Measuring 9 inches high, these delightful examples of Folk Art styling represent three of a series of Black cloth character dolls made in Alabama in the 1930’s by unknown craftsmen/women employed under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's (FDR) Depression era program, the Work Projects Administration (WPA), in existence from 1935-1943.
The Work Projects Administration was designed to provide jobs across the country during the Great Depression when hundreds of thousands were out of work. While most WPA jobs were in construction and infrastructure, the most well-known project arm of the WPA, known as Federal Project Number One, employed musicians, artists, writers, actors and directors in arts, drama, media, and literacy projects. The five projects assigned to this consortium were: the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP), the Historical Records Survey (HRS), the Federal Theatre Project (FTP), the Federal Music Project (FMP), and the Federal Art Project (FAP).
The creation of these fabulous dolls fell under the WPA Federal Art Project, with the goal of representing and preserving the various aspects of the culture, work and lives of the Southern black community of this time period. All of the WPA black folk dolls produced for this project were placed on asphalt shingle stands, they all feature elderly folk, they all share black leather shoes, a cotton-batting stuffed body, and identical hand-stitched facial features with subtle and unique variations in expression around the eyes due to the clever positioning of the eyebrows!
The Country Preacher is fully decked out to conduct worship services, from his black, wide-brimmed top hat down to his leather shoes, the left one, unfortunately, showing a bit of wear with his socked big toe peeking out! His machine-stitched clothing is all in the color black with the exception of his white ministerial collar. The preacher holds his real-wood walking stick securely in his right hand while clutching the Holy Bible under his left arm. Note the colorful red handkerchief that was placed in a back pants pocket, peeking out between the tails of his suit coat. The fully bearded preacher wears silver, wire-rimmed spectacles surrounding his soft and compassionate eyes and offers an open smile showing his front two teeth!
The white haired, bearded male country gentleman doll is attired in machine-sewn cotton, blue-striped britches with a patch at the left knee, black suspenders and a tan striped cotton shirt with a red kerchief tied around his neck. His hat is constructed of cranberry-colored felt. Under his right arm, he holds a nicely crafted fabric chicken that has sustained a tiny bit of fabric loss to its face, while his left arm holds a wooden walking stick. His complete asphalt shingle is missing, but remnants remain firmly attached on the soles of his shoes. He bears a very sweet, surprised expression on his face as evidenced by his slightly upturned eyebrows!
The female doll in this grouping is clad in a red and white checkered, machine-stitched dress topped over with a cream-colored linen apron which evidences, here and there, some very light, age-related discoloration. Her apron pocket displays a red and white polka-dotted hankie- a lovely detail-, while a bright, multi-colored head wrap protectively covers her graying hair from dust and grime while she completes household chores. Her outfit is fully completed with the cream-colored linen chemise and pantaloons underneath her dress, and she wears black leather shoes. Even though she is working at chores, as evidenced by the wicker-straw broom she holds in her right hand, she has not forgotten to wear her brass-toned, double hoop earrings! And she wears a pleasant expression on her hand-stitched face, showing a bit of a smile and her two front teeth.
Three very special dolls, which today, are becoming very, very difficult to find, representing a snapshot of history, capturing the lives of poor southern black folk of the Depression era!
The Preacher and Lady with the Broom are priced at $295.00 each, with the Country Gent Holding a Chicken priced at $275.00 to compensate for his incomplete asphalt shingle.