Oct 16, 2013
12:57 PM
Arts & Entertainment

Dolls! Dolls! Dolls! All Cultures and Time Periods Converge at "Dolls: No Ordinary Playthings," on View at Bristol's New England Carousel Museum

Dolls! Dolls! Dolls! All Cultures and Time Periods Converge at "Dolls: No Ordinary Playthings," on View at Bristol's New England Carousel Museum

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Bristol's Mary Forcier may well be Connecticut's No. 1 "Safekeeper of the Dolls." She owns about 2,000 of 'em—a collection that began when her mother purchased a set of bride dolls of all nations at the 1964-65 New York World's Fair. As she grew, so did her collection, through gifts from friends and relatives, cast-offs that others no longer wanted and her own travels around the world, particularly during the time she toured with the performing group Up with People (1985-86). Now she owns roughly 2,000 dolls of all different kinds, from Raggedy Anns and Andys and celebrity lookalikes to dolls representing a wide range of historic periods and cultures.

Many of Forcier's dolls are now on view at Bristol's New England Carousel Museum in the exhibit Dolls: No Ordinary Playthings, running through Dec. 31. They're grouped according to theme, the time period and the countries they represent—some from as far away as Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, India and Russia, collected while Forcier toured with the performing group Up With People in the mid-'80s. She intends the exhibit to "evoke memories, inspire joy and entice viewers to explore the stories these dolls carry within them."

No doubt, visitors to the exhibit will find that certain dolls are their favorites. The following were mine:

1. John Wayne: Looking exceptionally "Duke"-like in his cowboy vest and scarf, this Wayne has a relaxed visage and sandy, even reddish-brown hair. (Did he in real life? Hard to tell from all those Turner Classic Movies.) His hat sits far more askew than we imagine real life Wayne ever would have allowed. No matter—he rightfully dwarfs frilly Marie Antoinette to the right and Christopher Columbus to the left, who, oddly, reminded me of no one so much as a white-haired Paul Simon.

2. Marie Antoinette: Pictured above, she impresses with the championship blonde beehive of all time—festooned with pearls, ribbons and flowers, which are also woven through her lacy blue satin gown—and that authentic "Let them eat cake" hauteur in her eyes.

3. Prosperous Early American dolls: The buttoned-up satin, velvet and lace look on these dolls is pure Victoriana, with three of them decked out in the same shade of sea-foam green, their hair perfectly cropped and curled. I wish I had clothes like this. Most of the women I know wish they had clothes like this.

4. The Raggedy Ann and Andy collection: This display represents various incarnations of the classic dolls, dating from the 1920s to the present, who were originally made famous in a series of children's books by New Canaan author Johnny Gruelle. (Little-known fact: Raggedy Ann became a symbol of the anti-vaccine movement after Gruelle's daughter Marcella, whose own faceless rag doll inspired the books, died after a smallpox vaccine administered at her school.) I'm well aware that this collection might send the highly suggestible (and fans of "ghost hunters" Ed and Lorraine Warren) screaming for the exits—shades of "Annabelle"—but to me this brood, some in sailor suits, some in gingham dresses (and some with button eyes versus others with eyes sewn on) is the picture of innocence. The exhibit's question for viewers, a tricky one, is "Which of these dolls is the earliest made?" Mine, much more subjective, would be, "Which of these seamstresses had mad skills with a needle, and which ones missed the mark?"

5. Kid reading to Boyd's Teddy bear: Timelessly cute, with the pigtailed girl dressed in a plaid shirt and fur-collared jacket, looking like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting. This is the one doll who seems a wholesome half-step on the evolutionary scale from the current American Girl obsession, and who, as a result, will probably appeal greatly to young'uns.

If you venture to the second floor of the building, you'll see some dolls that Forcier had previously given the museum to show on a permanent basis. They're not officially part of Dolls: No Ordinary Playthings, but many of them are well worth the detour, including extraordinarily precise likenesses of sad clown Emmett Kelly and Stephen Spielberg's E.T., Little Orphan Annie and Madeleine dolls, and baby dolls from all nations—there's even an array of Campbell's Soup kids.

Next month, Forcier will present two special programs associated with her exhibit. On Nov. 7, 6:30-7:30 p.m., she'll give a lecture for adults on "Dolls Around the World." Refreshments will be provided, and the museum's working carousel will be up and running, offering free rides. At 2 p.m. Nov. 10, parents and kids are invited for a Family Sunday event devoted to Raggedy Ann and Andy, including a storybook reading and crafts activity. While these programs are free of charge, admission to the museum is $6 for adults, $5.50 seniors, $3.50 for children 4-14 and $2 for kids 1-3.

The New England Carousel Museum is open Tues.-Sat. 10-5, Sun. noon-5. For more information, call (860) 585-5411 or visit the website.

Turn to the following page for a museum Q&A with Mary Forcier.

Dolls! Dolls! Dolls! All Cultures and Time Periods Converge at "Dolls: No Ordinary Playthings," on View at Bristol's New England Carousel Museum

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