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Author Topic: cornhusk dolls  (Read 13458 times)
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hanktrent
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« Reply #20 on: March 18, 2010, 10:09:10 AM »

For the passage from the book on the Appalachians, unfortunately the preview didn't include the bibliography.  But the statement a couple of lines below the reference to corncob dolls claims that they fed corncobs to animals as fodder.  Now I've seen animals eat all the grain off a corncob but never eat the cob itself.  Has anyone ever seen corncobs used as fodder?  And if that statement isn't true, could his other claims about dolls be trusted either?  A period diary that mentions making cornhusk dolls would be great.

Well, corn and cob meal was fairly common as fodder, which included the cob ground with the corn, though one can find incidental mentions of feeding cobs alone. In pioneer times, especially, when food was short, even the minimal nourishment in the cobs would be better than nothing; even before the first corn crop, one reads of cattle being kept over winter by cutting down trees and letting them eat the buds and green tips of the twigs--not something you'll see done today.

The passage in the Appalachian book, though, does just seem a quick, offhand list of all the uses of corn, and I wouldn't count on each individual item being carefully researched before inclusion.

On a separate note, has anyone approached this from the direction of the "corn dollies" (corn/kirn babies/maidens/dolls) traditional to the British Isles and I think parts of Europe as well? They were made of wheat or the local grain, not maize, of course. They weren't play-things so much as ceremonial, but still, it's a similar idea, using grain/corn to twist into a human or similar figure, and it's the right culture. Still, I can't find any evidence they were used as play-type dolls.

Hank Trent
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Beth Chamberlain
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« Reply #21 on: March 18, 2010, 04:10:11 PM »

Jessamyn - I did pull up the images. A few things struck me about it. They based their 1840 date on an inscription but what I wonder what proof they have that the inscription was right. The construction of the doll is not like the methods I've seen used in modern ones, I need to go back to the first 80's reference to compare that. The doll is also in dress which shows a marked western influence both in its material and style. In my mind it creates more questions than it answers. The detail in construction and its pristine condition make me think that it was not at all intended to be a toy. A very short look at the Tuscarora Parsonage where the doll originated does show the surname Howell(s) as being non-native (at some point I'll try to find mentions of the two people in the inscription to try to confirm dates) My suspicion (obviously unsubstantiated) is that the doll was made by a native girl (or adult based in its intricacy) as a gift . While that would put a corn husk doll in the hands of a western girl it's a far cry from them being common or for westerners making them.

Another thing that struck me about the doll is how pristine it is. The few corn husk dolls I have all aged within @ 15 years to yellow or lt brown. I wonder if there is some differnece with corn varieties or if they did something to the husks to bleach them.

Beth
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Men are made in the image of God. Gentlemen are manufactured by tailors,  barbers, and bootblacks. Woman is the last and most perfect work of God. Ladies are the productions of silk-worms, milliners
Susan Peden
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« Reply #22 on: March 18, 2010, 07:14:15 PM »

In many of the Native websites and publications that I have now at least browsed, the uses for corn husk dolls were first ceremonial.  I am not sure that toys as we know them today were on the minds of the First Nations people.  Children's games and toys usually served the purpose of teaching a skill or value, as in the Firekeeper's Game which teaches the skills of stealth and quiet movement, or that of rolling a hoop and throwing an arrow or spear through it.  Though, I believe Lacrosse was invented by the Iroquois.  However, just as tobacco was a ceremonial offering for the Indians, and European people used it very differently, I might imagine that other Native objects and customs were also altered to fit into the settlers' customs. ( Possibly dolls too)

Each website seems to have a variation on making the dolls.  Some have wooden heads (ceremonial) some are all husk with horse tail or corn silk used  as hair, some are dolls made using the cob itself as the body covered with fabrics.  When we look at the clothing in which the artifact dolls are dressed, we have only to remember that First Contact with Europeans was more than 200 years before "our" period.  One of the first things that the early explorers and settlers did was to open up trade with the Indians.  A Trade Shirt of wool, linen or cotton was much desired by the Native Americans.  It was light weight in the warm weather, dried quickly, could be used for many things after it was no longer wearable as a shirt.  So early on the custom of wearing European clothing along with traditional Native clothing became common.  Their use of beads, ribbons, and velvets or other European fabrics reflects trade outside the Native communities, as do iron toos vs. stone tools.  So I don't find it inauthentic to see Native artifacts that use materials from European cultures.  As time passed and the Indians' were pressed further and further away from their own ways of living, many turned to making crafts and selling them to whites as a way to survive; a practice which continues today.  At least in Vermont this was happening by mid 19th century as documented by information on the Obamsawin family in Ferrisburgh and Charlotte, Vermont by their granddaughter, Jeannie Brink.

The lives of children in both the Native American world and the settlers' culture were very different from what we know of for children in the 19th century.  By the mid-19th century children were becoming the focus of the family.  They were valued and educated.  It was mother's job to raise the children.  Books on etiquette for children, health tip for how to raise children, moral character instruction and more were available for the modern woman.  When Clement Clark Moore wrote "A Visit from St. Nicholas" in 1822 for his children, he was reluctant for others to know that he had written it lest he be looked on as a father who catered to his children.  So, a lot changed by the time of the Civil War.  Certainly a lot changed for the Native American population.  Very few of the nearly 36,000 Indian soldiers who fought for the Union are ever heard about.  Indians were busy trying to be like the white man in order to survive the demands of the white man. 

Did 1860s Kentucky Indian kids play with 1860s white kids?  Would the poor Irish and Scottish moonshiners who settled in Appalachia have contact with any poor Indians?  The discussion poses ever more questions than we have answered!

This was fun to write.  Every now and then I get to share some stuff I know.  If anyone really wants documentation of some of this stuff, it is out there.  Check the Journals of Samuel de Champlain which have been translated and are online (pretty gorey in some spots), Fred Wiseman's work, Marge and Joseph Burchac's work,http://www.vermontfolklifecenter.org/childrens-books/malians-song/index.shtml books by Catherine Beecher (she started a Female Seminary in Massachusetts and was an early abolitionist sister of Harriet Beecher Stowe), The Original Vermonters, and dozens of other new works on Native Americans from all over the country. 

Still exploring the Kentucky doll connections...
Susan   
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hanktrent
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« Reply #23 on: March 18, 2010, 07:30:11 PM »

A very short look at the Tuscarora Parsonage where the doll originated does show the surname Howell(s) as being non-native (at some point I'll try to find mentions of the two people in the inscription to try to confirm dates)

Here's a little on a daughter of Elizabeth S. Howells, the recipient of the doll, and some more on Betsy Turkey, the maker, who was born in 1822.

Hank Trent
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Beth Chamberlain
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« Reply #24 on: March 19, 2010, 10:55:24 PM »

Here's a little on a daughter of Elizabeth S. Howells, the recipient of the doll, and some more on Betsy Turkey, the maker, who was born in 1822.com

Thanks Hank. That certainly makes the 1840 plausible.
Beth
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Men are made in the image of God. Gentlemen are manufactured by tailors,  barbers, and bootblacks. Woman is the last and most perfect work of God. Ladies are the productions of silk-worms, milliners
Susan Peden
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« Reply #25 on: March 25, 2010, 03:39:28 PM »

Here is the reply from the Kentucky Historical Society.  Take as you will.

Dear Ms. Peden,

I’ve done some research and while I’m not finding direct sources which state that white children used corn husk dolls, we certainly know they were around at that time period. They were introduced to the white settlers by Native Americans long before the Civil War and remained as part of the daily culture long past the Civil War.

I know this isn’t the documentation for which you are looking but I hope it helps a bit.

Thank you!

Sally

Sally Bown

Reference Librarian

Kentucky Historical Society

Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet

100 W. Broadway

Frankfort, KY 40601

502-564-1792 x4496

Sally.Bown@ky.gov
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Stephanie Brennan
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« Reply #26 on: March 25, 2010, 04:24:38 PM »

A cornhusk doll c. 1880 is in the collection of the Chicago Historical Society. The doll is extremely detailed and does not look like a play toy.  She is dressed in a bustle style dress. Stephanie
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Susan Peden
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« Reply #27 on: March 25, 2010, 04:41:06 PM »

It would be interesting to track when the corn husk dolls became a "craft" as opposed to a cultural tradition. S.
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mmescher
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« Reply #28 on: March 25, 2010, 06:11:44 PM »

The quote from the Kentucky Historical Society is interesting but does lead to additional questions.  When it is stated "we certainly know," the question comes up "how are they certain?"  And how do they know they were part of the daily culture?  The answers could be helpful to know in understanding these dolls' history.

I do agree that it would be interesting to know when they became a craft object/folk toy souvenir as opposed to a toy used for play by children.  I'd expect the transition depended upon the circumstances, i.e., some children may have been playing with them as toys while other adults (not necessarily associated with the children) are making the dolls as a money-making project.  I'd also expect the design of the dolls changed over the years so, if they were present in a certain region or cultural group during the mid-nineteenth century, their form would be hard to guess.  As dolls made of waste products, they would probably have been tossed in the fire after the owner lost interest in them so examples are scarce.

Anyone know of other rocks we can turn over?

Michael Mescher

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Susan Peden
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« Reply #29 on: March 25, 2010, 06:26:51 PM »

Yes, we have all become suspect of phrases like, "We certainly know."  As much as I do give credence to oral tradition, and I think you may have mentioned this in our debate here, one's place in the family, age and memory don't always record the facts.  I was hoping to get a little kernel (no pun intended, but I like it anyway) that would take the dolls from being ceremonial objects made by Natives to playthings for frontier children.  There was mention on one web site that the dolls were made by Indians to be disposable because they didn't want their children to become too attached to material things, but there was no way to prove that one, even to me.  But they sure wouldn't have lasted the many years that other artifacts have. 

The discussion does beg the question of when children began playing with dolls. (another rock)

Susan



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Eileen Trestain
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« Reply #30 on: April 27, 2010, 11:24:18 PM »

I am doing a lot of looking ad reading about native American dolls lately.  They are an excellent example of what the different tribes were wearing at different periods in history.  The Euro-american influence is very strong in the changes of attire over time, and individual tribal styles are well illustrated, especially when compared to extant clothing with similar provenance.  IN other words, don't be surprized at how closely the doll clothes fit European styles! 

Eileen     
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Susan Peden
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« Reply #31 on: April 28, 2010, 05:26:10 PM »

Eileen, very true.  Besides liking clothes that were easily cared for, assimilation dictated that First Nations folks wear the costume of the day according to non-FN folks.
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