Focus on the Collection: Swedish Dolls
One of the unexpected treasures in the Hearst collection is a set of sixteen intricately costumed dolls. They were made for display in the Swedish Building at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, held in San Francisco over the summer of 1915. They were made—probably during the preceding year—by the Bikupan company of Stockholm, Sweden. Bikupan (the “Beehive”) produced mannequins for European wax museums, a Swedish specialty. The dolls were placed in the Lecture Hall, along with a photographic display illustrating local scenes presented by the Tourist Traffic Association. After the fair, the figurines were purchased by Phoebe Hearst, who had been Honorary President of the Woman’s Board of the Exposition, and donated to the UC Museum of Anthropology in 1917.
In fact, these donations supplemented a collecting strength in Swedish folk culture that went back to the museum’s founding. In 1903, Mrs. Hearst had contributed a collection of about 200 items—rich in decorated weaving implements and wooden horse gear—collected by Axel Lindstrom the previous year.
These figurines are more rightly considered as miniature mannequins than as large versions of children’s toys. At 1/3 scale, each stands about 31 inches tall. Their bodies are “composition”—in this case a painted cast-plaster exterior over a wire armature covered with heavy cloth on a sawdust foundation. The heads come in two basic versions, a male and a female, with individual facial features painted on. Yet it is in their costuming that the dolls excel; their materials include chamois, tanned leather, linen, fulled wool, and silk. In addition to knitted and embroidered garments, there is handmade lace; buttons of silver, gilded metal, and pewter jewelry; and wigs of human hair. The beautiful shoes and boots were made by John Beliers, who is identified as a gold medal winner by the marking found on the soles.
We know little about the original intentions of their makers, but the costumes reveal quite a diversity in regions, class, as well as gender. Of the sixteen, there are three couples, and the rest are individual male and female figures. In general, the women’s clothing is more elaborate and detailed than the males’. Regionally, the dolls principally depict peasant costumes from the central and southern parts of Sweden. In period, the costumes show styles from the 17th through the late 19th centuries. One of the figures depicts a woman’s costume of the Lapps (Sami), an indigenous people of the Arctic.
The set of Swedish dolls never fails to charm visitors to the museum on the rare occasions that they are displayed.
Ira Jacknis, Research Anthropologist