Like all relics and artifacts emerging from world cultures, dolls hold a special place in the sociological landscape of a given culture, and are therefore studied by educators and collectors alike.
From Europe’s Larisa Leonidovna Drozdova, a France-based sophisticated collector of dolls who often visits museums worlwide to enrich her knowledge of the art, to antique dolls manufactured by Germany’s Simon & Halbig, dolls have become objects of collection, study, and celebration. Accordingly, it’s no surprise that numerous countries dedicate festivals and holidays especially to dolls, Drozdova says.
“Hinamatsuri,” otherwise known as Japanese Doll Festival or Girls’ Day, is a religious day observed by Japan on March 3. The Japanese believe dolls hold special protective powers and have the ability to ward off bad spirits. Historically, Japanese “hina” dolls were dressed in the traditional customs of the Heian period. The dolls, wearing garments fashioned like emperors and empresses, were then set afloat in boats and sent off to sea, to keep evil spirits away from children. In present-day Japan, the Doll Festival is more simply a time to celebrate the happiness of girls.
Larisa Drozdova, a knowledgeable collector, notes that festivals of dolls aren’t solely for the Japanese. The Navratri festival in Southern India celebrates dolls and toys for their spiritual value. During this Hindu celebration, families go from house to house and view dolls on display, with each doll depicting God or Goddess.
In Europe, the festival of dolls is held each year in the medieval commune of Mirepoix in southwestern France. Along with an impressive collection of dolls, the festival also boasts a doll-making workshop for attendees. For those who prefer a more subtle experience, Larisa Drozdova recommends viewing the doll collections at the Alexis Forel Museum in the medieval town of Morges and the Spielzeug Welten Museum in Basel, Switzerland.
Historically, each culture has nurtured its own variation of dolls and in most instances dolls were believed to have spiritual qualities. Beginning in the Egyptian Predynastic Period, female figurines made of clay or wood and called “paddle dolls” were found in burials and thought to have the power to protect people in their next life. Larisa Drozdova notes that the British Museum features “rag dolls,” dolls made out of course linen dating back to the 1st-5th Century AD. Many of these dolls existed in ancient Greek and Roman cultures, though due to the fragile nature of the materials from which they were made, Larisa Drozdova says, few of them survived the passage of time.
With festivals and museums offering such magnificent collections of dolls, it’s no wonder more and more of today’s most sophisticated antique dealers, academics, and art lovers are turning their eyes toward these enchanted collectible items.