Friday, April 30, 2010

Izannah Walker Dolls

Izannah F. Walker, one of America's earliest known female doll makers, was born in 1817 in Bristol, Rhode Island. On June 28, 1873, at the age of 56, Walker applied for a patent for "improvement in the manufacture of dolls." In her application Walker claimed "my doll is inexpensive, easily kept clean, and not apt to injure a young child which may fall upon it. It will preserve its appearance for a long time."

As witnessed by the surviving examples of her work, we know that this is true. Izannah was granted a patent on November 4, 1873. However, it is known that she had been making dolls for quite some time before she applied for her patent. Research has uncovered a documented case of her making dolls as early as 1828.

Izannah Walker's dolls are three dimensional works of art, strikingly similar to the folk portraits painted in the 18th and early 19th century by artists such as William Matthew Prior (1806-1873) and Erastus Salisbury Field (1805-1900). Although all of Izannah's dolls possess a recognizable style, each is distinct. This raises the question of whether some were done as portrait dolls. Although there is no documentation of this, the differences in height, facial shapes, and hairstyles on the dolls could certainly cause one to speculate that this is possible.

Her dolls have been found in 15, 17, 18, 20, 21, and 24 inch sizes. The hair is usually painted on with some variation of either wisps surrounding the face or corkscrew curls. Most of the dolls are girls but several boys have been found and photographed. Izannah also made black dolls. The dolls hands have stitched fingers and applied thumbs and the feet are either bare, with stitched toes, or they have painted on boots.

Today the rarity and beauty of Izannah Walker dolls make them highly collectible. Currently the price range for these dolls, in good condition, can go from $16,000-18,000.

Thanks to Donna of cameomoon for this article!