Thursday, February 16, 2006

Mary Branca's doll artistry featured at Superior Wisconson Museum

Doll artist Mary Branca produced historical dolls in the 1940s. Each doll is one-of-a-kind and features a fired clay composition head, hands, and feet. A collection of her dolls are featured in the Douglas County Historical Society Museum in Superior, Wisconsin.

The museum's curator explains, "Mary was born in 1893 to John and Caroline Branca. She was raised in Superior, WI., which is the government seat of Douglas County. Her parents were from Milan, Italy and owned a confectionery shop on the main street of Superior. Sometime in the 1920s Mary moved to Chicago to study at the Art Institute and later became a designer in a millinery firm. It was in her spare time that she made these dolls from her own formula, which she never divulged. She made their wigs, shoes, jewelry and costumes. When she finished a doll she sent it home to Superior, where her father built two beautiful cases for them. Mary had planned to create a doll museum in Chicago but never did. Her sister, Annette donated the dolls to us when Mary died in 1975. Mary was buried in Chicago.

This is one of five of Mary Branca's dolls that I have added to my collection. The others are Mary Queen of Scots, French Empress Josephine (wife of Napoleon), Queen Victoria, and a large doll of King Charles II of England. Most of the dolls average approximately 12" high but the King Charles II is about 17" tall.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Historical Applehead dolls

Recently I won a wonderfully costumed and unique Henry VIII applehead doll created by the late Mary Winsheimer, a prominent member of the Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen. I understand Mary won a number of awards for her dolls and was featured on TV Channel 8 Lancaster demonstrating her techniques.

I purchased the doll from her son who also had a Viking Warrior and Pope Paul II dolls handmade by his mother as well. I'm sure I'll be pleased with them when they arrive too.

"Apple-headed dolls are part of along, fascinating history . . . one that extends back to prehistoric times, when primitive puppets appeared in ceremonial magic displays. Tribal healers in Africa and Asia often used dolls in their medicinal rituals . . . and, even today, the ancient superstition of causing sympathetic harm is preserved whenever a mob burns the stuffed figure of an unpopular person "in effigy".

Dollmaking has a rich-and innocentheritage in America, too, where the Indians taught early settlers the art of constructing such playthings from native raw materials. Corn husks and cobs were most often employed . . . as well as wood, lobster shells, nuts, twigs, and gourds. Just about any object that could be bent (or carved) into a human shape, clothed, and hugged was fair game!

The Seneca Indians were reportedly the first people to make dolls out of apples . . . but the craft was later adopted by mountaineers in Appalachia, where such handmade toys are still produced as part of the area's cottage industry." - Mother Earth News

The article also contains instructions for making your own unique Applehead dolls!