Always coming back to the nights as a little girl staying with grandmother and grandfather McGath, that room that had been my father and aunts’ room … the room where the bed fit into a perfect little alcove surrounded by shelves of dolls. I was at once comforted and terrified every time I slept over there, invariably ending up between my smokey grandfather and my cold-creamed grandmother. I was always comforted upon first lying down, there beneath these hundreds of doll eyes staring at me, around me, through me, then my comfort turned to terror and paranoia. I also think these nights with my granparents were very formative in what seems now to be an obsession of sorts about the life of the Doll. My maternal grandmother was also a fairly avd collector of dolls. The active making of dolls on the part of my grandmother Foley-McGath and the active purchasing of dolls on the part of my grandmother Woods-Kirtley, also demonstrates a kind of cultural difference present in my family tree — that of the sad and struggling Irish versuses the afflulency of the British side of my family tree.
Now in graduate school again … taking a class on the archive in research and art, I feel great nervous excitement knowing we are meeting as a class in an archive in Chicago in the morning. I desire my project to be one of poetry and the lives of doll collectors. Something that could very easily continue and become my Masters thesis.
While working in the SAIC library last week, shelving books and feeling exhausted and drained and rather depressed, a book literally jumped off the shelf at me. This is not the first time books have jumped out at me and ended up being about a subject that has become significant to me.
It is a slim book about a man named Morton Bartlett … the book was called Family Found by Marion Harris. It is the story of a self-taught artist, a Boston man in the early-mid 20th century who was an orphan and always alone throughout his life, save for his doll creations. He constructed the dolls (learning his technique through trial and error, not formal art training) and photographed in contexts that to me beckon family photographs. The image above is a doll by Bartlett. I am very much intrigued by Bartlett and plan to go to Boston this spring or summer to further research this man, the man behind these amazing companionable creations.
But I guess the general notions of my research project, my archive project, is one of collectors and collecting, our affinity to the comforts of dolls. How something grasping to be human brings out our own humanity.
Hoping for an intriging and prolific morning at the Newberry Library archives.