Never Too Old
We do not quit playing because we grow old. We grow old because we quit playing. — Oliver Wendell Holmes
“You’re too old to play with dolls.” Don’t we all remember hearing that in our youth? Happily, we’ve all disregarded that fallacy and we are rediscovering play as never before.
More than two decades ago, when I first began making dolls, doll lovers were careful to point out that they were “serious collectors”. The debate about dolls as art raged and many a show had the rarified atmosphere of a stuffy society soiree.
All that is changing. We’ve discovered that “mint-in-the-box” is ridiculous. Who wants a collection that looks like a stockroom—one box lined up after another. Collectors are not only taking the dolls out of the boxes, but they are dressing them, sewing for them and making them part of their lives.
To Barbie® and Gene® collectors, some of the most exciting dolls are those that are repainted and redressed by artist/collectors. In Lawton circles, collectors are taking the travel doll phenomenon to new heights. We are playing with our dolls—collecting loot for their trunks, trading patterns, finding trims and accessories and creating a treasure that reflects us and tells our own story.
Instead of “serious collecting” we are allowing our collections to weave a story about us. When we are gone, our dolls will leave an unstudied trail of stories and memories in our wake. We chronicle our story—who we are—through the things we love, through the work of our hands and through the lives of those with whom we connect.
I’ve come to love the historical dolls that deftly revealed the life of their owner. Bangwell Putt introduced us to a blind girl who wrote evocative poetry and lived robustly in a day when blindness was considered an almost fatal handicap. Raggedy Ann revealed a story of love between a father and his dying daughter. Hitty taught us history and gave us a glimpse into another time and place.
As the designer of the dolls, I can’t think of a nicer thing than having you look on the dolls as a starting point—a tool with which to begin your play. Our dolls will long outlive us. How wonderful if your collection reflects you and, like ragged little Bangwell Putt, tells your story to future generations. We are never too old to play with dolls.
“The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. Take joy.” –Guido di Pietro “Fra Angelico”
The advent of autumn usually signals the onset of a gradual slowing down—of gathering ourselves for the winter to come. This year everything is different. The tragic events of September 11th have forever changes the landscape. As a nation we have been profoundly changed.
The act of gathering together became the most healing dynamic. In the wake of the terrorist attacks, many Americans curtailed travel. I decided to go ahead with my show schedule, not because I’m particularly brave, but because I couldn’t think of anyone I’d rather be with than Lawton collectors. Over the years, the friendships have deepened and new ones have been formed. My travels and the collectors I met were a treasured part of this season.
At Village Doll Shoppe (in Peddler’s Village, Lahaska, PA) in late September, we enjoyed talking dolls but we also ended up visiting, sharing and listening to collector Michael Matteo’s eyewitness account of the World Trade Center bombing. Michael’s twin brother, TJ, is a New York City firefighter, so we heard many stories about Ground Zero and the heroism.
Some of us have been a little sheepish about our enjoyment of dolls in light of all that happened but the theme I hear over and over is that the crazier the world gets, the more we find joy in small things. Our dolls have been a delightful distraction from the “real” world. It’s all part of Father Angelico’s imperative, “Take joy!”
As we move into the Christmas season, be sure to gather with friends, talk, play dolls, cherish family and friends and move away from the shadow of gloom. And most of all, take joy.
Every once in a while childhood and middle age intersect. It’s like C. S. Lewis wrote to a young friend who was concerned about being too old: “…you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”
As a child, I lived through my books. The characters became as real as my friends at school. I could walk blindfolded through the rooms at Mistlethwaite Manor and I knew the feel of the heavy velvet draperies covering Colin’s mother’s portrait. The chalk dust itched in my nose as Anne did her penance at the blackboard. Stuffing rags in the old cracked stove at the Pepper household, I could almost feel the heat escaping. I delighted when the cheeky little beggar showed up in Sarah’s attic room and I wept in that other upstairs bedroom as Beth hovered close to death.
There is something about the reading we do as children that stays with us forever. It’s one of the reasons the dolls I create are always so closely aligned with literature—to me, that’s childhood. It’s not often, however, that we manage to capture the time and place of our book experiences in real life.
A few years ago, our family took a literary pilgrimage. Our first stop was Concord, Massachusetts—a town rich in historic and literary texture. We stayed in a bed & breakfast where Nathaniel Hawthorne’s springhouse once stood, just across the road from Hawthorne’s Wayside and Louisa May Alcott’s beloved Orchard House. A short walk down Lexington Road took us to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s home. A little further is Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, final resting place if many of America’s greatest writers.
It sprinkled the day we visited Walden’s Pond—the forested lake of Henry David Thoreau’s famous work by the same name—where he went to “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” The drizzle kept visitors away. We marveled that we could walk the entire pond without meeting another hiker. Later in our trip, we went to Stockbridge to visit the studio of Norman Rockwell. And down in the basement of the Stockbridge Library, I was allowed to hold the real Hitty in the palm of my hand. On one of the last stops of our trip, we quietly watched the sunset from the steps of Emily Dickinson’s home in Amherst. It was a chance to touch my childhood.
Just a few weeks ago, I had that collision of child and adult again. My mother grew up with the books of Gene Stratton-Porter. As soon as she deemed me a good enough reader, I was introduced to the books. Girl of the Limberlost, Freckles, Daughter of the Land, Michael O’Halloran—they were as real as my brothers and sisters. I became a lifelong fan of the naturalist/author. Several years ago, we donated ten Girl of the Limberlost dolls to help with the restoration of Gene Stratton-Porter’s beloved swamp. (See stories on pages 4 and 5.) Just a year or so ago, we decided to do another project—this time creating a one-of-a-kind doll to be auctioned with 100% of the proceeds going to the restoration project. I was invited to come to the Limberlost for the kick-off of the project.
This was no ordinary invitation—it was a trip back into childhood. As soon as I stepped on Limberlost land, I knew I walked ground I’d long known. Even better, I took my eighty-two-year-old mother along. We couldn’t have spent a more memorable Mother’s Day. It was a time of blurred chronology—an intersection of the grown-up and the child.
My wish for you, this summer, is that you are able to capture a piece of your long-ago dreams and bring them into your today.
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The Lawton Doll Company
Post Office Box 1227
Hilmar, CA 95324
Phone 209 632-3655
Fax: 209 632-6788
info @ lawtondolls.com