"Growing up a preacher's kid in the '50s, we could not afford McCall's Magazine. When my mother went visiting, I would search out these. If I found one, I would open it to the paper dolls and stare at it until the lady of the house asked me if I wanted them. I acquired quite a collection."
Last Saturday, doll collectors from five states attended the Northwest Arkansas Heirloom Doll Club Luncheon, where they were reminded of why paper dolls enjoyed such popularity for decades.
"We are inviting you to step back into your childhood," said Judy Giggey, emcee.
Paper dolls were the theme of this year's luncheon at the Inn of the Ozarks Conference Center. For the program, Carolyn Williams gave a brief biography of Grace Drayton, an artist, author and illustrator in the 1900s. Grace's first husband worked in Campbell Soups' advertising department. In 1904, he brought home a campaign he was working on. Grace added drawings of two round-cheeked children and the Campbell Kids were born. Each luncheon guest received a hand-crafted souvenir: a paper-style wooden doll of Dolly Dingle, a comic character designed by Drayton, with outfits that fit on pegs.
Judy Priester presented a history of paper dolls, which originated in the court of France, then became an inexpensive way to show Paris fashions. Their popularity spread to England and Germany when cheap paper became available and scissors a common household tool, Priester said. Movie stars -- Shirley Temple, Elizabeth Taylor -- were popular, as were the English royal family.
"Between 1908 and 1943, 40 magazines printed paper dolls," she said.
Among those brought for a display: a young Golda Meir paper doll in the Famous Women series and a Japanese paper doll version of the friendship dolls exchanged between girls in Japan and the United States in the 1930s. Paper dolls with matching real dolls included the Dionne Quintuplets in their carriage. Charlotte Barts, a former doll club member who lives in St. Louis, won one of the door prizes: a Lady GaGa paper doll with outre outfits.
"Paper dolls provide a broad view of culture around the world," Priester said. "They are a record of fashions, attitudes and occupations."
The highlight of the luncheon was a parade of living paper dolls by members, who modeled ball gowns, a wedding dress, a hula skirt and top, a bathing costume and other apparel, all made of card stock. The last model was dressed as Bleuette, a French girl whose doll, Becassine, will be the focus of next year's luncheon on Sept. 14.
An empty chair was left for Becky Wallace of Bartlesville, Okla., a doll club member who passed away in June. One of Wallace's hats was set at her place.
The youngest guest at the luncheon was 7-year-old Laura Watkins of Rogers, the guest of her aunt, Jennepher Marshall of Huntsville. Laura, who has attended the luncheon every year since she was 1 year old, brought her doll Andrea, because, she explained, Andrea is always well-behaved.
The Northwest Arkansas Heirloom Doll Club meets at 10 a.m. on the second Wednesday of the month at First Christian Church, 763 Passion Play Road, Eureka Springs, or at members' houses. Guests welcome.