If you find yourself in the San Deigo area in the near future, you may want to get to the Mingei International Museum where a very interesting collection will be on display. Deborah J. Neff, a toy collector in suburban Connecticut, has hundreds of antique cloth dolls. They all depict African-Americans and were hand made between 1850 and 1930. Little information has survived about their backgrounds and original owners. About 125 of these dolls and photos of people playing with them, are on display.
Frank Maresca, editor of the Mingei show’s catalog, said that Neff dolls “were made with dignity and love.” Ms. Neff explains that her collection came from about a hundred sources from flea markets and high-end antique shows to other places. One of the dolls has “an inked inscription on her torso from a St. Louis mother to her son dated Christmas 1879.” Ms. Neff wants to keep the dolls together “permanently in a public collection.”
But for the moment, she is not ready to give them up. She misses them already since they’ve been shipping temporarily to San Diego.