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...jen o'connor's...Artful Adventures & Daily Inspirations

I Love Art, Adore the Handmade and Treasure the Vintage. I am the Fun Mom, the Silly Friend and the Writer who wants to make more room for beauty in the everyday.

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Monday, March 3, 2008

Play Dolls

Confession time…I play dolls. Really, I have always loved them. I was the little girl caught up in the fantasyland of my own creations. I changed my dolls’ dresses incessantly, creating small worlds of play and scene with little fingers set to the task. Hours of daydreaming...I was forever lost in the wee catalog of “International Dolls” strung to the wrist of my Madame Alexander dolls…. Do you remember these tiny booklets?

They were my sure inspiration for travel and the promise of a world larger than my own. I fantasized for hours about the “traditional dress” shown on those 8” Madame Alexander dolls in that little booklet and I was determined to see if the little figures were telling the truth.

"Gypsy Boots" as my Mom calls them, took me to Germany and Austria on a school trip at 16, I traveled Europe on my own at 19, and somehow got a scholarship trip to Egypt at 21...landing a babysitting job for the chaperone's’s two little ones when we were to return Stateside. (see the tangled web, Thea!).

I aspired to visit 25 countries by the time I was 25. This was not the first bar I set too high! At 38, I am almost there! I attribute this on-going fascination with foreign places to the dolls I collected as a child. And liekwise, I blame those same dolls for awakening my passion for collecting.

There are dolls across my home…art dolls, paper dolls tucked in drawers, yes, a few magic cabinets stuffed with my most treasured Tonner dolls in my bedroom, another trove of all Alice in Wonderland dolls and goodies, and several old suitcases chock full of my Madame Alexander collection, dusty, worn and dormant. Sweet touchstones.

And so in pilgrimage, I have attended the Madame Alexander Premier for 13 years. The gals that gather each year to “play dolls” are absolutely wonderful…Jane Andrea, Sandy, Karen, Julia, Alyssa, Hayley, Charlotte, Angela, Carolyn, and Harriet…you are all a hoot and so very dear to me. I am sure we would have shared endless hours of play together had we known each other in our childhoods.

Here's Harriet, a great gal pal. We met in 1995 drooling on the doll cases in FAO Schwarz…you are the greatest of adventurers Harriet…you must have read those little booklets too!

Here we are at the factory last week in Harlem (Charlotte and Hayley wait to cut the cake). They were celebrating the 85th anniversary of the founding of the Alexander Doll Company.

Not so long ago, the factory encompassed four floors of a former Studebaker car plant on 131st Street. Today, just a few sewing machines and odd bolts of fabric remain. Like many toymakers, production has moved overseas.

Here are more doll pals at this year's "Premier"...

Andrea & Sandy...

Charlotte & Julia...

Jane & Harriet...

Alyssa & Hayley...

And so the cat is out of the bag. We play dolls.

It's funny to trace the see how this interest has propelled me. Indeed wihtout that first visit of mine to that first Alexander Premier, I would never have met Maggie. Without Maggie, no Jody, and without Jody Battaglia, I hae said many time, "Earth Angels" would indeed, never have thrived.

And so, thanks to passion, dolls and meeting wonderful friends in the right place at the right time, here we are.

...and now, I am off to play dolls with Charlotte. She managed to leave the factory store with several cuties for her growing doll collection.

Jen O’Connor
Earth Angels


Florrie said...

I have loved playing with dolls ever since I can remember. I now make my own cloth dolls and take great pleasure in dressing them too. My daughter loves to play also. I am so glad that there are so many people for whom this beautiful art is not lost. Play on Play on!!

oldflowers4me said...

hello darling girl- i know you havnt got a flickr-but ive set up a group- called the lemonade dolls club- its about dolls and there world -love jo.

Laurie Meseroll said...

I had a collection of Madame Alexander dolls, too, but was never as caught up in them as I was with my Midge (Barbie's friend), given to me by my favortie aunt Marylee. I didn't think about her for YEARS...until one day I had my hair cut drastically short and styled so incredibly cool. I took one look at myself and felt really grown up--I finally became Midge!

(I'll post a pic on my blog)

(Thank god I didn't turn into a Scarlett O'Hara--she was my favorite MA doll, but I think maybe I just really like her undergarments--she wore bloomers not fishnets!)

katydid said...

I too have always been a doll girl...I secretly played with my Madame Alexander up until I was in seventh grade while all of my friends were conspiring about boys. The doll is now Hannah's and although she is very much a bear girl, she will from time to time invite the doll to tea with her most cherished bear of six years (and counting). As I read about your wonderful adventures it brought me so much pleasure, because it occured to me that both my doll and Hannah's bear were given the same name by the manufacturer - Pudding! So thank you for both the walk down memory lane and for prompting such a wonderful realization. Here's to Pudding!!

Thea said...

Jen's eloquent post about playing dolls is so moving and the comments so fascinating. I always thought dolls contained the spirits of the children who played with them and who infused them with their hopes and dreams. So new dolls seem to be blank slates, waiting to be inspired to life, while old dolls encompass collective wisdom often of several generations, capturing whimsey and chagrin. Thea

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