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Posts Tagged ‘dolls’

My Fair Lady

February 17, 2015 | by

alma doll

The doll of dolls: Alma Mahler, or someone near enough?

When people know that one has a certain interest—say, dolls—they will very kindly send one stories that they think correspond to the subject. As a result, I’ve had brought to my attention everything from articles about Upper West Side doll-hoarders to videos about sex-doll fetishists. In their way, these are all engaging, and it would seem churlish to explain that you, in fact, don’t particularly care about puppets or mannequins, or that, while you liked Lars and the Real Girl or Daphne du Maurier’s The Doll perfectly well, it wasn’t out of any sort of niche fascination. 

(In fact, privately I feel that this points to a systemic marginalization of dolls in our society, and that films like Annabelle only contribute to a culture of casual discrimination. Dolls are unfairly maligned as sinister, or as inherently sexual, and while there are certainly a few bad apples—and the fetishistic qualities of any human totem are part of their fascination—I think they get a bad rap. Indeed, following the death of Doll Hospital proprietor Erving Chase, a New York area doll can’t even get adequate medical care. But I digress.) 

The case of the famed Alma Mahler doll, however, is a special one. While it was sort of a sex doll and sort of a mannequin—and as such, not really my area of study—it also had an unimpeachable toy pedigree: in 1918, after the great muse ended her relationship with the artist Oskar Kokoschka, he commissioned a life-size replica of his lost love from the doll-maker Hermine Moos. Read More »

Characters Get Together

December 31, 2014 | by

We’re out until January 5, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2014 while we’re away. We hope you enjoy—and have a happy New Year!

wilshire boulevard

Wilshire Boulevard ca. 1959. Photo: Roger Wollstadt, via Flickr

There were extenuating circumstances. I was in LA for work, and I had known, intellectually, that it would be warm in California—hot, even. But when you’re deep in a New York winter, who really thinks to pack a sundress?

The lightest thing I had was a pair of jeans. So on a particularly Saharan afternoon, I ducked into a thrift store and grabbed a cotton dress off the rack without trying it on. When I got back to my room and changed, I noticed that the dress was brief. It wasn’t until I had donned my sandals that I realized the dress was in fact too small for me. Oh well, I thought. Better to look silly than to burn, as Saint Paul would most certainly not have said.

The bus let me off some distance from my destination. I didn’t mind; I like to walk. But I was the only pedestrian on that stretch of Santa Monica. Then, as the wind whipped my flimsy skirt up around my thighs, motorists started honking. One car slowed so the driver could catcall me.

If you think this is flattering—and no woman reading this does—think again. Read More >>

Peel

December 19, 2014 | by

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From the cover of Louisa May Alcott’s An Old-Fashioned Girl.

The past, as we know, is another country, and from the age of four or so, I wished passionately for dual citizenship. What old-fashioned meant, I couldn’t even have told you. But for most of my early life I worshipped the idea devoutly. To me it meant inheritance, placement, being part of something larger. 

I think I envisioned this vague past as a world where I belonged. Other children were kind and wholesome; clothes were strange and modest; I was not ridiculous. Paradoxically, my communion with the past made me wholly ridiculous. Sporting bloomers to the third grade has rarely been a road to modern popularity. 

As might be clear, my family had no particular veneration for ritual, but I still cleaved to the idea of holidays as a tradition-steeped idyll. I baked and decorated and played carols, and my homemade gifts were very strange. The primary reason for this is that I got all my ideas from a series of vintage books with names like Let’s Make a Gift! and Fun and Thought for Little Folk, and the youngest of them dated to the late 1930s. As a result, my parents were treated to pen wipers and blotters, a pipe cleaner “embroidered” with the word Father (my dad did not smoke a pipe), and, on one particularly lackluster occasion, a “brush for invalids” that involved wrapping a stick in a piece of flannel so the bedridden individual did not need to wash her hair. Read More »

Disturbing Innocence

October 31, 2014 | by

Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, Kirsten, Star, 1997.

Croak_Dirt Baby

James Croak, Dirt Baby, 1986.

Peter Drake, Siege of Syosset, 2007.

Jake & Dinos Chapman, Doggy, 1997.

James Casebere, Landscape with Houses (Dutchess County) #9, 2011.

David Levinthal, Untitled (Woman with arms raised from behind), 1989.

Edith And Big Bad Bill: Little Bear To The Rescue

Dare Wright, Edith And Big Bad Bill: Little Bear To The Rescue, 1968.

Beecroft_Blonde Figure Lying_detail

Vanessa Beecroft, Blonde Figure Lying, 2008

The artist Eric Fischl has curated “Disturbing Innocence,” a group show on display at the FLAG Art Foundation through January 31, 2015. More than fifty artists, historical and contemporary, are represented in the exhibition, which features work with a focus on surrogates—mannequins, dolls, robots, toys—and “presents a subversive and escapist world at odds with the values and pretensions of polite society.”

Fischl says in a preface to the catalogue:

Curiously, “toy,” “robot,” “mannequin,” and “doll” are all nouns with negative connotations embedded in their definitions, including phrases like “something of little value,” “non-important,” “subservient,” “a non-entity,” “without original thought,” “controlled by others,” “a pretty girl of little intelligence,” and “disposable.” The very thought of this goes against the profound experiential impact these supposedly trivial attachments have had on our imaginations and within our emotional development as children. It flies in the face of what we know from our own essential experience with our toys. The difference between children playing with their toys and adult artists using toys and other surrogates for their art, the way that male and female artists use these surrogates differently, are the crux of this exhibition.

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As Dolls to Wanton Kids

September 16, 2014 | by

thedollshouse

Detail from the cover of The Doll’s House.

It is an anxious, sometimes a dangerous thing to be a doll. Dolls cannot choose; they can only be chosen; they cannot ‘do’; they can only be done by. Children who do not understand this often do wrong things, and then the dolls are hurt and abused and lost; and when this happens dolls cannot speak, nor do anything except be hurt and abused and lost. ―Rumer Godden, The Doll’s House

Rumer Godden was preoccupied with dolls. In her many stories about dolls—including Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, Little Plum, Home Is the Sailor, and, of course, The Doll’s House—we are presented with a cast of characters who are at the mercy of children. Some children are rough and wild; others are conscientious and intuitive. They are little gods, and the dolls are their playthings, and when they feel powerless in their own lives, it is the dolls who bear the brunt of this powerlessness. Godden wasn’t the only author to recognize this essential dynamic—The Velveteen Rabbit, Hitty, and later Toy Story truck in the same themes—but no one makes that reality as scary and lonely as she does.

Of all the books, The Doll’s House is perhaps the most sinister. We have Tottie, the stable peg doll; the doll father, who seems to suffer the aftereffects of a rough owner; the mother, who is made of celluloid and so somewhat dotty and scattered. And there is the evil, beautiful Marchpane—more financially valuable in the real world than the others. The dolls are survivors who have found each other—their relationships are resolutely asexual, by the way—but their peace can be shattered by a gust of wind, a candle flame, a child’s whim. It is scary stuff, and compelling, too. There is tragedy here, but even before the tragedy, there is menace.

Of course this appeals to a child. Children are both dolls and masters; they know their powerlessness and need to understand their power. While the subject matter sounds sweet, it becomes a stage for something far darker.

They made a film of The Doll’s House, and while I don’t think it captures the charm of the book completely—Tasha Tudor illustrated one version—it is strange and forceful in its own right.

Hitty, Her Second Hundred Years

July 14, 2014 | by

16585 Hitty illfrontis

On Saturday, in Maine, I rode my bicycle the mile and a half to the very comfortable Northeast Harbor Library, which contains well-stocked “Maine” and “Garden” rooms; it’s currently showcasing a collection of antique “woolies,” folk-art embroideries made by extremely secure nineteenth-century sailors. Patrons who wish to memorialize their visit may buy “postal cards,” which are subcategorized accurately under such headings as  “Circulation Area” and “Reference Desk.” I bought six for a dollar.

It is always awkward to be the only adult in the children’s room, and repetition does not make it any easier. But I went down the hall, past the mat where very young children have story time. I took a left at an enormous stuffed mouse and ran my finger along the “F” shelf in chapter books until I came upon my quarry: Hitty, Her First Hundred Years.

I knew they would have it, not just because it won the Newbery in 1930 and is considered a classic, but because it is one of the great Maine children’s books. Hitty is an imagined history of a small doll carved from a piece of mountain ash—inspired by a real doll that its author, Rachel Field, found in a New York City antiques shop—which takes its heroine around the globe via whaling vessel and Missisippi river boat, and in the custody of many different children. But Hitty is born in Maine, specifically on Cranberry Island, some two nautical miles from the library itself. In the course of her travels, she bears witness to the events of the nineteenth century, all of which she relates with serene pragmatism, in the manner of a doll Forrest Gump. Read More »