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Not all dolls are for playing

The dozen members of the Pear Blossom Doll Club insist they do not play with the dolls in their huge collections.

They research, learn about doll types and doll artists who create them, go to doll conventions, sew doll clothing from patterns in doll magazines and, with their wealth of knowledge, they take turns at their monthly meetings, making presentations to their doll-loving friends.

“People think we come together to play with dolls,” says club President Donna Botwell, “but research is our foremost goal. We also don’t have doll houses. That’s another whole thing.”

Of course, they played with dolls when they were little girls, but many got into the fad when they were offered big bucks for a doll and, because of the nostalgic value, they turned it down.

“Well, I do play with them a little bit, secretly,” whispers Betty Clement. She’s the owner of 600 Barbie dolls, and you have to ask yourself, if someone didn’t play with them once in a while, wouldn’t you have a Barbie rebellion on your hands?

“I didn’t have many dolls as a child,” she says. “I got going on it when I inherited a bunch of them, at age 45.”

“We preserve them and save them for tomorrow. We provide education and conservation services,” says Botwell. Dolls go back to earliest history, where they are found buried with children, she adds.

They also parallel and reflect human history, says Joy Forrette, noting she became a minor civil rights figure in her childhood when she carried black dolls on a train, astounding porters who lauded her lack of prejudice.

“They couldn’t get enough of it,” she recalls. She became a full-fledged doll fancier when she bought “a hoarder’s collection,” which now fills a full room in her house, as she repairs each one.

People often approach the club wanting to unload dolls left when grandma passed away, but that’s not what the club is for, says Botwell.

Members are keenly aware that older and rarer dolls can appreciate wildly, even ones from their childhood. Riley dolls, with their large, understanding eyes, who went for common prices when created in the 1990s, are now pushing past $100. Prices of some dolls are going over $100,000, they say.

Mae Boren tells how, as a neophyte in the field, she took her vintage Hilda doll for repairs and the repair woman offered her $250. Boren declined and the woman kept bidding herself up, to no avail. Boren checked out the value and it was $1,200. The event launched her doll passions.

Finally, she gave the doll to her granddaughter.

“She cried, she was so thrilled, and so did her mother,” Boren says.

At one meeting, they all brought their Linda McCall dolls — a charming line that started from McCall Magazine in the mid-20th century and is nearly unbreakable and easily dressed, says Botwell.

Club members provide presentations to the public that cover dolls as an actual art form and detail how they can mean so much emotionally to young girls. They also give money and dolls to mothers (and children) at the Gospel Mission.

Their monthly meetings are not public, but open only to members. For information, call 541-773-8416.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Mae Boren talks about some of the details of her dolls.
A closeup of a Linda McCall doll.