By the time I was 9 or so years old, my grandparents were retired from the puppet business. In fact I only have one vague memory of seeing them perform. I don’t even remember what story they performed, but I do remember getting to see “backstage.” But the thoroughly artistic temperaments that my grandparents both possessed did not and could not ever retire. There was always a creative outlet for them. For a time Bernie carved ducks. I remember Edee cross-stitching intricate panels that were later framed and displayed. But my most treasured memory of both my grandparents is their creation of a line of costumed dolls. Mostly these dolls were Edee’s creation, but Bernie played a key and (to me) very endearing role in their collection.
Every Sunday of my childhood from ages about 8 to 10, I went with my father and Bernie to the Columbia Mall flea market. This was held in the mall’s covered parking structure, I’m assuming every Sunday. Both my father and grandfather were collectibles addicts and with each visit we would slowly make our way past each vendor’s table examining the (to me) mostly junk. I was able to score the occasional Barbie doll or toy in our outings, though. Looking back, I can’t believe I had the patience for this mercurial amble every weekend.
Among the many possible things Bernie was looking for amidst the junk was a particular style of doll to bring home to Edee. Edee had had a true collector’s doll collection for as long as I could remember and probably for several decades before me. Her own childhood baby dolls were some of the oldest members of the cadre. She must have barely played with them as a child because their china faces were perfect and their white flowing dresses were like pristine christening gowns.
Edee and Bernie had an entire room in their house dedicated to Edee’s doll collection. The front right bedroom on the second floor looked out over Hawthorne Road and contained shelves and glass showcases full to overflowing with all manner of dolls. It was this girly girl’s vision of heaven. But we (the grandchildren) were never allowed to touch any of them. Every visit to my grandparents’ house included a visit to this dreamy room. I would walk around taking in all the dolls I already knew in detail by heart – with my eyes only. And then there were the new dolls – the ones Edee made costumes for during these years of my life.
At the flea market, Bernie combed the vendors for a particular style of doll that had been manufactured and sold during the 1960’s. I’m sure there is a name for this specific doll, but I can only describe the doll’s unique selling feature in this way: the top of her head rotated and she had two shades of long, flowing hair. Depending on which direction you twisted her scalp, she had either long blond locks or long brunette locks. This was two dolls in one!! Additionally, her body was slender and more adult that child, so she was kind of like a really big Barbie doll.
The doll must have been popular in its day, because Bernie was able to find these dolls for Edee fairly frequently at the Sunday flea markets (in varying conditions). I remember him buying them and bringing them home, mostly because I really really really wanted to add each one to MY doll collection that I stilled played with. But I never got one. They were for Edee. And what Edee did to transform the dolls was magical.
From all her years designing and sewing the costumes for Paul’s Puppets (not to mention the time she spent teaching costume design at Maryland Institute College of Art), Edee had numerous reference books and material for historical dresses and costumes. Using these, Edee took the dual-haired dolls and created a series of custom dolls to display costumes of the Victorian era, as well as all the notable queens in history. Victorian fashions were very ornate with large skirted dresses. Edee found dresses she liked in Godey’s Lady’s Book – an actual fashion magazine of the mid-1800’s. She needed only to see the dresses in print and she was able to replicate them to perfectly fit these dolls that had ideal dimensions to model the clothes in miniature. Edee used silks, velvets and organza fabrics. Just like with the puppets she crafted for Paul’s Puppets, the dolls were completed with appropriate accessories – such as fans and jewelry and shoes.
The line of “Queens of History” dolls started with Cleopatra and Nefertiti and included Josephine of France, Queen Elizabeth I , Eleanor of Aquitaine and Marie Antoinette. These costumed dolls displayed the fashion true to each woman’s historical time with ermine lined capes and jeweled crowns.
Edee’s skills also included restoring these plastic dolls to usable condition and arranging each dolls’ long brown or yellow locks to match the costuming. Even though all of the dolls had the same face, with the choice between blond and brunette, each doll could be customized to the true look of the character.
These dolls were a labor of love for Edee, who loved creating beautiful things. It always seemed to me during this time in my life that every time we went to visit my grandparents (which had to have been once a week or at least several times a month), Edee had created a new doll. I loved when she would ask if I would like to see her latest fashion model. I wanted to play with these exquisite dolls, of course! But the queens and the stylish women sat high up in her doll room on two long shelves.
My grandparents had many, many fascinating objects and collectables in their home. But these dolls were by far the things I loved the most. Perhaps it was because they appealed to my girly love of beautiful dolls in elegantly crafted clothes. Or perhaps it was because I felt like I was part of the process: helping Bernie find the one-of-a-kind dolls; learning from Edee how she chose and made the costumes; and being the one to truly appreciate the finished collection.
Though Edee’s doll collection was passed down to my sister, I did receive this portion. I have the entire series of Queens and Victorian women dolls. And I get to see them every day.