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Homemade rag dolls are fascinating and like wooden dolls depend on the skill and artistry of the maker. Colonial children had these too, and so have other children, before and since. Probably there is none living who as a child has not loved some sort of rag doll, if only a make-believe one-a rolled-up bath towel fastened with a safety pin. Rag dolls have always had a special appeal for children.
Fifty years or so ago printed cotton sheets of dolls were issued, some as advertisements like the Cream of Wheat Man, Aunt Jemima of pancake four fame, Sunny Jim, and others. Cartoon dolls like Foxy Grandpa and the Boys were similar, and then there were the famous Brownies by Palmer Cox. Mothers and aunts cut them out, sewed, and stuffed them.
About 1870, in Rhode Island, Izannah Walker made rag dolls with painted faces that today are so rare they bring a hundred dollars apiece.
Martha Jenks Chase of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, had one of these as a child and was inspired by it to make rag dolls for her own children, then for the neighbors, and so began the famous Chase dolls. Mrs. Chase made them commercially as playthings for children and later as demonstration dolls for hospitals and nursing classes. The Chase factory is still a going concern.
At the New York World's Fair at Flushing Meadows in 1939 and 1940 the French exhibit included the dolls of Bernard Ravaca. He was a Parisian dollmaker already world-famous for his fabric dolls with faces made from silk stockings. They represented French peasants and other character types.
World War II caught M. Ravaca over here. His studios in Paris having been looted, he remained, to become an American citizen. Mme. Ravaca, the former Eleanor Deicks of Cohoes, New York, is also a doll artist. The Ravacas tour the country exhibiting their dolls in the larger cities in the United States and Canada. Their models have delighted American collectors.
In Italy, before the war, the late Mme. Lenci made a doll of felt treated with air pressure. It was both quaint and beautiful. Her dolls usually represented children, but she also made a boudoir doll of the dancer Raquel Miller which was very beautiful. Mme. Lenci was a true artist and her dolls were unique. Since her death, the factories have reopened, but the loss of the master designer is sadly felt.
Kathe Kruse's dolls in prewar Germany came into being in much the same way as Martha Chase's in New England. Frau Kruse first made dolls for her own children and then commercially. She created the most appealing and real children imaginable. During the war her dolls were banned, but happily she is again at work.
When World War I checked the flow of dolls from Germany, two California artists, Mr, and Mrs. P. D. Smith, and their young daughter Margaret undertook the making of baby dolls from a composition of their own. The dolls were well received on the West Coast, but being handmade, proved unprofitable. Later the Smiths turned out some lovely display figures for shop windows. Most of their work has now disappeared, but a few examples remain in the possession of fortunate California collectors.