September 09, 2011

My Favorite Style of Doll

The Ethnology Department houses a collection of dolls that originated among the Alaska Native Cultures. These dolls have been gifted or traded to the museum over the last several decades, and includes dolls recently received in 2010. I was fortunate to be involved with a recent donation of Alaskan Arctic dolls by Dr. Jonathan and Mrs. Ellyn A. Ostrow, which included one of my favorites - a doll with a very expressive leather face.

Untitled, this doll (2010-166/25) was made by Rose Ann Kanrilak of Chevak, probably between 1970 and 1995. This doll has a seal skin face with appliqué nose and eyes and teeth of small beads and I noticed that it is similar to some of the other dolls from Alaska. Arctic dolls can be separated into nine distinct regional doll types according to author Suzi Jones. Included as one of the nine types is the leather-faced doll that is found all over Alaska, but it turns out there is a localized type of leather-faced doll with expressive, whimsical, sometimes funny, features. These dolls come from the community of Chevak.

Inspired by the success of Chevak doll maker Rosalie Paniyak, there are many artists in this village making dolls with sealskin faces, dressed in traditional clothing and engaged in humorous or traditional activities. The Burke Museum has four other dolls from Chevak in its collections by doll makers Rosalie Paniyak (2010-166/20), Ursula Paniyak (1999-37/2 and 2010-166/14) and Annie Hurlbut (2008-85/1). As a group, these dolls are delightful to look, whether carrying a child, nursing a pregnant woman, gathering eggs or just gazing back at the viewer, and they always seem to evoke a smile.

Posted By: Rebecca Andrews, Ethnology

Lee, Molly, ed. 'Not Just a Pretty Face'. 2nd edition. University of Alaska Press. 2006.
Jones, Suzi, ed. 'Eskimo Dolls'. Alaska State Council on the Arts. 1982.