When I was a little boy running around Riverside and the hospital grounds, we built tree huts and forts, fished and swam in the Battle River, played sports all year-round, and had boxes full of tough toys that were good for countless hours of indoor or outdoor games. Then there were the girls, who always fussed with their hair, had neat rooms full of doll houses and all sorts of cuddle buddies, and could somehow spend many happy hours having tea parties, reading books, or knitting and sewing fancy or frilly stuff.
I would never dare say those sweet little lassies had a tough and stubborn side but if we little hooligans wanted to get in their good graces, we were forced to attend their parties and sip tea (watered down Kool-Aid) out of silly little cups, nibble on cookies and try to be polite and look interested. I guess we did somehow survive those early days of playing doctor/nurse and all the rest. Then again, did it not all pay off when we all got past the sassy and puppy love stage and became teenagers?
In salute to girls who are now mothers and grandmothers, the Fort Ostell Museum has assembled a magnificent display that is kindly on loan from a Ponoka lady. It is part of a 400-item collection dedicated to the colorful history and rapid growth and successes of the production of dolls, plush toys, and all sort of amazing accessories.
A history of dolls
Dolls have been a delightful part of humankind, the earliest depicting religious figures, and were simply made out of clay, fur, wood, bone, and pottery and dressed in whatever material was available. The availability of these cherished figures representing all walks of life increased rapidly with the demand, with manufacturers introducing and mass producing a wide variety of life size dolls made out of wax or moulded out of a mixture of pulp wood and paper, wax and clay.
In the 19th century porcelain figures came into being, with bodies and parts fired in kilns, and then fashioned into real life models of all nationalities that featured multiple skin color, moveable arms/legs and heads, eyes that blinked, a choice of hair color and wardrobes. For those families who could not always afford to get involved in this new craze, mothers would create their own unique rag dolls, while fathers would fashion all sorts of accessories such as doll carriages and chairs, and of course wonderful little houses, with all the exquisite trimmings.
Zooming into the 20th century the sky was the limit in the wild creation of these lifelike characters off all sizes, shapes, and themes, and it wasn’t long before they could actually talk, sing, cry, dance, sleep, shiver and even wet their diapers.
Here are some of the highlights of the magnificent displays of early and modern dolls and accessories now available for a limited time at the Ponoka museum for the viewing pleasure of all ages, and will certainly bring back some memories and chuckles.
• There is a 24-inch Johnny Playpal Doll that was introduced in 1959 by Ideal, has blue eyes, and is wearing a sailor suit. Disney of course introduced the plush rubber Donald Duck toys in 1934, and likely the most famous were a set of dolls depicting the Dionne Quintuplets, who were born in 1934, and the set of five were adorned in the outfits they wore then.
• The unique and colorful display features many dolls and characters from throughout the world, including the first African-American Doll, the 1959 Troll or Dam Doll created by Danish woodworker Thomas Dam and the 1974 Monchhichi Japanese line of stuffed toys monkeys.
• Other plush toys that you will certainly cheer for and recognize in this display are: Sesame Street’s original Bert and Ernie, Kermit the Frog, Hasbro’s authentic Real Baby, Mattel’s Tippee Toes Doll, the Cabbage Patch Kids, Tolly Tots, and My Buddy, which was introduced in 1985 to appeal to little boys and to teach them about caring for their friends.
• Remember when Ideal created the “Miss Revlon” doll in 1950, and added the new look of high-heels and pierced ears; when you pulled the ring at the back of Chatty Cathy and she uttered seven sweet phrases; and when they introduced Crissy, the American fashion doll with adjustable hair? Then there was Alf, the 1980s space alien with bright orange hair; and then the multibillion dollar explosion into the world of dolls with the glitzy arrival of the Barbie era and all the fancy extras.
Whether we played with dolls and plush toys or not, everyone will really enjoy this new display at the Fort Ostell Museum, where everyone is welcome to drop in and browse through the colorful and exciting history of the town and county of Ponoka.