Black Dolls: The Controversial History

From the 1890s to the 1930s in Macon, Georgia, a black handyman named Leo Moss was a pioneer of black dolls. He painted doll faces black with chimney soot and had his wife design their clothes. Their paper-maché heads were made out of scrap pieces of wallpaper he collected on odd jobs he did for white families. Every doll was unique, created in the image of family and friends. Now, the largest collection of rare Leo Moss dolls is in an exhibition at the Charles H Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit. I See Me: Reflections in Black Dolls traces the history of black dolls, from porcelain to collectibles and plastic toys. Alongside the 16 Leo Moss dolls are 138 others, including antiques, black Barbie and even some celebrity dolls – created in the image of Serena Williams and the Obamas – which are on view until 25 June.

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