Saturday, July 23, 2022

An Interview With Myla Perkins Part 1 of 3

An Interview With Myla Perkins

Trailblazing Black-Doll Enthusiast, Doll Historian, and Author

by Debbie Behan Garrett

Myla Perkins, circa 1990

The author of Black Dolls an Identification and Value Guide 1820 to 1991 (Black Dolls) and Black Dolls an Identification and Value Guide Book II (Black Dolls Book II) granted this exclusive interview. Myla Perkins’ books continue to offer a wealth of information on antique, vintage, and modern Black dolls made from 1820 through the early 1990s. Her journey to become one of America’s most prominent and respected Black-doll enthusiasts, historians, and authors is explored in this in-depth interview.

Myla Perkins spent decades collecting and researching dolls, but her love of dolls dates back to her childhood. She had always liked dolls as a little girl. Born in Pueblo, Colorado in 1939, her family moved to Detroit, Michigan when she was seven after her parents sold the Colorado home and its contents. Her father moved to Detroit first. Six months later, the rest of the family followed. Before the mother and her daughters joined the girls’ father, Myla’s mother allowed them to only bring one thing on the two-day train trip. Myla brought her last doll, and her sister brought her doll. Both dolls were White. This was in the early 1940s, and Myla, like many Black children during that era, did not know Black dolls existed. Myla’s love of dolls began when her mother allowed them to bring their dolls to Detroit. She also recognized the importance of dolls at that time.

After the family moved to Detroit, young Myla still had that doll. For Christmas, she and her sister received many toys, but the dolls remained the most important gifts because of that one doll she brought from Colorado.

During her teen years, Myla's mother tried to persuade her to give her dolls to her younger cousins. She allowed her mother to give some away, but she kept the one she brought from Colorado hidden in her closet with the last doll she received at age 11. The dolls remained hidden until she married. After marrying, Myla’s mother still did not know she had those two dolls. She would have made her give them away if she had known. Myla explained, “I graduated from college at 21 in June and got married in July (we met in college). My husband laughed when I unpacked. Astounded, he asked, ‘What are these dolls?’’’ Two years later, after their first daughter was born, Myla gave her two childhood dolls to her daughter. She displayed the dolls that began her daughter’s collection on shelves in the infant's nursery. Myla began buying dolls for her daughter to add to the others. “I’ve always been interested in genealogy, by the time she was three or four, I thought, she has my dolls from my childhood, and she has her dolls. I want her to have a doll from the period of my mother’s childhood, the 1920s.”

A bisque doll made in Germany, circa 1900 by Simon & Halbig #1358 is featured on a Sugar ‘n Spice Doll Museum note card. (Myla referred to her doll collection as the Sugar 'n Spice Doll Museum.)

Myla began going to antique shops to find antique dolls from the 1920s for her daughter. The first ones she saw and purchased were White. Later during a search, she stumbled upon a Black Simon & Halbig doll in a shop. When she found that doll, all of a sudden something snapped. Myla realized she was not buying dolls for her daughter anymore; she was actually buying them for herself. That was a turnaround in her thinking.

In her first Black Dolls book, Myla wrote, “#1358, the most desired of the Simon & Halbigs because of its Negroid features, came in various shades from deep black to light brown in a size range from 15” tall to 34” tall…”

During the late 1960s, she became more involved with antique dolls, and she met doll artist/doll dealer Betty Formaz, who later discovered Leo Moss dolls. By this time, Myla had stopped buying antique White dolls in favor of antique Black dolls. Later, she joined the United Federation of Doll Clubs (UFDC), an organization that unites and organizes doll collectors around the world ("About UFDC").

Myla shared the following experience about joining UFDC:

“In the 1960s, UFDC in Detroit did not allow Black members. Betty Formaz was a member along with two or three of her other customers. She and the other members told UFDC, ‘Either you let Myla in, or we are all withdrawing our membership.’ So, [Betty Formaz] put herself on the line for me. There were about two or three others who did the same thing. So, UFDC did let me in and they were very nice, very gracious. The other women who threatened to withdraw their membership if UFDC did not allow me to join were part of our nucleus group.”

This group photograph of paper mâché dolls by Leo Moss from the 1800s and early 1900s is from the cover of a Sugar ‘n Spice Doll Museum note card.


According to Myla, Betty later discovered the Moss family in Macon, Georgia, and brought some Leo Moss dolls back to Detroit. After her first trip to Georgia, Betty returned with only five or six Moss dolls because that is all the family would allow her to bring back. Because the dolls were Black, Betty let Myla, her only Black customer, choose her favorite. Myla chose Mina, the doll in the Moss group photo above seated on the right, above the seated boy. The rest of the nucleus group purchased the other initial Moss dolls from Betty.

Perkins has delighted in meeting several wonderful doll collectors, artists, and others who were deeply involved in the doll community. While attending her first UFDC National Convention in 1973 in Louisville, Kentucky from August 1st through August 5th, she met the late Lenon Holder Hoyte. Mrs. Hoyte founded Aunt Len's Doll and Toy Museum in Harlem, New York. Before 1973, Hoyte had been the only Black person to attend UFDC national conventions. Hoyte and Perkins were happy to see one another the first year Myla attended. Myla recalled Hoyte asking her what she brought for the UFDC doll competition. “A doll from the turn of the century,” was Myla’s reply. Because she respected Hoyte, Myla took her to her room to see the doll after Hoyte asked to see it. When Hoyte looked at Mina, the Leo Moss doll, she voiced her displeasure stating that the doll was disgraceful! More unpleasant comments from Hoyte about Mina followed with an attempt to talk Myla out of entering the doll in competition. Second thoughts about entering the doll ensued before Myla discussed the situation with her husband by phone, who said, “She didn’t buy your plane ticket there. She is not paying for your hotel. Do what you want to do in your heart.” When Myla went down to enter Mina in the competition, she said, “Who did I see standing in line… Lenon looked at me [saw the doll] and asked, ‘You’re still doing that?’” Fortunately, for the doll community, Myla followed her heart and did just that.

Mina was photographed at the UFDC 24th National Convention in August 1973 after winning 1st and 4th place ribbons.

Mina introduced Leo Moss dolls to the doll community after being entered in the baby doll category and winning a 1st place ribbon. After Mina placed first in the baby doll category, Myla said, “Lenon Hoyte was the first person in my room wanting to know where I got Mina, how did I get it, and how could she get something like it.” Myla documented Mina's UFDC convention wins in Black Dolls and indicated that Mina "was the first Leo Moss doll to win a ribbon in national competition" where "there were over 1,800 dolls" competing. During the interview, Myla shared that no other Black dolls were in competition at the convention that year.

After Mina won 1st place in the baby doll category and 4th best doll in the show, UFDC became interested in the doll and asked for more information about it. Myla shared a booklet she wrote about Leo Moss dolls with UFDC that was published in the Doll News issue that followed the convention (possibly the September 1973 issue). In 1973, Doll News was published monthly. It is now a quarterly publication.

Continue reading here.