Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Notecard Memory Leads to Discovery

A drawn child wearing an orange fabric romper is on the cover of a framed notecard designed by illustrator and fabric creator, Freda L. Thomas ©1991.

As I was dusting the items on the bookshelf where this framed notecard is usually displayed, I noticed the corner of what appeared to be an envelope protruding from the back of the framed notecard.

The corner of a folded envelope was visible on the back of the frame.

I opened the back of the frame to examine the envelope when I rediscovered the written note dated January 25, 2009, from the late Ms. Lillian Bartok of New York.

Ms. Bartok and I had communicated by mail over a five-year period at the time the card was received and for several years afterward.  Whenever she saw articles on Black dolls or learned of Black-doll events and exhibitions, Ms. Bartok would mail the information to me to share with others.

Unframed, this is the front of the notecard.  The illustrator's unique use of hand-dyed fabric for the hand-drawn child's romper heightened my appreciation for the artwork.
The little girl on the notecard has an expression that is similar to the expression captured in a photograph of my daughter that was taken when she was three, as illustrated in the next photo.

Daughter at age 3 in a photo taken at kindergarten.  The girl's expression and my daughter's expression are similar.  My daughter is smiling but not really wanting to smile at the stranger taking the photograph.

For years, the notecard was kept with the other correspondence received from Ms. Bartok until I decided to frame it in a resin frame which has my favorite Bible scripture incised on it.  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  Philippians 4:17.

The beautifully handwritten note from Ms. Bartok reads as follows:
                         January 25, 2009

Dear Debbie,
     The thrill of January 20th is still in the air.  It has raised hopes and answered some of our prayers.
      In the same week the mail brings me my copy of Doll magazine and I find several articles in this issue by one of our favorite Black Doll  advocates.  I hope this year will continue to enrich our lives. 
I must thank you for your contributions to the history of dolls and especially Black Dolls which as you know are African American history!
     Debbie, you are to be commended for really making a difference.
     I wish the NAACP would give you one of their Image Awards!  You certainly deserve it.
     Stay well and may God grant you a long and healthy life!
                          Lillian Bartok

The February 2009 issue of DOLLS magazine (which was probably in the hands of subscribers in January 2009), contains two articles I wrote.  These are the articles I believe Ms. Bartok referred to in her kind note written on the beautiful notecard designed by Freda L. Thomas.  The back of the card is shown next.

According to the artist's LinkedIn page, Ms. Thomas no longer creates these beautiful cards.

In 2017, I was saddened to learn of Ms. Bartok's transition.  Shortly after learning of her death, I made copies of all her mailings and created a tribute board that was sent to Ms. Ellen Ferebee of Morrisania Doll Society.  The board was displayed during a Harlem tribute to Ms. Bartok and other collectors who had recently passed.

The above text was part of a tribute board created in honor of Ms. Lillian M. Bartok.

While writing this post, I was pleased to discover that Ms. Bartok's dolls were donated to the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center (NAAMCC) in Wilberforce, Ohio, where the exhibition, Playing with Identity, Selections from the Lillian M. Bartok Black Doll Collection was introduced on Saturday, April 20, 2019.  The Facebook page dedicated to the exhibition reads partly:

Lillian M. Bartok was a doll collector who believed in the importance of preserving Black dolls because they show how African American identity has changed over time.

I can attest to the fact that she believed in preserving Black doll literature because, for nearly a decade, she shared it with me.  I attempted to contact the NAAMCC to inquire if Ms. Bartok's collection is a permanent installation but was unable to reach anyone who could provide an answer.  I visited the museum's Facebook page where the following three images from Ms. Bartok's donated collection are posted in separate status updates.

Ms. Bartok was a collector after my own heart.  Her collection illustrates the progression of Black dolls -- from stereotypical caricatures to contemporary dolls by African American doll artists.  There are even some playline dolls in the mix.  If you are in the Wilberforce, Ohio area, an inquiry and/or trip to the museum to view the 800-doll donation of Ms. Lillian M. Bartok should be rewarding.

Related Links
Scroll to the bottom of this link to see more dolls from the Lillian M. Bartok Collection.
Playing with Identity-Lillian M. Bartok Black Doll Collection


There are countless items to collect and write about. Black dolls chose me.

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  1. Thanks for sharing this post about Ms Bartok.
    Your daughter and the little girl on the card sure have the same expression on their face.


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