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Theo Redwood Blank Doll Collection

Sure to enchant the museum’s visitors, both young and old, is the Theo Redwood Blank doll collection. The doll collection, one of the finest in the country, shows the evolution of play dolls, from a rare Georgian period carved wooden doll, to 19th century paper mache dolls with molded hair, china and bisque dolls with leather bodies, wax over composition, fabric and many examples of 20th century dolls. The collection also contains doll-like figures from Egyptian, pre-Columbian, African and Chinese cultures.

Theo Redwood Blank of Des Moines, Iowa, began collecting dolls in 1936, long before the hobby gained the popularity it now enjoys. Mrs. Blank was on a trip to London when she decided to purchase a doll for her young niece, Rilda. This doll, a small cloth Chad Valley doll dressed in blue, became the first in an eclectic collection of nearly 1000 dolls, doll accessories, and doll-like figures.

The collection spans several centuries ranging from the Egyptian Ushabti, small figures buried with the Pharaohs, to modern dolls, created by leading American manufacturers of the 40’s and 50’s.

The collection provides an overview of the history of doll craftsmanship.

Included in the collection are wooden dolls of the late Georgian period, early German china head dolls, and the later German bisque dolls of Armand Marseille, Simon and Halbig, Heubach, and Kestner. Mrs. Blank was a patron of doll artists of her day, and the collection contains many examples of their works including the soft-sculpted dolls of French doll maker Bernard Ravca.

She also traveled extensively adding dolls to the collection representing the many countries she visited. The collection is recognized as an exceptionally choice one and is mentioned in one of the earliest books on doll collecting. It was exhibited during the World War II years to aid British War Relief, Inc., Bundles For Britain, and the French War Relief.

The niece who served as the inspiration for this fine collection grew up to become Rilda Gottlieb, wife of Dick Gottlieb, Councilman of the City of Houston. With Mrs. Gottlieb’s encouragement, Mrs. Blank donated the collection to Houston Baptist University in 1969.

The completion of the Museum of American Architecture and Decorative Arts’ new space in the Morris Cultural Arts Center on the campus of Houston Baptist University provides a wonderful showcase for this unique collection.

One of the more fascinating items in the doll collection is a vignette which depicts the coronation of Josephine by Napoleon, a re-creation of the painting by David which hangs in the Louvre. The tiny dolls, or lay figures as they are properly called, were used by artists and are constructed of wood with ball and socket joints so they may be positioned in lifelike attitudes.

History has not recorded the name of the primitive genius who invented the wheel or the bow and arrow. Equally unknown is the first cave woman who presumably created a doll for her child. It seems certain, however, that even in neolithic times, children and dolls were inseparable. Documentary tradition began with ancient Egypt, where painted wooden dolls with hair made of strings of beads were found in Egyptian tombs; but few early dolls exist due to the transient nature of their construction materials. Dolls have been made of “a rag, a bone and a hank of hair” – and other oddities, from the durable iron dolls of the Congo to the deliciously perishable gingerbread dolls of the Middle ages – from royalty’s precious gold figurines to the pioneers’ primitive corn husk dolls which crossed America in covered wagons. During the eighteenth century dolls continued to grow in popularity. Today doll collecting is said to be the second largest hobby in the United States. Our museum is blessed with a wonderful collection which provides hours of viewing pleasure to both the novice and advanced collectors alike.