Dolls and doll-making have been part of society and culture since the beginning of time. Historians have traced the use of dolls as toys to 100 AD. They have played a role in religious and magic rituals from their earliest days and reflect the status of a generation. Locally, their history is rich and deep, and the growing interest in them was celebrated recently with a tea party at the Riversdale House Museum.
Hosted by the Riverdale Park Arts Council’s Doll Club, the Oct. 15 event brought together nearly a dozen Riverdale Park children who have been enjoying weekly doll-making classes, and nine members of the Dollology Club of Washington, DC, a chapter of the United Federation of Doll Clubs.
In fact, the Dollology Club, which aims to educate the public about the role of dolls and doll-making in our history, used the occasion to donate $4,000 to the mansion for the interpretation of the children’s nursery.
The funding was used to furnish the nursery “in order to provide a better sense of the presence of the nine Calvert children who lived in the house,” notes Ann Wass, the history and museum specialist at Riversdale House Museum.
Wass said the bulk of the money was used to buy two reproduction bed kits which were assembled by museum docent, Mel Kornspan. The grant also funded installation of 3M ultra-violet-filtering film on the windows to help protect the contents of the room from degradation by sunlight.
“We rounded out the exhibit with other furnishings we already had in our collection and some donations of both antique and reproduction toys,” she said. “All this has become part of our permanent collection and so is on display all the time. Right now, we have added some actual period children’s clothing that will be on display through the end of the year.”
Some of the students were visiting Riversdale for the first time and were clearly awestruck by the stately mansion.
Dressed in their Sunday best, students enoyed tiny tea sandwiches, tiny doll-size tarts and sweets that arrived on tiered plates and were served by little sterling silver tongs. They were offered hot tea in fancy cups with saucers.
Each of the students crafted their doll’s body and head from what was generally available during the Regency period – the timeframe which the Calverts occupied Riversdale. In those days, a family’s economic status could be determined by the materials used for a doll – a bedpost for the wealthy, a sapling filled out with spare cloth by those lower on the economic ladder. Students also drew the faces on their dolls and capped the heads with wigs made not of goat or horse hair as was done yesteryear, but with dynel or synthetic mohair so they can play with the dolls it as toys.
Each of the girls’ dolls had a black umbrella with bead trim, black cape, black purse with lace hankie, a winter flannel nightgown with night cap, a blanket to wrap in, accompanied by a doll-sized teddy bear. The boys’ dolls sported black stretch pants and a red tie-dyed shirt with stretch knit black hat.
Dollology Club president Dolly Berg called the event “a big success!” while others commented on the student's work.
“Not only did we want to include dolls from the time period that the first generation of Calverts lived here, we also wanted to show a selection of the most popular types of dolls of the period made from a variety of materials,” Wass said.
Emily Fanning, a resident of Riverdale Park for more than five decades, is owner-operator of Emily’s Doll House in Riverdale Park’s Town Center. She is also the president of the Riverdale Park Arts Council and heads the council’s Doll Club. She can be reached at OurDollMom@AOL.com, or 301-864-5561.