Thursday, April 5, 2018

Bertabel's Mary McLeod Bethune Found Me

Mary McLeod Bethune, a Bertabel's Doll by I. Roberta Bell, 1969
Made in 1969 by I. Roberta Bell, this 17-inch portrait doll of Mary McLeod Bethune, entered the collection in February of this year.  The purchase motivated me to complete my formerly dormant article on Mrs. Bell.  As indicated in my prior post on Bell's Pedlar Doll, research on the Bell article commenced in 2013.  Now completed, a link to the said article is provided below, but please allow me to first introduce you to Mary McLeod Bethune.

Part of the I. Roberta Bell/Berta Bell's Black Americans series, later called African American Heritage Dolls, the portrait doll of Mary McLeod Bethune was the second doll in the series.  Mrs. Bell made several African American Heritage series sets, each of which contained 26 dolls.


This doll has distinctive facial features similar to Mrs. Bethune, who was an educator, civil rights activist, and founder of Bethune-Cookman College (now Bethune-Cookman University).  This historically black college (now university) is located in Daytona Beach, Florida.



Sculpted in porcelain with sawdust-filled tan cloth body, the doll has clenched hands.  According to the artist, Bethune talked with her hands clenched.  The eyes are painted brown.  Her gray hair is pulled back with the sides and ends rolled and tucked.


The Bethune doll is dressed in a two-piece heather gray flannel suit, pink crepe blouse with lace embellishment, straw hat, tan taffeta undergarments, knee-high stockings, and black vinyl shoes.  Pinned to the lapel of her coat is a lavender flower. 

Ms. Bethune died the year I was born, but well into my teens, I was reminded of her existence and contributions to the African American community through classroom studies and books I read on my own about past African American historical leaders.  


While packing the doll for shipment to me, the seller found the above newspaper clipping which had been tucked inside the doll's jacket.  (This is something that we, as collectors, do for future reference and/or to enhance our information about a doll.)  

Formerly owned by a woman who inherited her mother's collection, I was contacted by email to inquire if I had any interest in the doll.  After the transaction was completed and the doll arrived in beautiful, near pristine condition, I wrote the former owner to let her know I was pleased and asked how she found me.  Her reply was,

I am so glad Mary arrived safe and sound!  I just did a search for “who would buy Mary McLeod Bethune dolls” online and that’s how I found your black dolls blog.  I found your email at the bottom of the first page.  So happy to pass on one of my mom’s dolls to someone that will love her just as much!
And I do... I love her very much and have honored the woman who made her, I. Roberta Bell, in a three-part article which can be read on my Ebony-Essence of Dolls in Black blog here!

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