Multicultural Art Gallery exhibit shows local artists' doll collection
March 14, 2007
By Melissa Evans
As you peer into the glass on the second floor of the Multicultural Center Art Gallery, 74 sets of eyes look back at you. Faces of miniature sports fans, pop stars and fortune tellers representing all cultures quietly sit side-by side, unflinching. The collection of dolls from around the world is the latest exhibit at the gallery. "We are all One in Dolls," features historical and contemporary dolls from the collection of local artist Tanya Thompson.
"When you look at the details of a doll, I think it says a lot about society at large," Thompson says, noting the changes in the depictions of minorities as dolls throughout the decades.
Her favorite, Joan the Bride, shows this evolution. Thompson received the doll as a Christmas present in 1955. At that time, dolls that represented African Americans had purplish skin and were generally unattractive, she says. Joan, however, with her deep brown skin and delicate features, demonstrates a progression toward showing the beauty of African-American women.
Sitting on a pedestal in the front of the exhibit is another of Thompson's favorites. "Charlie Brown" sits about three feet tall and wears a cowboy hat -- a hat that was Thompson's brother's as a child. Thompson bought Charlie at Random House in Athens and keeps him in her home year round, changing the American flag that he now holds to shamrocks, valentines and other seasonal accessories.
The black paint of his face and hands is beginning to chip, showing the original brown hue of his skin. Thompson says she was warned when she purchased Charlie that the paint job would lower his resale value, but she didn't mind.
"I just had to have it," she says. "Anyway, who would sell him?"
Among Thompson's other most prized dolls are "New Orleans," a mammy who, at 92, is the oldest in the collection; "Cala," who is named after her husband's cousin and made by her mother; and "Pearl," who, with her misfit dress and fancy shoes, Thompson calls the "poor girl turned princess."
Modern dolls on display include Cabbage Patch kids, a Michael Jackson action figure, Pee Wee Herman, and African-American versions of Raggedy Ann and Andy.
The collection has never been shown in a gallery before and Thompson says she is happy to share her passion with the Ohio University community.
"We really are all one in dolls," Thompson says. "It doesn't matter what your background is; it's about what comes from the heart."
Winsome Chunnu, assistant director of the Multicultural Center, is just as pleased to show off the collection.
"It was really fascinating because we've never done this kind of art before," Chunnu says. "Art is more than hanging art. It's more than painting or sculpture."
"We are all One in Dolls," runs until the end of March.
Melissa Evans is a student writer with University Communications and Marketing