll purchases made for my daughter, whose doll family only included black dolls. It was my desire for her to develop a positive sense of self and culture and to ward off any innuendos, subtle or obvious, from sources that viewed anything black as negative. Seeing herself in her playthings, educational materials, and art ensured a healthy development of self-esteem and constant spiritual rejuvenation.

I began actively collecting black dolls as an adult to fill the void of not owning them as a child. Collecting and learning about dolls resulted in establishing and maintaining a doll reference library of books on antique to modern dolls. These books were useful, but the predominance of non-black dolls only served to fuel my belief that few black dolls were made during my childhood. It was not until I discovered my black-doll bible, written by Myla Perkins, Black Dolls an Identification and Value Guide 1820-1991, that my world of black-doll collecting broadened considerably. Who knew, until reading Perkins’ book, that there were in fact as many positive black dolls made during my childhood? Thus, my early-1990s mission commenced to obtain as many of these lovely dolls as possible.

After the publication of Perkins’ first book and her followup title, Black Dolls an Identification and Value Guide Book II, the lack of black doll information resumed. No one else took the initiative to write another reference book on black dolls. In 2003, eight years after Perkins’ second book was published, I wrote my first black-doll reference book, The Definitive Guide to Collecting Black Dolls. It is the first full-color black-doll reference book ever published. In 2008, A Comprehensive Guide to Collecting Black Dolls followed, and includes over 1000 color images, references, and doll values. My third book, published in 2010, The Doll Blogs: When Dolls Speak, I Listen, was written to further serve the doll-collecting community, particularly avid black-doll enthusiasts. In The Doll Blogs, dolls both old and new, blog their experiences over a two-year period as chosen dolls in my now extensive and quite eclectic black-doll collection.

The passion I hold for black dolls (owned or admired from afar) is ever present. Conducting research and the documentation of the same—with an objective to celebrate the dolls and the people who make and collect them—is also a constant. My writings are published two to three times a week on the Black-Doll Collecting blog.

Will my desire to own black dolls ever cease? As long as they continue to renew my spirit, the answer is an emphatic, “no.”

Why Do You Do What You Do? PtII

            It’s an interesting question, and one we had to think about for awhile to answer: Why Do You Do What You Do? Here’s how we finally answered it:

            Why do Adrienne and I run The Pattycake Doll Company?

            Let’s start with how we got started. Believe you me, when we were children and someone asked: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We never said: “Be the country’s largest online specialty doll store owners.”

            So we have to admit that how we got here was as much of a surprise to us as to anyone else. But to make a long story short, we tried something else, (gift baskets for parents of new babies) failed miserably, (never sold a one), and before we shut down the store, tried selling some of the stuff ‘inside’ the gift baskets separately. Surprisingly, an Asian rag doll named ‘Ling’ by the Russ Berrie company, sold out almost immediately.

Ling An Asian Cloth Doll for Children

The Doll That started our business

            We made a few ‘customer service’ follow up phone calls and asked: “Why’d you buy the doll?” (This was back in the very early days of the internet, and not so strange as it would be today, when you get emails after you buy.)

            We got the same answer several times: “We just got back from China with a little adopted girl, and couldn’t find any Asian dolls in the stores, so we came online and found Ling.”

            Aha! Here was a need!

            So instead of continuing along with what we wanted to do – sell Baby Baskets – we decided to do what ‘they’ wanted us to do – sell multi-cultural and ethnic dolls for children. And then a few years later, we discovered that there was a pretty big demand for boy dolls so we added them too.

            So that’s how we got started. And we found that we loved it!

            The other part of the question of “Why do you do what you do?” is probably: “So why are you still doing it?”

            There are three parts to that answer:

            First: We had a family to support, we loved our work, so yes, part of it was to make a living so we could support our children.

            Second: We love what we do because we understand that we’ve helped create happiness and joy for thousands and thousands of people!

            When a child unwraps a doll, and sees its face for the very first time, the sheer joy and pleasure that child feels was – just a little bit- caused by us. And the smile on the face of the Mom, or Dad, or Grandma, or Auntie when they see their child’s joy; well… we’ll take a little credit for that as well. We’re in the happiness business.

            And finally, Third: We donate 10% of all of our company’s profits to charities that help children. So in addition to the thousands of families that have purchased and gifted our dolls, there are hundreds of children who needed help who got help from our tithe. So the bigger we build our business, and the more doll happiness we can create, the more charity we can give to children who need it.

            That’s why we do what we do.

Christmas Decorating with Dolls

'The Grinch' doll by Manhattan Toy

‘The Grinch’ doll by Manhattan Toy

Before you groan and moan about how ‘early’ I am –posting about Christmas and Dolls — I would like to gently remind you that The Pattycake Doll Company is an etailer of dolls, and as such, our Christmas Sales period starts in October.

I don’t mean that we decide to have sales in October, I mean that we see a huge uptick in business starting in October, and in the next eight weeks we will sell more dolls than in the preceding 44 weeks!

And about 10% of our customers are already buying our ‘Santa’s Sack’ gift wrapping service as well. So it’s not just us… our customers are ‘there’ too. Christmas has started at the Pattycake Doll Company!

 

Perhaps you’ve never considered dolls as ‘Holiday Decor,’ perhaps you’ve only thought of dolls as gifts for children or collectors.

But for our family, when the holidays roll around, we decorate the office with Christmas Themed dolls, and our favorite is The Grinch!

Just about everybody who walks into our office goes over and picks him up or has a comment. He’s really popular. The UPS man bought one (at a discount of course), a couple of visiting sales ladies asked if they could ‘get themselves a Grinch,’ and of course I get asked a bazillion times if I have him out as a warning that I’m some kind of a Grouch/Grinch myself!

I’m not trying to suggest that you rush right over to our site to buy one, (although I wouldn’t complain), but just wanted you to think it over… Would you decorate your house for the holidays with dolls?

PS: We carry Max the Dog and Cindy Lou Who as well, but we don’t put them ‘out.’ They’re popular with the kids as dolls, but not really popular as decor.

How to create a Politically Correct Doll

yingyang

I have found that in order to define the perfect ‘politically correct doll,’ you first have to identify the politically incorrect dolls – it’s a yin – yang kind of thing. And based on my many years in the doll business, I can identify for you – with authority and certainty – those features that make a doll politically incorrect.*

Politically Incorrect Feature #1 Any doll with eyes is politically incorrect. Especially if the eyes are on a doll that is described as ethnic or ‘of color.’ This applies to eye shape, eye color and eye placement on the doll’s head. Especially incorrect are brown dolls with blue or violet eyes. God knows this never occurs naturally.

Politically Incorrect Feature #2 Any doll with removable clothes. First because the doll may end up ‘nude.’ Second, because a child might put boy doll clothes on a girl doll or worse, girl clothes on a boy doll. Cross dressing dolls is so definitely not politically correct because it may lead to homosexual tendencies in adulthood.

Politically Incorrect Feature #3 Any doll with a penis is automatically politically incorrect. This is true interestingly enough for both the far religious right, and the far feminist left. An equal opportunity political incorrectness. Any doll with a vulva is suspect, but probably too shocking and therefore also politically incorrect.

Politically Incorrect Feature #4 Any doll of color. As everyone knows, colored dolls are bad dolls and white dolls are good dolls. It was proven by giving very young and impressionable children a choice between a white doll and brown doll and then forcing them to decide – and label – one of them as a bad doll. (The Clark Doll Test.)

Politically Incorrect Feature #5 Any doll not of color. (For those few children who guessed ‘wrong’ on the Clark Test and then the various follow-up clones of the Clark Test)

Politically Incorrect Feature #6 Any doll with a figure, particularly Barbie. Little girls of five and six will be totally screwed up for life if their breast to waist to hip ratio in adulthood doesn’t match that of their childhood Barbies.

So there you have it. The Politically Correct Doll. No penis or vulva, no eyes, no clothes, can’t be white or ‘of color,’ and without a figure. Just shove some old rags into a sock and draw a smile on it. You’ll be fine.

*Our expertise has been provided by a wide assortment of haters and idiots who have either written us emails, commented on our dolls or blog posts, or otherwise self-identified their ignorance on the internet.