Monday, May 14, 2012

Izannah Walker type dolls

"Mariella" and "Mary Ella"

I hope all of you mothers had a wonderful day yesterday!  I wanted to share the story of these two dolls with you.  I live in Mississippi, near Natchez, which is the oldest settlement on the Mississippi river. It is very rich in history as you can imagine, and it has the largest number of antebellum homes in the south.  The Civil War did not really touch the city, as it was not really a vital area such as Vicksburg.  So, the beautiful homes were spared.  One of these homes is called "The Briars". 

The Briars

 It has a magnificent setting high on a bluff overlooking the river, and it is the ancestral home of Varina Howell Davis, the wife of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy.  I recently met Kristy Atkins,  the delightful new owner of this property, which is a B&B.  She commissioned these two dolls from me; one for her beautiful home to put in her little daughter's room, and the second to donate to another magnificent property in Natchez called "Longwood". 


Longwood's story is very tragic.  Just before the war broke out, a wealthy planter named Haller Nutt began construction on what would have been the most lavish, elaborate home in Mississippi and perhaps the whole south. He studied books on architecture, and worked with a famous architect of his day to come up with the final plan for his palace. It is a blend of styles, vaguely Moorish looking with its "onion" dome top and it is octagonal.  The highest skilled artisans worked on the details, and it contained over 10,000 square feet!  Unfortunately, the war broke out, and many of the workmen who were from the North, literally threw down their tools and traveled back to their homes.  The exterior structure was finished, but not most of the inside; only the ground level was done.  Therefore, The Nutt family lived in this one level, believing the war would be a short one, and the house could be completed after it was over.  Unfortunately, as we know, the war raged on for four long years, and before it was over, Mr. Nutt died, leaving his widow Julia and their eight children to fend for themselves.  She was never able to afford to finish the house.  Even though her husband had signed documents from the Yankees promising him that they would not destroy his other plantations and cotton fields, they were burned, ruining them financially.  So, she lived out her life in one level of the home that was to be her dream house, now never to be. The house is now a National Historic Landmark, and will always remain unfinished. 
     Kristy had recently taken a tour of Longwood, and was touched by its tragic story. In the children's room, there is a wonderful oil painting of two of the Nutt's daughters, one named Mary Ella.  Kristy has a daughter named "Mariella". Therefore, she wanted two dolls named after her daughter, one to be placed in the children's room at Longwood.  It was a real honor for me to be able to create these dolls, and to have one in such a wonderful site.

    I photographed one of the dolls in her "underpinnings" but she also has a dress identical to her sister.  They were made from Civil War era reproduction fabrics. 
    These are "Izannah Walker" type dolls, the originals of which were made by Izannah Walker, the first female doll artist to obtain a patent in the 19th century. These dolls are cloth, with paper clay sculpted heads painted in oils and then "antiqued".  For those of you who are not familiar with this type of doll, I suggest the "MAIDA" website.  Dixie Redmond  makes wonderful Izannah dolls, and thanks to her comprehensive course on making these dolls, I got really interested in making them and reading their history.