The Columbian Dolls of Emma Adams :
An Artists Perspective
by Susan Fosnot
This article appeared in the Summer 2005 issue of Doll News, the official magazine of the
United Federation of Doll Clubs (UFDC). ODACA has permission to reprint it here to help educate artists and collectors on the history of doll making.
As a teacher and doll maker, the Columbian Doll has fascinated me for many years. I see the Columbian Doll as an artistic ancestor to my own dolls. So when Diane invited me to visit her home and spend a few days with her and her dolls I was thrilled! The trip was over a year in planning. Diane was building a new home in New York State. I live in Illinois. Finally, everything was right, and our visit took place in May of 2004. I could have not have been more excited! I felt I was visiting a celebrity, and I am not sure if that was Diane or her dolls!
I came with paints, brushes and canvas, which spread across the dining room table. Diane got out her photos, and they covered the floor. We had a wonderful time—three days of intense doll exploration. Diane was researching the various faces painted after Emma's death, and I was determined to discover the last secrets of Emma's painting.
I felt certain the color scheme of the original doll face was very simple, although I could not quite tell from photos. I was surprised at just how simple the colors really are. The face of the brown-eyed doll I examined was painted with only two colors, plus black and white. A third color was added for the blonde hair.
The two colors are Burnt Sienna, a burnt orange color, and Rose Madder, a warm red. These two colors added to white create all the delicate pinks of the complexion, as well as the lips and cheeks. I found it interesting that the complexion colors did not match doll to doll, and the extra limbs in Diane's collection also did not match. This shows that the colors were mixed in small batches, and not purchased premixed. Burnt Sienna with a little black was used for the line work and shading, as well as the brown of the eyes. Black was used for the pupils. Yellow Ochre was used for the blonde hair, with the other colors mixed in for variety.
Such a simple color scheme, but handled with such expertise! It is readily apparent that Emma was trained both in portraiture and decorative painting. Her style of painting can be classified as decorative, with a reliance on expert brushwork. All the features are described by elegantly curved lines. There are no clumsy lines in her work. Note the iris of the eye. It is created with one expert tightly curved brushstroke. The eyebrows each are one stroke. Her portrait painting ability shows in the proportions of the face, which are anatomically accurate for a young child. There is a subtle suggestion of a more complex and realistic face, yet the face remains flat and simple—easy for a child to understand.
I found it very interesting that sometimes the whites of the eyes were not painted at all, but left unpainted for the ground (primer) to show. If you look very closely, the white is a bit yellow, and you can see the woven texture of the fabric there. Using the ground this way would leave a dry surface to paint the details of the eye. Even more interesting is that sometimes the whites of the eye are painted. This indicated that Emma varied her methods. I can imagine she started the day applying the basic skin tone to all the dolls she would paint that day, leaving the whites of the eye unpainted. Then she added all the detail work while the paint was still wet. Perhaps she finished up early, so to get a head start on the next day she painted the whites of the eyes on the next dolls. The paint would be dry by the next day, when she would paint the rest of the face.
The features of the face as painted in Emma's mature style are distinctive, and although they vary over time, they are consistent in certain respects.
The Mouth: In over all shape, the lips are full and the mouth has a squarish appearance. The upper lip is wider and longer than the lower lip, and overlaps it -— a feature of baby's' faces. The lower lip is almost rectangular. The upper lip frequently, but not always, has a dip in the middle.
The Nose: Perhaps the most distinctive feature of Emma's faces is the nose. The contours are very round. The nostrils are small and close together. They are connected in a "Y" shape. The tail of the "Y" extends below the nose to indicate the little pleat between nose and lips. The line never goes all the way to the lips. There are no lines to indicate a raised bridge of the nose. The bridge of the nose is flattened on the faces of young children, making this omission a realistic detail.
The Eyes: Eyes are almond shaped. There is no line above the eye indicating the upper eyelid. There are no eyelashes. The iris is very round and large, as a child's would be. The pupil is large and high inside the iris. The inside of the iris is often lighter near the center, and there are highlights on either side of the pupil. A short diagonal line is at the corner of each eye. I believe this indicates the little crease in the skin under the eye often seen in a baby's face.
The Hair: The front of the hair makes good use of large brush strokes to indicate the texture. The back is more crudely painted on the example I examined, and was probably finished by another person.
All in all, the effect of the face is of a young child who is cheerful and alert. It is easy to imagine a little girl choosing this doll to be her constant companion. The Columbian would have been a good friend, always ready for any adventure. I can easily envision tea parties on grandma's porch, or an exciting hour of dare devil tricks on the swing!