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.”

Kokeshi Dolls & Their Kimonos

Kokeshi dolls

Compare the picture of the young woman wearing her kimono below to the painted kimonos on the Kokeshi dolls. On the doll 2nd from the left the doll is holding up her ‘sleeves,’ on three of the dolls the layered effect at the neck is represented as well.

From the first time I saw a Kokeshi doll on Ebay, I have been madly in love with them. As I own a doll store, you would think I would fall in love with the dolls I sell right? But somehow it didn’t turn out that way. I fell in love with Kokeshi dolls instead. Go figure.

There are a lot of reasons I like collecting Kokeshi itspharmacy.net… they’re pretty readily available, there are several different styles to choose from, they have a well defined history, and they are reasonably priced for a collectible doll, with most selling around $30. And unlike some collectibles which are too delicate to be handled, Kokeshi can be handled, there is a heft to the wood, the smoothness of the paint and lacquer, the textures of the carvings.

A  Japanese woman wearing her Coming of Age Day kimono

A Japanese women’s Coming of Age Day kimono

But mostly I like the kimonos. What makes Kokeshi dolls different, one from the other, is their kimonos. The Japanese kimonos that women wear for certain special days like weddings or Coming of Age Day are works of art. And the craftsmen who paint and carve the kimonos onto Kokeshi dolls are trying to reproduce that sense of “Kimono as Art” onto their dolls.

For me, that’s what makes them special.