Growing up in the Cherry Hill section of Baltimore in the mid-20th century, Deborah Johnson remembers when the local hardware store was transformed during the holidays into a Christmas wonderland.
She remembers fondly the dolls there, because the hardware store had the latest black dolls in stock.
“They were beautiful,” Johnson said. “I can remember having the baby dolls with the crier in them. They had a mohair-type of wig that was glued over molded hair. I hated the hair because I couldn’t comb or wash it and the early dolls were painted over white dolls.”
In 1995, Johnson, Denise Bond, Vicky Forbes, Linda Lee and Angela Womack founded the Charm City Dolling Club to address the needs of black doll collectors.
The group has scheduled a Black Doll Exhibit on February 13, 2016 at the Randallstown Library on Liberty Road from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Dolls from the early 1900s to the present, including fashion and celebrity dolls will be on display.
“All of us in the club once belonged to a large and mostly white doll club in Towson called ‘Lady Baltimore Doll Study Club,’” Johnson said. “We knew that we wanted to address the needs of black doll collectors and we realize that black children need to see positive images of themselves in beautiful black dolls.”
Johnson said the first event held by her club, which is a charter member of the United Federation Of Doll Clubs – the international organization which ties most doll clubs together – consisted of a mother and daughter tea.
“It was called ‘My Mommy, My Dollie and Me tea party,” Johnson said. “We had 80 people attend with mothers, grandmothers, aunts and little girls all dressed up for the tea and it was a huge success.”
The success of that event led to the five doll collectors starting their own club, which now has 30 members.
“Many of our members have loved dolls all of their lives. Some became interested when they had children and others in their later years,” Johnson said, noting that many of the dolls are collected from doll shops, doll shows, flea markets and thrift stores.
Also, the Internet provides many opportunities to find old and new dolls on websites like Facebook, Pinterest, and ETSY.
“On Facebook, we can hook up with other like-minded doll collectors,” she said. “Some of my club members and I belong to a black doll collectors group on Facebook and black doll artists are able to reach us and share their dolls.”
The February 13 exhibit, which will help mark Black History Month, will feature at least 75 dolls, some as old as 100 years, Johnson said.
“We will showcase beautiful fashion dolls, celebrity dolls, historical dolls such as the Tuskegee Airmen and dolls made by talented artists,” she said. “Black doll exhibits are an important tool to show people, especially our children, positive images of themselves. It can show how we were viewed by society in the past and how we chose to see ourselves today.”
The exhibit is free and open to all.