Friday, April 29, 2011

Down Memory Lane 1

I still have the stockings,

I still have the bloomers,

I still have the petticoat,

I still have the apron,

 I still have my Dutch doll,

 but best of all, I still have

her wooden shoes!

“Duchess” was my first collectible doll.  I got her for Christmas in 1967 when I was five years old.  Some kids in my Montessori class had lived in Indonesia (a former Dutch colony) and they brought wooden shoes to show and tell one day.  I thought those shoes were the coolest things I had ever seen and I desperately wanted a pair.  My parents got me some wooden sandals, but it just wasn’t the same.  I figured if I couldn’t have a pair of wooden shoes for myself, at least I could have a doll that had cool wooden shoes.  I guess acquiring dolls who had accessories and lifestyle accoutrements that I couldn’t get became a habit! 

Duchess was the mother of one of the central characters in our 1:6 scale adventures – Skipper Mason.  Duchess thought that girls should be “sugar and spice and everything nice” but Skipper wasn’t having it.  She got into all kinds of mischief with Greeny Guy, leader of the Be Bad Club (see previous post) and embarrassed her mother no end.

Skipper had two older sisters.  Janine was a Twist and Turn brunette Barbie whose hair faded to mouse brown when I washed it.  She had some problems with her hip joint and was therefore a semi-invalid most of the time.  The middle sister, Barbara, was another Twist and Turn brunette, but by the time I got her, I had sense enough not to wash her hair.  I just cut it to shoulder length.  Having a naughty little sister like Skipper made it very hard for her to enjoy any privacy on her dates with her boyfriend, Ken.

Duchess and her girls lived in a state of limbo waiting for Major Matt Mason, the head of the family, to return from his last space mission.  After we strapped on his jet pack and launched him one afternoon, we saw him hit the blinds but never found him after that.  I suspect our parents had something to do with his disappearance.  Maybe they thought he would break the window the next time we sent him into orbit.  I suppose I could track him down on eBay and hold a long awaited family reunion, but Janine is dead, Barbara is a grandmother, and Skipper was born after Major Mason disappeared so he was never part of her life. 

Besides, at this stage of the game if I were going to buy a vintage Mattel astronaut action figure, I would get Lt. Jeff Long who was Major Matt Mason’s African American counterpart.  I never saw him in the stores when I was a kid but it was interesting to learn just now that he was exploring “the final frontier” a decade before Guion Bluford became the first African American from the U.S to orbit the earth in 1983. 

Cuban cosmonaut Arnaldo Tamayo Mendez was the first Hispanic and the first person of African ancestry in space.  In 1980, Tamayo and Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Romanenko traveled to the Salyut 6 orbital space station aboard the Soyuz 38 spacecraft.  After conducting a week of experiments during 124 orbits of the earth, the two cosmonauts survived a risky night landing near Dzhezkazgan.  Tamayo subsequently became the director of SEPMI (Sociedad de Educación Patriótico-Militar), the Cuban equivalent of the Boy Scouts.

I could not find a public domain or royalty free image of Brigadier General Tamayo, but here is a short You Tube video highlighting his achievements.  Though the text is in Spanish, anyone can appreciate the images.


À Bientôt

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

In My Mind's Eye -- part two

Note:  This post is intended to stimulate adult discussion.  Please preview it before sharing it with children.  The last photo contains some nudity.

 In your mind’s eye, what color are your doll characters?

Robert and William Guy were two of the main characters in the play scale adventures my brother and I shared as a child.  Identical twin sons of Colonel Joe Guy, retired (G.I. Joe), they were distinguishable only by the fact that Bob’s eyes appeared more blue and William’s more green.  So they were known as Bluey and Greeney.  In temperament, however, they were direct opposites. 

Bluey was the leader of the “Be Good Club.”  He made straight “A’s” in school and was a model of good citizenship.  

Greeny was the leader of the “Be Bad Club.”  One of his biggest pranks was rigging a concealed movie camera to take footage of his father making out with a hot date (Colonel Guy was shopping for Mrs. Guy #3) and then projecting it at the local drive in one Saturday night.

Originally we developed these characters around a pair of finger puppet dolls from Toys R Us.  The doll had a torso, arms, and oversized head, but you could “animate” it by inserting your fingers into the legs of its jumpsuit.  We had a third doll like this -- Bluey and Greeny’s half-sister, Millie.  Here is her head --

and here are her boots --

all other parts and accessories related to these dolls disappeared long ago.

My first “re-bodying projects” came from the need to find dolls that represented favorite child characters as they grew up.  Bluey and Greeny were very late bloomers who suffered greatly from being the shortest kids in their junior high school, but finally I found a solution which brings me to question four in the Baby Beatriz Project survey:

Have you ever gone to a store (as a child or presently) interested in buying a black doll? If so, what did you experience? Were you happy with the selection at the store? Why or why not?

From a very young age I consciously sought out black dolls.  I have very rarely been satisfied with the selection.  One of my great regrets as a collector is that I could never find any Bob Scout dolls in the store.   I bought two of the white Steve Scout dolls when I was in junior high school.  These bodies enabled Bluey and Greeny Guy to catch up with their peers and in honor of his new status, Robert (a.k.a. Bluey) insisted on being called Bob.  Greeny remained Greeny until he took up Spanish in high school (by then he was in the guise of Kenner’s 12” Han Solo doll) and started practicing his language skills with a Chicana girlfriend who called him Verde.  Jack, the black character in the Big Jim action figure series, was the lone black student in the school. 

I envy Roxanne of “Roxanne’s Dolls” because her Bob Scout makes a perfect match for her Calista.

I love Roxanne’s video of Calista and Bob’s first dance because it shows black kids in a sweet and innocent first romance.  

In recent years I have seen some Bob Scout dolls on eBay, but because they were so rare, they are much more expensive than the white ones.   My own experience with Bob/ Steve Scout exemplifies Kinsale’s distinction between characters readers or viewers identify with and characters who serve as placeholders allowing readers or viewers to project themselves into the scene because my identification with Bluey and Greeny was not only transracial, it was also transgendered.

Bluey and Greeny were originally characters my brother controlled.  As we got older, his interest in playing with dolls was not as strong as mine.  Meanwhile Greeny’s relationship to his childhood best friend, Skipper, provided an opportunity for me to work through my own “interior conflicts and passions, my own ‘maleness.’”  My Skipper was a hard core tomboy.  In junior high school when the other kids started pairing up in romantic couples, she just wanted to be Greeny’s best friend.  After they finished college, she eventually succumbed to social pressures and married Greeny, but when she became pregnant with their first child, she could no longer bear living in the body of a woman.  One morning Greeny got up to use the restroom and discovered he had become a woman – Skipper.  She had figured out a way to take over his male body and had no intention of giving it back until after the child was born – if then. 

I always intended to write that story as a speculative fiction piece, but then I discovered Octavia Butler’s “Bloodchild,” the definitive pregnant man fantasy.  In my mind’s eye my dolls are all aspects of myself, regardless of their color or gender, but my multi-ethnic collection enables me to create a world in which I can more comfortably express my black female point of view.

A bientot!

Monday, April 25, 2011

In My Mind's Eye

Note:  This post is intended to stimulate adult discussion.  Please preview it before sharing it with children.

In your mind’s eye, what color are your doll characters? 

When I was growing up most of the dolls available for purchase where white and so most of the dolls I played with were white.  In my teens I wondered for a while if identifying with so many characters who didn’t look like me made me an oreo. 

Sometime in my twenties I rediscovered a cassette tape of a doll story that my brother and I had acted out and recognized the characters as “black” because of the intonation patterns in their speech even though the grammar and vocabulary were all standard English.  At that point I finally understood that the white dolls had simply been placeholders that enabled us to imagine ourselves (our black selves) in various situations. 

Similarly romance author Laura Kinsale has argued that romance readers don’t necessarily identify with the heroine.  They use her as a placeholder that enables them to see themselves in her situation or, even more interestingly, they identify with the hero.  Kinsale clarifies this point by asserting that:

Placeholding and reader identification should not be confused.  Placeholding is an objective involvement; the reader rides along with the character, having the same experiences but accepting or rejecting the character’s actions, words, and emotions on the basis of her personal yardstick.  Reader identification is subjective:  the reader becomes the character, feeling what she or he feels, experiencing the sensation of being under control of the character’s awareness. (Page 32 “The Androgynous Reader:  Point of View in the Romance” in Jayne Ann Krentz ed. Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women Pennsylvania UP, 1992.)
Kinsale wrote to defend the romance genre against feminist critics who believed that “a female reader must identify with the female lead and so is in danger of modeling her own life after a character who might be submissive, passive, or obsessed only with romantic love and maintaining her virginity. (31”) 

Cultural critics who don’t play with dolls have leveled similar charges against Barbie, arguing that identifying with a character whose physical proportions and lifestyle are not realistically attainable for most little girls can only warp their body image and aspirations.  Mattel has attempted to counter such charges by presenting Barbie as a role model in a wide variety of professions from astronaut to veterinarian and by promoting the slogan “We girls can do anything, right Barbie?”

 If Kinsale’s distinction between identification and placeholding is applicable to doll play, however, then a popular bumper sticker may more accurately sum up doll enthusiasts’ motivations:

“I want to be just like Barbie, that b***h has everything.”

Note the difference between the desire to be like Barbie, to have all the opportunities she has, and the desire to be Barbie.

Kinsale suspects that “for a woman a romance may be a working-through of her own interior conflicts and passions, her own ‘maleness’ if you will  (39).”  Similarly, as a doll enthusiast, playing with figures that don’t always match my own outward appearance and/ or socio-economic status offers opportunities to work through interior conflicts and passions that I cannot or have not yet found the means to express and resolve in my day to day life. 

À Bientôt

Friday, April 22, 2011

Pipe Cleaner Dolls

Baby Beatriz Project survey question 3
As a child do you remember owning black dolls, white dolls or dolls of multiple races? Do you remember being aware of the ethnicities of your dolls at the time that you were playing with them? 
 (La famille Diop)

If you’ve ever wondered where all your safety pins disappear to, Mary Norton had the answer.  I discovered her Borrowers series around 4th grade and was immediately entranced by the idea that little people lived in the walls and under the floorboards in old houses and supplied themselves by “borrowing” small items from 1:1 size “human beans.”  I think those books got me started looking at the world as a miniaturist.  Inspired by Arietty’s chest of drawers, I made a nightstand for my 1:6 scale dolls by gluing matchboxes together.  Here is a link to the 50th anniversary edition of The Borrowers on

In the same period I found a book in the library that detailed how to make pipe cleaner dolls.  Of course I made the main characters from the Borrowers series first:  Pod, Homily, and Arietty Clock.  The next family I made was black.  I named them the Joples after Scott Joplin, the famous ragtime composer.  The Jople family disappeared into the mists of my childhood, but I made the their cousins from Senegal (The Diop family pictured above) for a friend’s daughter about two years ago.  Here is a link to a 1911 piano roll recording of Joplin playing “Real Slow Drag” from his opera, Treemonisha, the inspiring story of a young woman in the post-Reconstruction South, who seeks to uplift her community through education.

Shortly after I finished the Jople family, one of my yellow socks became too sanctified (holey) to wear.  I recycled it to make the Takegawa family (I was reading James Michener’s Hawaii so I named them after the Japanese immigrants featured in that epic novel).  Here is a link to Michener’s fascinating saga about President Obama’s home state.

Before long we had a small village of four room bungalows made out of cardboard boxes.  I wired one of them with lights attached to a nine-volt battery as a 9th grade science fair project.  I had a lot of fun with those 1:12 scale dolls and developed some important sewing and crafting skills at the same time.  It is probably time to introduce my niece to The Borrowers, but every time I set out to make a doll for her, I end up keeping it for myself!

À Bientôt

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

My Favorite Doll

In response to question #2 in the Baby Beatriz Project survey here is a story about my favorite doll from childhood.

Many of us collect celebrity dolls, but did you ever want to be famous enough to have a doll or action figure licensed in your own image?  I did, so I made the self-portrait doll below when I was about 12. 

Her hair was parted in the middle and styled in two braids with curly bangs in the front like the hairstyle I customarily wore in that era.  I also made her little wire-framed granny glasses like mine. The doll wore a red leotard because I wanted to be an Olympic gymnast.

I made several copies of this doll and gave them to my favorite teachers for Christmas.  

 À Bientôt

Monday, April 18, 2011

"Baby Dolls"

Bienvenue, welcome to Limbé   Dolls!

I have been following blogs about 1:6 scale dolls and action figures since the first of the year.  I had intended to wait until June to start my blog, but I wrote so much in response to the Baby Beatriz Doll Project survey that Debbie Garrett posted on her Black Doll Collecting site that I decided to answer the questions in a series of blog posts.  Here is a link to the Black Doll Collecting post.

I’m also taking the opportunity to give a shout out to the wonderful community of bloggers that I first discovered through Vanessa Byers’ “Don’t Just Play Barbie, Be Barbie” blog. 

Many thanks to:

Doll Griots – Remember the elders in your family who could break down who was cousin to whom for every family in the community?  These bloggers painstakingly identify dolls from all over the world, scrupulously document the history of dolls of color, and tirelessly advocate for dolldom to represent the full spectrum of the human family.

Debbie Garrett at "Black Doll Collecting"

D7ana at "A Philly Collector of Playscale Dolls and Action Figures"  

"Dolls of Color:  Reflections of a Human Sized World"

Playful Spirits – Remember the kid on your block who could always think up the best “let’s pretend” games?  These bloggers create engaging characters and vividly imagined stories that keep me eagerly waiting for the next post.

Ms. Leo at "I-Luv-Dolls"  

Ebony Nicole at "Brooklyn Stars Forever" 

Tracy at “Dolls and the City”

Models of Artistic Excellence – Remember the kids in art class whose work made your best efforts look like mud pies and kindergarden scribbles?  These artists generously share their creative processes and techniques so that instead of giving up in frustration and despair, we all have standards of excellence to aspire to:

Aneky  -- doll photographer par excellence!

Smidge Girl at “Smidge House”
mistress of 1:6 furniture design!

Em’lia at "Creazione – Creation in Miniature”
doll couturière extraordinaire!

Courage – Remember your older cousin who was brave enough to tip down into the basement in the dark in order to convince you there was nothing to be afraid of down there?  This special lady has shared her blessings along with some of the dark corners of her life to help us appreciate our days in the sunshine all the more:

Toni Burrough at "My Dolls Story"  

Finally a very special thanks to Vanessa Morrison at "Van's Doll Treasures"whose lushly detailed videos reminded me “this is what I want to do when I grow up” and whose warm encouragement has helped me start to realize my childhood dreams.

 On to question number one in the Baby Beatriz survey:

“Did you play with baby dolls when you were a child?”

I did play with baby dolls when I was small, but by age 7 or 8 I switched to 1:6 scale fashion dolls and action figures and have preferred them ever since.  Even when I was younger I liked the “toddler” dolls that would walk with me when I raised one arm better than baby dolls.

As an adult collector, some of my 1:6 scale dolls have baby dolls, but interestingly enough in a collection of about 400 dolls I only have one baby doll.  Here is a picture of Kirikou, named after the hero of the animated French film, “Kirikou and the Sorceress.”  

I made about six dolls in a range of skin tones from this pattern.  Kirikou is the only one I kept for myself and he sleeps with me every night.  Unfortunately he hasn’t metamorphosed into a handsome prince like his namesake. :-)

Michel Ocelet, the animator who directed “Kirikou et la sorcière” drew on a variety of traditional African art styles and memories of his childhood years in Guinea to create the landscapes and beautiful visual style of the film.  Here is a link to a You Tube clip of the first 9 minutes.

Some viewers have flagged this clip as inappropriate because it contains some nudity (practical and customary in a tropical setting) so you will have to sign in and verify your age to see it.  The story is a poignant fairytale appropriate for all ages.  This version is in French with English subtitles.  You can watch a short preview dubbed in English on Amazon Instant Video.

À Bientôt