American Black Beauty Doll Artists Show and Sale
A little retail therapy is guilt free when one keeps the dollars circulating in the black. Black as in black community, that is. I decided to ride my bike to Oakland and after stopping to make copies of a flier at Kinkos (make sure to ask for students discounts), I walked through the Webster Street Tube. I’d tried to ride for a short length, but the walkway narrows to make this nearly impossible. I think the noise is worse than the exhaust. I also didn’t know that I’d brushed against a wall until I arrived where I was going and noticed a black streak on my sleeve.
The walk wasn’t too long. I looked forward to the literal light at the end of the tunnel. And there it was. I propped my bike against the wall when I walked out to climb the stairs to see where they led. Above there was a barren partial cul-de-sac. I rode down 7th and then crossed over to 8th which I then took to Castro over to 14th Street where AAMLO is.
The doll artists this year were truly amazing. It was nice chatting with the artists I’d purchased dolls from last year and meet new artists. I like the artists who price their work so that there is something for everyone. I think the highest priced item I purchased was $35. In total, I think I was able to get dolls from four artists. I even entered the raffle, which I never do (smile). No, I didn't win.
One of the artists, Ms. Lillian Holford (79), Created with Care, shared dolls she played with as a child. Her mother or father would only let her play with black dolls, these were made from porcelain. Also on display were her own crafts, two of the dolls were of her grandmother and father (?). She had the photo on the table of her grandmother. She spoke about being born on E 25th street in Oakland, the same house where her mother was born. She had a really cute haircut, her granddaughter fixed her up with.
I took a photo of her and a little six year old and her mother. She gave the child a doll from Africa with an assignment to learn what country she was from. There was also a coloring book on the table she had designed with a child who did not like to read, but with the book they made together, he learned to read and write.
Another artist, Ms. Lillian Black, Lillian’s Dolls and Things, had dolls who looked antique, but she’d made them. All porcelain, they were so cute. Her booth had the designs for the serious collector, similarly the Freckles creator, Bing Ruiter, whose dolls are so beautiful. Statuesque, each one has a story waiting to unfold—big hands and feet, they exuded perfect balance.
She showed me dolls whose hands are replicas of her hands, while others have dolls the artist made decades earlier. So you get two for one. The newest dolls called Runway Dolls are so cute. Fashionable, they are really interesting, their feet aren’t real feet and each one has an affirmation attached to their leggings. Life is really a runway which can run away or get away from us if we squander it.
Freckles dolls are intriguing. I remember my first one, a friend had specially made for me when I graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree over 20 years ago.
I also liked Ms. Ruiter’s fairies who are intentionally imperfect. One has Virgilio. Two of her dolls are in a recently published book on doll artists.
I noticed, perhaps more than any other year, the idea of dolls as healers and doll artists as medicine women. One artist, Mabel Ellis, whose journey has taken her from illness to wellness, reflects this in her work, True Devotions. All her dolls are serene. They are believers in God’s grace and mercy and largess. I loved one of her dolls she is working on now, who is bald. She is called Chemo (?)
Another artist, Diane Willis, Praise Doll Company, whose inspiration comes from dreams, is famous for her angels, while Gail Lee, USS, whom I call, "the doll house artist," donates from her sales to her church’s scholarship fund. Last year I purchased two of her famous paper dolls, one for me, one for my granddaughter. The dolls are made of wood and the wardrobe is magnetized. You can even style the dolls hair. We have lots of fun playing with the dolls. This year I bought a a doll from Jamaica from her. She'd bought it on a trip many years ago.
Karen Oyekanmi, Kissing Kousins, had more fairies who were magnets on clothespins, but these look like flowers. I bought two. LaVera Wilson, Sassy Griot, whom I hadn’t collected before, makes her dolls from wood, wooded dowels and clothes pins and spindles. I bought the Wiz with Dorothy and her Crew. I also got what I call my Traveling Legba, a really cute girl dressed in a red and black suit, hat with a feather and a round suitcase with a little red heart applique. Another girl is holding a dog, who reminds me of my granddaughter and her dog, Kane who was gray with blue eyes. Another little wooden dolls is wrapped in red thread dress, pearl necklace and is holding a present. On the table were dolls at the beach, in a compound in a traditional African village. There was also a really nice journal the artist created. Next to Sassy Griot was her friend, Stacy Le'Gras, whose greeting cards included little dolls. Quite lovely. The cards all had Africa as a part of the motif.
When I got home I noticed that LaVera had put my items in a bag with a heart stamped on it and a butterfly cutout where her tag Sassy Griot hangs. It was a really classy touch. LaVera and I had a nice long conversation about her work with autistic children and her use of art for healing, especially art which connects a person to nature. Her dolls were made from natural fibers and products like wood, hair from wool. That line in the bible about “hair” and “lamb’s wool,” was visible in a lot of artistry this year. She said earlier in the year she'd hosted workshops where doll artists made dolls from wood.
Pam Ekkens, who made my Orisha doll (purchased last year), dressed in all white—had lots of dolls in red, blue and white, as if to say, it’s my country too. This year she outdid herself. She had dolls with bodies filled with buttons and pearls—they were just too beautiful. The hair was so realistic. I think she used lamb’s wool too.
I had to sit on my hands to keep from buying all the dolls that appealed to me and I was only at the American Black Beauty Doll Artists Show and Sale for three hours. When I arrived I’d already missed seeing some of the more beautiful items. There was a Christmas House which was being wrapped as I arrived. I think I will have to get there early next time like I used to.
Diane Willis, Praise Dolls Company, partners with her son who makes dolls from candy. Yes, edible art – smile. She at one time made ceramic dolls and when her mother passed began making the angels. Seems fitting. She had on angel doll earrings.
Many of the dolls artists come to the craft from a love of art as children. Other doll artists had mothers who were also creative, loved color and encouraged their daughters to make art. Sister Anita Osborne, Black Pearls, showed me a couple of dolls she was rescuing and giving a makeover—new clothes, cuter faces. I saw a before photo, and the work in progress is certainly an improvement.
I heard that a woman came in before I arrived with old dolls in the hopes that the American Black Beauty Doll Artists show was also a place where dolls could get makeovers. Unfortunately, this was not the case, at least not this year.
Each year, there is a craft table where girls and their parents can make dolls. This year we were making doll book marks. They came out really cute. I saw a few girls with them in their hands. One of the doll artists gave me her sample (smile). I just couldn’t sit still long enough to make a doll this year. I was having too much fun talking to the women about their craft.
When I walked into the upstairs gallery at the museum library, Palate Pleasures Catering was busy fixing plates. I saw another display of preserved and missed the beautiful dolls dressed in African fabric. There were so many lovely dolls, made from cloth – standing together like sentinels. There was also a display with work from all the doll artists.
Ms. Bourgeois had her Raggedy Anne dolls and doll purses for sale across from the Freckles dolls near the entrance or staircase. I caught her sewing and asked for a photo. She obliged.
I left too late. By the time I walked out and was nearing Broadway, the sun was down a beautiful crescent moon was visible. I decided to definitely not chance walking back through the Webster Tube at night and chose to ride Embarcadero to Alameda. That was an adventure. I was happy that I’d ridden these Oakland streets in the day time before as I took the more less traveled or at least traffic free detours towards the Park Street Bridge. There was night time road work near the 5th Street entrance to the freeway, with traffic moving slower than me. I was happy for the extra lighting and men at work and the additional company along the road which is not a busy thoroughfare at night. As I passed Coast Guard Island entrance, signs pointed to more detours. As I was wondering how to cross the road to get on the bridge, I saw another cyclist who assured me I was headed in the right direction.