Why dolls?

Tiny tearsTiny Tears, drawn with my new dip-pen and indian ink (purchased from the wonderful shop at Salts Mill)

I’m getting increasingly curious about dolls.   What sort of relationships do we girls have with our dolls, and how does it change when we get older?  Why do artists make dolls?  Why do adults collect dolls? 

I’ve been doing a bit of internet surfing and can find surprisingly little.  There is a short article in Wikipedia, but very few references.  A search on doll psychology didn’t really give me answers either.  Searching for ‘artists dolls’ came up with a few artists sites, but very little about why they make them.

So, reader, help me out with my research.  How do you feel about dolls?  What role do they play in your life now (children, grandchildren etc), and what role have they played in your life in the past? Do you make, or collect, dolls?  If so, why?

11 thoughts on “Why dolls?

  1. Here’s my resoinse, Carole. I suspect that it will not be a typical one.

    As a child I had no interest in dolls. I felt disappointed when I received them as a gift and would give mine to my twin, because she liked dolls… this would gain me a walloping as an “ungrateful child” of course. If the doll was vaguely interesting and did something that intrigued – if it’s eyes closed or it went “mama” or whatever, then I would carefully take it apart for inspection, to find out just what made it work. This too gained me a walloping for being both ungrateful AND destructive. Which was not fair because *mostly* they worked more or less OK when I put them back together again…

    I never had a special dolly when I was little, but I did form a close attachment to a cuddly toy (a plush anthropomorphic dog), a golly, and a tiny teddy bear.

    As an adult, I find dolls sinister. That’s both children’s toys and many of the art dolls that I have seen. I *do* like *some* character art dolls that I have seen though, the ones with old ladies’ gnarled faces for instance.

    It seems odd that I find baby dolls and Barbies sinister, but not old crones!

    I did buy *a* doll for my daughter, when she asked for a Tiny Tears, but it’s not the gift that springs to mind when buying for little girls (or boys). I’m more of a book-buyer, really.

  2. Thanks for this, Beth. I’m sure you put those dolls back together again perfectly competently 😉 I’d like to see some of those old lady dolls if you come across a link sometime.

  3. Carol: While the only dolls I have now are those my grandchildren play with .. I remember, very fondly, having dolls when I was growing up …I think children learn nurturing techniques with their dolls. I can see already how my 3 year old granddaughter plays with hers, how she cradles it, sings to it, feeds it, pushes it around in the stroller …..

    As I grew older, my baby dolls turned into those ‘teen’ dolls (never a Barbie, though! LOL) — and more than just ‘playing’ with the dolls, I remember crocheting my dolls sweaters, hats, scarves and the like — using my dolls as models for my handicrafts (handicrafts I still do!! LOL)

    And paperdolls — don’t forget those!! I had a TON of those — cut neatly and kept in cigar boxes — played with those for hours.

    I think dolls help us learn relationships, parently, play-acting situations — transferring perhaps our own situations to our dolls to ‘work out’ the solutions.

    Very interesting question, Carol .. and BTW, I LOVE YOUR DOLL sketches!!

  4. I have a passion for dolls I love all mine that I have collected and other people’s. I never liked playing with dolls as a pretend mother but loved dressing them up. I love the clothes dolls wear. i love their faces and their poses. I have a passion for Barbie dolls and paper dolls. I love the Japanese dolls and handmade dolls. Not sure if there is anything deep and meaningful about them and my collecting.
    Lots of love from Susan in Australia

  5. The only dolls I have out now are my soft Little Women dolls. They are someplace on my art blog, my drawings of them. I also have a Little Women set that my Mama bought for me, that are the porcelain collectible dolls, beautiful, but much too fine to play with. One doll that I remember loving so much was an ancient stuffed male doll, who was dressed in overalls and has Amos written across his back.

    I’d better stop, before I get carried away. I never realized I had so many memorable dolls.

    Thanks for reminding me.

  6. I’m sure you put those dolls back together again perfectly competently

    Well… sometimes, maybe, the eyes only closed if you held them completely upside down. But I did find out that they worked with strong elastic bands and lead weights and that’s what counts! 🙂

    The cuckoo clock was a whole different ball game, though. Maybe a tad ambitious for an 8 year old.

    I just remembered that I made Vicky a doll, as well as getting her the Tiny Tears. I made her a Holly Hobbie* rag doll once, and dressed it in dress, pinny and bonnet – in the reverse of the clothes that I made for Vicky and out of the left over fabric. I’d forgotten all about that. She loved that doll. I enjoyed making it.

    * maybe before your time. Think Little House on the Prairie type girl, but overly saccharined, perfectly coordinated, and fully licensed and franchised in traditional US manner… I think the character had no face, it being obscured by the bonnet. My doll had a face, awkwardly executed but approximate to Human.

  7. I remember Holly Hobbie! I had a Holly Hobbie something-or-other. I can’t remember what it was now – one of those girly gift set things, I think.

    I don’t suppose you have a picture of the doll you made?

  8. I had dolls when I was young, but I only remember them as being another toy. I also outgrew my dolls before my friends and cousins. I was more of a tomboy and interested in playing basketball and drawing then playing with dolls. I just never bonded with any of them. I played with them the same way I would my matchbox cars.

  9. I don’t suppose you have a picture of the doll you made?

    I don’t think so, though I *might* find a photo of Vicky in her matching/opposing outfit. I used a cotton print of little sprigged flowers: cream on navy and the negative navy on cream. Vicky had the dark dress and light pinny/bonnet. The doll had the opposite. Or it might have been the other way around… but I am reasonably certain I was practical about it.

    The doll was left at home, and replaced by a sheepskin sheep nightie case and walking stick when Vicky entered the fancy dress as Bo Peep – the reason why I made the outfit. Unnaturally maternal of me 🙂

    It’s *years* since I did any dressmaking.

  10. I was also wondering about the psychology of dolls. I was never very fond of them growing up, I had a few, but had no strong attachements. But last summer I began making puppets, which are very similar to dolls. I find that I have become very attached to them. They seem to have a ‘life of their own’. I searched the web like you. Think of quewpie dolls, nesting dolls, the film “Lars and the Real Girl” – and the novel/film “Doll House” – the bobo doll, colored dolls, I think it is something to explore. ‘How do adults use dolls’

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