Monday, September 5, 2016

Through the Eyes of Leo Moss: His Story, His Dolls Part 4 of 4

His Story, His Dolls

Resourceful talent, courage, single parenthood, and an apparent caring nature are adjectives that might easily describe the man behind the original Leo Moss dolls.  His dolls became an inspiration for Formaz and Quintano, who replicated his work.   Through his gifted hands, the collecting community inherited black dolls handcrafted in America decades before most doll makers began creating respectful representations of black people.  Through the eyes of Leo Moss, three-dimensional, one-of-a-kind, historically significant, ethnically correct, invaluable, American-made works of doll art remain.  Through his vision exists black dolls with perfectly proportioned eyes, noses, and mouths, dolls with thick textured hair that adequately reflect the children and adults who inspired their creation.  Other black dolls made during the time Moss created dolls were brown versions of their white counterparts, brown or black caricatures with grossly exaggerated facial features, and those made in Europe with features that clearly distinguish them from white dolls except for the use of unrealistic, straight-hair wigs.  In essence, in doll form, Moss singlehandedly and accurately captured the facial bone structure, skin tone, and hair texture of people who looked like him. 

Mystique, however, surrounds their introduction to the doll community some forty years after Moss made his last known doll in the early 1930s, which is said to have been a portrait doll of one of his granddaughters.  (How did Formaz become acquainted with the Moss familyWere some of her dolls created from molds of Moss dolls?  What inspired Quintano to make Moss doll replicas?)  These questions, among others, regarding Leo Moss and his dolls remain unanswered as efforts to gain additional information from reliable sources were either impossible or unsuccessful. 

What has been documented is Mr. Moss, a black man, made dolls in the Macon, Georgia area for some 40 years while modern America emerged from the industrial era.  With this being so, Moss made dolls during the American presidential terms of Benjamin Harrison, Grover Cleveland, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover.  It is also factual that dolls attributed to Leo Moss have sold for thousands in today’s market; decent replicas exist; and he is celebrated today for his contributions to the doll world.  

It is also known that, while America progressed from industrialization to modernization, life for most American blacks and for women and children of any color was not equal to that of white males of any political or socioeconomic status during 1890 through 1930.  Child labor existed in America; women had few rights, and blacks had even fewer.   Certainly any creativity these oppressed groups possessed during these times served as an escape from the harsh reality of their limited access to civil rights and wealth.   Their resourcefulness and use of on-hand materials was often a must to survive.   During this period, Mr. Moss realized the need for black dolls as adequate representations of black people and utilized his untrained artistic ability to fashion them from scraps, soot, and doll parts. 

In his lifetime, Mr. Moss unfortunately never realized the true value and appreciation of his dolls.   In fact, in recent years, in small segments of the doll community, questions regarding the authenticity of his dolls and questions regarding his actual existence have been raised by skeptics!   (Was there actually a Leo Moss who made dolls during the late-1800s through 1930s, or was his existence fabricated for ill-gotten gains?
This teary-eyed Leo Moss character doll sold at auction in July 2015 for 17,000!

As documented in BD book 1, Leo Moss was a real person who died a pauper in 1936 and was buried in an unmarked grave.  As noted, descendants or others who knew him were unreachable at the time of this article to verify this documentation.   Therefore, his dolls and the amounts they continue to command at auction will have to stand as proof.

While owning Moss dolls can certainly generate immeasurable exuberance, in spite of any skepticism from nonbelievers, Mr. Moss’s personal losses and heartbreaking end-of-life circumstances can surely stimulate empathy from those who do believe.   Moss devotees view the new shroud of mystery surrounding the questions of his existence and the authenticity of his originals as unfounded speculation that does not tarnish his legacy or decrease the value of his dolls.  This is his story.  These are his dolls.

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On  June 8, 2014, Dr. Steve Eilenberg, a diagnostic radiologist, who has studied nonbiological artifacts with x-ray and CT scanning, documented in a blog post, the results of x-ray and CT scan imaging of three Leo Moss dolls.  The dolls were on loan at the time to the Mingei International Museum in California as part of their exhibition, Black Dolls from the Collection of Deborah Neff.  The intriguing results of Dr. Eilenberg's imaging investigation of Leo Moss dolls and his commentary can be read and viewed here.
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The largest collection of Leo Moss dolls ever assembled will be included in the I See Me:  Reflections of Black Dolls exhibition at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan from September 20, 2016 through April 30, 2017.  Leo Moss enthusiasts will be fascinated not only by viewing but by being in the presence of his original dolls.

References
Black Dolls an Identification and Value Guide 1820 – 1991 by Myla Perkins
Black Dolls an Identification and Value Guide Book II by Myla Perkins
Doll Reader February/March 1985, page 29, photo of Moss self-portrait doll, courtesy of Dolls magazine
America in the 20th Century: The Progressive Era
Dan Morphy Auctions, LLC (October 23, 2010):  http://www.auctionflex.com/showlot.ap?co=31120&weiid=5126703
The Collection of Lenon Holder Hoyte Exhibited as “Aunt Len’s Doll and Toy Museum” (Sotheby’s 1994 catalog)
Theriault’s Antique Doll Auctions (July 9, 2006):   https://www.theriaults.com/sites/default/files/lot_images/cat-1066_114_0.jpg

3 comments:

  1. What a great article! I find Mr. Moss's dolls lovely and fascinating. The link to the Cat scan article was really cool. I did not know he used existing dolls to build his faces on. Thank you.

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    1. Thanks, April for reading! It's amazing what we might find when we look under the surface.

      dbg

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  2. , I love the article it was very educational excellent job baby as usual Yvonne

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Thank you for reading and for sharing your thoughts.