Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Bully Good!

Our holiday displays have attracted a tribe of Native American dolls to Castle in the Air. Some of these adorable and intriguing figures are from the Skookum line of souvenir dolls, which were popular in the American West from the 1920s into the 1960s. Others are ingenious mimics inspired by the success of Skookum.

Skookum dolls were first made in the the 1910s by Mary McAboy of Montana. She used apples for the dolls heads, pinching them into faces as they dried and adding black pins for eyes. The bodies were made of blocks of wood or stuffed muslin sacks, then adorned with horse (or sometimes human) hair, blankets, and jewelry and other accessories. McAboy's production was a cottage industry until 1920, when she partnered with H.H. Tammen Co. of Denver, Colorado, to meet the growing demand for the dolls. Tammen used plastic and other materials instead of McAboy's homespun components, but the spirit of the dolls was retained.

We love the skeptical sidelong glances on their faces. Legend has it that the dolls who look to their right have the power to grant health and recovery. The ones who peer left are imbued with the opposite mojo.

And just what is a "Skookum?" In McAboy's day, "skookum" was a popular word in the American Northwest. It originated with Chinook traders as a means of describing quality merchandise. Anything "skookum" could also be said to be "bully good!"

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