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 gray-hair and bearded, chicken-toting black country gent on the left is attired in machine-stitched clothing wearing blue cotton britches with red suspenders along with a blue and cream striped cotton shirt and a red kerchief around his neck. His hat is constructed of navy blue-colored felt. This country gent holds a very finely-crafted and detailed brown chicken under his left arm, while his right hand clutches a wooden walking stick. Note the lustrous chicken feathers protruding under his arm when he is viewed from the back. He appears to be a bit disgruntled about something given those raised eyebrows!
The female doll depicts a lady out for a stroll with her black umbrella in hand. This sweet gentlewoman wears a red and white polka dot kerchief on her head covering most of her gray hair and has embroidered facial features. Her head is turned to her right as if to see who had just called out her name. This gentlewoman's clothing, with the exception of her neutral-striped knit-fabric sweater, is machine-sewn cotton with careful detailing right down to the red hankie poking out of her apron pocket. topping off her outfit are a pair of gold hoop earrings!
The gray-hair, bearded, chicken-toting black country gent doll on the right, is also attired in machine-stitched clothing wearing brown cotton britches with a patch on the left leg, and a bright red hankie protruding from the right pocket. His matching brown suspenders along with a red and cream striped cotton shirt and a red kerchief around his neck complete his outfit, while his brown felt hat tops it all off. This country gent also holds a very finely-crafted and detailed brown fabric chicken with lustrous feathers under his left arm, while his right hand clutches a wooden walking stick. This gent, however, is in much finer spirits than his male companion is, wearing a very pleasant expression on his face!
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! All three in perfect condition and priced at $295.00 each.