Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Pedlar Doll by I. Roberta Bell

Pedlar Doll by I. Roberta Bell, 1986.

Purchased in March 2014, this 15-inch doll with hand-sculpted porcelain face was made by I. Roberta Bell in 1986.
Named "Pedlar Doll" by the artist, she has porcelain lower arms and hands and sawdust-filled light brown cloth body, legs, and feet.  A label that reads "Certified NIADA Doll" is on the doll's stomach.



Her eyes are painted brown.  Her gray hair is pulled back into a bun.  



Pedlar Doll wears permanently-placed black stud earrings, black satin dress, white apron, white slip, white pantaloons over white tights, and black mock-laced shoes.  Her burnt orange cape, lined in black, is made of flannel.

Because she represents a pedlar (one who, more chiefly in the nineteenth century, would go from place to place or house to house selling small items), she holds a basket of wares.  Note that Bell used the British spelling of "pedlar," more commonly spelled, peddler.  According to the Strong National Museum of Play, pedlar dolls were popular between 1820 to 1860.


Inside this pedlar's basket, which hangs from her neck by a gold cord, are a toy truck, white Victorian-style porcelain doll, plastic hammer, and utensils.  From the sides of the basket hang a figure of a sleeping man wearing a sombrero, a plastic car, false teeth, pan and skillet, and three pairs of plastic scissors.


Text on the inside of the hang tag certifies that Mrs. Bell was a member of the National Institute of American Doll Artists (NIADA), an organization of esteemed artists of handmade dolls.

"Pedlar Doll" is written on the front of her hang tag.  The inside reads, "Bertabel's Dolls by I. Roberta Bell, Artist Member, National Institute of American Doll Artists" (typed) and handwritten, "250. 4-1986 age 82."  The number 250 might have been the doll's original price.  4-1986 indicates the month and year the doll was made at Mrs. Bell's age 82.

This doll, whose ethnicity is ambiguous, has been patiently waiting for me to write and publish this post.  Doing so was delayed because my plan was to include her in an article about Mrs. Bell that I began researching in 2013.  The purpose of the said article is to contribute to the dearth of online information available about the artist.  Because that article will soon be published on my Ebony-Essence of Dolls in Black blog, this post on Pedlar Doll was published.



In an undated image that accompanied Pedlar Doll, Mrs. Bell, second from left, is seen at a doll exhibit sponsored by Guys & Gals Funtastique Doll Club.

Please stay tuned to learn more about I. Roberta Bell, a remarkable woman, an educator, a collector turned doll artist, who, in the 1960s, began using her dolls to teach Black history in her Chicago classrooms and community.


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