What comes to mind when I ask you to think about the word ‘doll’? For many, the image is likely that of a toy baby or child carried around, cared for, and dressed in different outfits. For others, it might be an ‘Action Man’ or perhaps something carried as a lucky mascot. Then there are the unfortunate few with Pediophobia (the fear of dolls) who may be far more uncomfortable with the thought at all.
Dolls, however, are this and much more. They are the oldest archaeologically known toy and appear in the vast majority of the worlds’ cultures in a variety of forms. A doll was discovered in Egypt, appearing as a highly decorated length of wood, and dated at over 4000 years old. Woolly mammoths walked the earth at the same time as humans were making dolls! Move forward to the 20th century and the doll has maintained its importance, being the very first type of toy to be manufactured in plastic during the 1940s and continuing to be a focal point for discussions about body image and gendering in the present day.
Today, though, I would like to introduce you to the use of dolls as an aid for religious instruction. In our forthcoming Hands on History session, we have an example of a Kachina doll from the Hopi people of the southwest United States. These hand-carved figurines take the form of immortal beings who bring rain and perform other varied natural and supernatural feats. Different forms and styles of these dolls are gifted to young girls at special ceremonies so that they might be hung up in the home and the forms and features of the Kachina studied, learned, and memorised. This doll is not a toy, as you might imagine a doll to be, but is an important religious icon.
If you would like to find out more, or are interested in seeing other dolls from our collections, please visit us on Saturday the 21st of July any time between 11:00 and 16:00 for our Hands on History session ‘A World of Dolls’. We look forward to meeting you and perhaps hearing about the dolls that have played a special part in your life!
Until then, I leave you with an interesting question: Are action figures dolls – what do you think?