Friday, March 30, 2012

Olmec Toys

I have given up buying dolls for Lent so I was doubly grateful to receive a doll as a gift in the midst of this doll drought.  

Back in September, D7ana of A Philly Collector of Playscale Dolls and Action Figures profiled a blogger who had recently published a post on “Buying Dolls Blind.”  I heartily concurred with the author’s preference for the interesting diversity of off brand face molds vs. the homogeneity of Mattel faces, so I struck up an email correspondence with her.  Turns out that in addition to our passion for dolls, we both have Cherokee ancestry.  Teresa has been kind enough to teach me some words in the Cherokee language so I sent her a Kari Michelle doll I had customized with three wigs and an African ensemble.  Recently she reciprocated with Omec Toys’ Elise in a hand-sewn, African-styled outfit:  

I loved the idea of a black-owned toy company from the first time I picked up one of the Olmec Toys’ products and read about the company’s mission on the box. In short order I collected Imani whose face was modeled after Yla Eason, founder of the company --

And Consuelo, Latin American Princess.

With her mocha complexion and long, auburn locks, Consuelo looked like one of my cousins.  I had an earlier version of Consuelo with a lighter complexion, but she had a bad hip so I gave her away.  For more information about Yla Eason and Olmec Toys, see Debbie Garrett’s excellent post on “Moments in Black Doll History – Eason’s Positive Toys for Our Children.”

In the late 80s and early 90s many of my ladies were “waiting to exhale” since the black man shortage was reflected in the doll world.   I was therefore very pleased to find, Menelik at Target in Columbia, South Carolina during the 1992 Christmas season.  He is still a shinning black prince despite the dated hairstyle.

Fortunately, the line of outfits Olmec Toys sold through major retailers like Kmart has a more timeless appeal.  Here Imani steps out in a tank dress with bold black and white stripes.

Although this party frock combines stripes with polka dots, Consuelo still looks very demure.  

New-to-me Elise sports a classic black mock turtleneck shell with a frilly white lace skirt.

She has the same face mold as Imani, but I like this face much better without the blue eye shadow. 

The hair on these dolls was not the highest quality fiber.  I always wanted to re-style Imani’s flyaway tresses, but I thought I should leave her as close to her original state as possible.  I immediately scalped Elise, however, so that she could wear this cap of short locks.

One of the greatest benefits I have experienced since I started blogging last April is the friendship and generosity of fellow doll enthusiasts. It was very hard to resist buying new dolls while I was on spring break, especially since my godfather spoiled me rotten and I had money burning holes in my pockets, but Teresa’s lovely gift saw me through.  Now, with only nine more days ‘til Easter I have a long list of new dolls I would like to buy, but Olmec Toys will always have a very special place in my heart.

À Bientôt

P.S.  This week's tutorial is on making lattice crust pies:

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Appalchian Spring

Corn Husk Doll

Whenever I go to visit my godfather, I break the twelve hour drive between Atlanta and Dayton with a stop at the Kentucky Artisan Center in Berea. 

Reverend John G. Fee founded Berea as a Christian community.  Although Fee’s father owned slaves, Fee was an ardent abolitionist with a zeal for making education accessible to all – male, female, black or white – regardless of their financial means. 


Berea College, which Fee established as a one room school in 1855, therefore became the first coeducational and interracial institution of higher learning in the state of Kentucky.  In 1904 the Kentucky state legislature passed the Day Law, which prohibited interracial education.  Berea College fought the Day Law all the way to the Supreme Court.  When the Supreme Court upheld the infamous law, Berea assisted in the establishment of Lincoln Institute near Louisville, so that African American students would still have access to higher education.  Berea immediately re-opened its doors to black students when the Day Law was amended in 1950.
Berea College’s commitment to social justice encompasses preserving traditional Appalachian crafts and developing markets for local artisans.  When Dr. William Frost, third president of the college arrived from Oberlin in 1892, he was impressed with the examples of fine weaving he saw all around the community.  
Woven Place Mat
He encouraged the mountain artisans to barter their wares for “larnin” and thereby instituted the tradition of free tuition at Berea for academically promising students who work to earn money for room and board.  Visitors to the campus can still observe students practicing traditional crafts such as weaving and broom-making.  

Brooms crafted at Berea College
Under President Frost, Berea hosted its first craft fair during the 1896 commencement.  “The Homespun Fair” provided community artisans with a unique opportunity to sell their wares to the public.  Thus Berea became a birthplace of the handicrafts revival.

Today Berea is known as the Folk Arts and Crafts Capital of Kentucky.  I arrived at the Artisan Center in time for a carving demonstration.  One of the master craftsmen gave me this flower, which he carved from a twig. 

On my way home I bought more hand-crafted flowers for this vase which adorns my kitchen table:

My salt dough projects cannot match the artistry of the wares I saw at the Kentucky Artisan Center.

Still I hope these salt dough trays will make an attractive way of serving the cheese and crackers from last week’s tutorial:

À Bientôt

Friday, March 16, 2012

Spring Break!

I'm packing my bags for a weekend trip and time is of the essence but here is this week's tutorial:

À Bientôt

Sunday, March 11, 2012

You Are the Queen of Your Home

I received a Suzy Homemaker oven for Christmas when I was five years old.  I loved baking little cakes, but I became frustrated with the mechanism that locked the oven until it had cooled enough for a child to open it safely because my cakes always burned.  Eventually, I figured out how to clip off the metal latch.  From then on my oven worked great.  One year when I was about eleven I used my Suzy Homemaker oven to make miniature layer cakes decorated with red and green frosting as Christmas presents for all my favorite teachers.  

I found such domestic pursuits very fulfilling, but in 1963, the same year that Deluxe Reading, produced the 176 piece Topper brand Dream Kitchen that is now a holy grail worth as much as $600 to 1:6 scale collectors, Betty Friedan published a book challenging the idea that women were destined to find their greatest life satisfaction in their roles as wives, mothers, and homemakers. Deluxe Reading’s 22” Suzy Homemaker doll and the extensive range of working appliances branded with her name exemplified the prevailing ideal of womanhood.  In contrast, Friedan argued that confining women to the domestic sphere reduced them to a child-like state of emotional development.  Her analysis of The Feminine Mystique is often cited as one of the most influential books of the 20th century and credited with sparking the second wave feminist movement in the United States.  In 1966, two years before I received my Suzy Homemaker oven, Friedan founded the National Organization for Women. 

From our 21st century vantage point, the gender role stereotyping in this vintage Suzy Homemaker commercial is laughable.  As feminists of the 1970s pointed out, these toys trained girls for traditional roles as housewives.  The miniature washers, dryers, and vacuum cleaners indoctrinated us into accepting housework as our primary responsibility.  Yet the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Statistics reports that by the mid 1980s, when most of the young girls who grew up playing with Suzy Homemaker toys were old enough to enter the workforce, more than 50% of women with children under the age of six worked outside the home.   By the turn of the millennium, when the little Suzy Homemakers entered their forties, more than 75% of mothers with children between ages 6 and 17 worked outside the home.

Indeed, the manufacturer of the Suzy Homemaker toys went out of business in 1973, just about the time that feminists were vociferously attacking the social and economic pressures that forced women to conform to Suzy Homemaker roles.  Friedan had identified consumerism as part of “the problem that has no name.”  Denied opportunities to pursue fulfilling careers outside the home, the primary function of the suburban housewife was to purchase goods and services.  Thus, for a time some feminists came to regard traditional domestic pursuits like sewing and cooking, as well as crafts like knitting and other needle work as emblems of servitude rather than as productive work or as outlets for creative self-expression. 

Yet, many of the traditional domestic skills I learned through child’s play empowered me to resist consumer culture while creating a lifestyle that Sarah Ban Breathnach’s books and website have identified as “simple abundance.”  I learned to sew by making doll clothes and transferred those skills to making clothes for myself because I never had enough money to buy the kind of clothes I liked.  The things I made fit me better and also lasted much longer than anything I could have bought off the rack.  The little cakes I had made with my Suzy Homemaker oven gave me confidence to start cooking for myself when I realized that my extreme lactose intolerance meant I could not comfortably eat most processed foods available on the market.  Over the years I have continued to delight in giving home sewn or home baked gifts as tokens of my regard for all the special people in my life. 

In these challenging economic times, more and more voices are recognizing that employing the domestic arts to create and delight in such simple pleasures has great spiritual value.  Radical homemaker, Shannon Hayes earned a Ph.D. in Sustainable Agriculture and Community Development from Cornell University, then came to the conclusion that she and her husband could create a more fulfilling life by remaining on her parents’ farm.  They calculated that while their combined incomes would have been high if they had moved to the city and become a typical dual career household, the social, ecological, and financial costs would have been even higher.  In her book, Radical Homemakers, Hayes describes how she and other families across the country have been able to:  “eat locally and organically, support local businesses, avoid big box stores, save money, and support a family of four on less than $45,000 per year.” (quoted from "Meet the Radical Homemakers" Yes magazine accessed 031012)

Most Americans are now several generations removed from farm life and the homemaking skills that once enabled families to function as units of production rather than consumption.  While we may not all become “tomato canning feminists” like Hayes, every woman remains the queen of her home, able to profoundly influence the direction of society through the decisions she makes (with or without a partner) about how to manage her household.  I hope the tutorial on baking salt dough pies below will introduce some budding radical homemakers to the joys of making and playing with homemade toys.

 À Bientôt

Friday, March 2, 2012

Dollar Store Sprites

I bought these fairies at Dollar Tree in 2006 or 2007.  As might be expected with dollar store dolls, their legs don’t move, their bodies are already leaching plasticizer, and the hair fiber is deteriorating.  Still, despite their disproportionately large heads and garish eye make-up, black fairies are so rare that I chased around different stores until I found them in all six colors:

After almost five years of moldering in the bin that holds my “enchanted forest,” I was finally able to put my dollar store sprites to work in the "Conical Conifer" tutorial below.  Realistic 1:6 scale conifers are not hard to find (unlike deciduous species such as maples and oaks).  You can scoop up miniature evergreens discounted by as much as 75% if you shop the after-Christmas sales.  These days, however, my resources for buying doll trees are limited so I have designed a series of 1:6 scale trees using recycled paper towel rolls for the trunks.  Watch the “Paper Towel Roll Tree Base” tutorial to learn how to make a versatile base for different types of trees: 

 (I've been having some trouble getting the videos to show up on this page.  If the video above doesn't work, try this link:  "Paper Towel Roll Tree Base")

Then use your tree base to make the “Conical Conifer”:

(If the above video doesn't work, try this link:  "Conical Conifer")

À Bientôt