Put all the world's doll collectors in one place and they'd barely fill a cosmic thimble. But try narrowing the category down to collectors of black dolls, and you'd need a microscope to see them. Members of the local Touch of Color Doll Club think that's just fine--it's easier for them to meet at each other's houses and share the nuances of each person's unique collection.
Luckily, they'll share a small selection with the rest of us in a new Black History Month-inspired show opening Tuesday at the Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys. Beautifully costumed black Indians, cowboys and saloon girls will constitute most of the Western-themed exhibit.
Co-founder and club veep Loretta Molet fell into doll collecting without really knowing what hit her. Her son and daughter-in-law had given Molet her first piece: "She was a little black baby made of porcelain, with a real cute expression," Molet remembers. "After that first one, I got hooked." Preferring contemporary dolls that are less fragile than the antiques, Molet still considers herself a newcomer to the enthusiasm, with a lot left to learn. "I have about 75 in my personal collection," she says, "and I'd say mine is the smallest collection in the club. At one house, there were over 2,000. They had dolls sitting out on the sofas, they decorated with them--they were everywhere."
The various collections range from rustic wooden and cloth folk dolls found in antique stores to elegant collectibles kept pristinely in their original boxes. "I'm not into the Barbie dolls, but one member in the club has all the black Barbies," Molet notes. "That collection is beautiful--it's something to see, even if you're not into it. They have the sparkly dresses and the heels, and they're so prim and proper with those fancy hairdos. All of hers are still in the boxes--they're not to play with at all. You don't even want to think about taking them out of the boxes."
Club president Marcia Walker also veers toward the modern yet durable collectibles, particularly a poseable, dangly-legged resin line out of Dallas called Daddy's Long Legs. Designed by dollmaker Karen Germany, the predominantly black dolls are especially notable for their lively and correct black features. "The slogan is 'The dolls you know you know,'" Walker says. "And it's true--some of those faces really remind you of people you know."
It was Walker who sent out the fliers for the club's inaugural meeting, just to feel out how many women might actually be interested in black collectible dolls. "When we met at her house the first time," Molet recalls, "it was jam-packed in there. It was overwhelming to know that many people of all ages collect dolls. Before that, I didn't think it was that big a deal."
Does Molet have any advice for the would-be black-doll collector? "If you decide to collect, you need to zone into one particular theme," she says. She cites a relative who collects black bride dolls "because they're unique--you don't just see those lying around." She also points to the differences between a doll with essentially white features--painted black--and a true black doll. "The ethnically correct ones are hard to find," she says. "You start to look at the shapes of the lips and the noses, eyes and hair." And, Molet adds, don't go for anything too precious--after all, that's not what dolls were invented for in the first place. Wood, resin or vinyl dolls are just fine: "If the grandbabies knock it down, you don't have to worry, and you can handle them more. You don't have to keep them on a high shelf and just look at them."
Touch of Color Doll Club exhibit, February 9-April 10, Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys, 1880 Gaylord Street, 303-322-1053.