Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Formaz Four

Leo Moss-type dolls by Betty Formaz circa 1980s

Whenever someone asks me, "What is your Holy Grail?" with reference to a desired doll, my answer remains, "an original Leo Moss doll." As noted in an earlier post about this 1800s-born Black man from Macon, Georgia, he made dolls in the likeness of family, friends, and on commission from the 1890s through 1930s. Moss dolls sell for several thousand dollars today, which is the reason I do not own an original.

The woman credited for bringing Moss dolls to the attention of the doll community during the 1970s, a collector and doll artist herself, is Betty Formaz.  She later began reproducing his dolls, many with the signature tears that Moss gave his dolls.  Formaz (now deceased) is said to have met one of Moss's daughters, Ruby, during the 1970s, from whom she purchased several originals.

My first Formaz doll was found on Ruby Lane in January of 2013 and featured here.  My second Formaz doll, which has not been discussed on my blog because it is part of a submitted article about his dolls, was purchased on eBay in June of 2013.  I have communicated off and on with the same eBay seller since that purchase.  She recently informed me that she had other Moss reproductions by Formaz to sell and sent me photos of four different dolls. These four now reside with me.  A collage photo of the group of four is the first photo.  Additional photographs and details about the four follow.


This 15-1/2-inch boy wears a green velour cap, matching overalls, blue
and gold knit turtleneck and brown real leather shoes.  He has a firmly stuffed brown cloth body and the Moss signature teardrops.  It is said when Leo Moss sculpted a doll in the likeness of a baby or young child, if the subject cried during the process, the tears were added. Another reason cited is that Moss began adding the tears to many of his dolls after his wife ran off with a white traveling toy salesman from whom Moss had purchased doll parts.  His wife took with her their youngest child, leaving the rest of the children behind with Moss.  I am inclined to believe the first reason, which reportedly was told to Formaz by Moss's daughter, Ruby.

This boy has black molded curly hair.  The head, upper arms, hands, lower legs and feet are made of a composition-type material.  The brown eyes are sculpted into the mold.  His sad mouth is open, exposing the tip of his tongue.


A set of 15-inch twins, a boy and a girl, dressed in coordinating red outfits have identical head sculpts cast in porcelain.   Their head sculpts are also the same as the overall-clad boy's sculpt.  Their differences from the boy include their darker complexion, frowning eye brows, and black knit material used for their bodies, arms, legs and feet.  Only their heads and hands are porcelain.

Like the first boy, the twins have black sculptured curly hair. 


The fourth doll is a 16-inch full-body porcelain girl with ball and string joints.  Her head sculpt is identical to the doll Formaz named Ruby (possibly named after Leo Moss's daughter), which is featured on page 315 of Black Dolls an Identification and Value Guide by Myla Perkins (Collector Books 1995).  An identical male doll by Formaz, named Leo, is also identified in Perkins' book (most probably named after Leo Moss.)  My doll has brown inset eyes, tear-stained cheeks with one teardrop underneath each eye, and a down turned sad mouth. The hair is a black wig of soft curls.  She wears a lavender Dotted Swiss dress, off-white slip and pantaloons, white knee-high socks, white shoes, and a lavender straw hat embellished with flowers.

While these four and my other Moss reproductions are not the real thing, I remain hopeful that I will one day own an authentic Leo Moss doll.

An an in-depth article on Leo Moss dolls resulting from months of research, can be read here.

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6 comments:

  1. Awww! They make you want to cry and then they make you want to say "there there."

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    1. As a rule I don't like sad dolls, but there are always exceptions.

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  2. What wonderful dolls...they are so expressive and full of emotion! I hope you are able to own an original one some day. You never know, you could find one in a thrift shop or garage sale where the owner didn't realize their history or value!

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    1. I hope so too, Farrah Lily! There's one out there with my name on it.

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  3. The dolls are wonderful,your blogs are always wonderful. Yvonne

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Thank you! Your comments are appreciated!