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Vol 1, Issue 2                               Spring 2002

Index ||| Welcome ||| Mailbag ||| About the Editors ||| Collecting News ||| Profile of a Collector ||| Profile of an Artist ||| Doll in the Spotlight! ||| Doll Care Basics ||| Resources ||| FAQ ||| Closing Words

Profile of a Doll Artist - Mary Van Osdell

After browsing the Internet and finding the first issue of Black Doll-E-Zine, one of our readers, Jeannie DiMauro, wrote and informed us that she loved BDE and that she wishes there were more e-zines like it. Ms. DiMauro indicated that she especially enjoyed reading the "Profile of an Artist" column, which is what prompted her to write us. She explained that she is a very close friend of doll artist, Mary Van Osdell, who, in the picture above, was backstage at the Home Shopping Network (HSN) in Florida, "prepping" one of her dolls before airtime.


According to Ms. DiMauro, "Mary Van Osdell is rather well known for her original sculpted dolls featuring mainly Black children of the 1940s. Molds (and originals) from these dolls have been sold all over the world. Her most popular doll ever was "Lucinda". The original Lucinda doll is pictured on the left. She wears antique shoes and socks, carries a child's antique purse, and is dressed in a vintage dress which has been cut down to fit her. Lucinda's hat is a child-size vintage hat. Mary made the original wig, but the doll was so popular, Global decided to make this wig commerically and named it "Lucinda". [It continues to be sold by doll suppliers today.] The inspiration for Lucinda was from a vintage photo found in a book of depression era children. [Photos of children have played a major inspiration role in Mary's gift for doll making.]

"Some of Mary's other popular dolls include "Sissy" (pictured here), "Elmo", "Sweet Pea" (aka screaming baby), "Jazz", Pansy", "Walter", and about a dozen others."

Ms. DiMauro further states that, "Mary's dolls have also been featured on the cover of Black Dolls an Identification and Value Guide Book II and on Home Shopping Network." This writer purchased the Walter doll pictured on the left from HSN several years ago. The original Walter is pictured below.

Ms. DiMauro explained that, "'Walter', was one [doll that] Mary worked on while she was recovering from breast cancer about 6-1/2 years ago... and she named him for her M.D. Anderson physician who helped her most adjust to her treatments. She was just getting started good [with respect to doll making] when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Although she did well, I don't think she ever got full speed again."

In response to our query regarding, "What inspired Mary to sculpt Black dolls?", Ms. DiMauro wrote:

"I’ll do the best I can [in answering that question]. I probably know more than anyone else about her dolls as we started together, and I've been working right next to her from the beginning. Basically, Mary had a fabulous vintage clothing store for about 12-15 years in Houston. She’d sometimes come across darling little country dresses for children... at the time these were not in "vogue" so they were rather inexpensive. One day at a flea market, she found a charming little handmade purse... very primitive... basically just a flat envelope with a bit of blanket stitch trim.

"I've always collected photographs of children... vintage photos... and had a cute photo of two little Black girls standing on a porch. Mary had collected Black memorabilia for years and she WANTED that photo! She was not sculpting dolls at that time, but was making gorgeous reproductions of antique [dolls]. She chose a little Jumeau... about 18-20 inches tall... painted and stained it as a Black child ...and dressed her in a vintage country dress which she cut to fit. We stayed up 'til dawn one night trying to make the little wig... using the only thing we knew to try at the time... the spun mohair... which had not a hint of a curl! You can imagine the hours we spent experimenting (and I'd sure hate to see that little wig today!). Anyhow.. [Mary] added Victorian button-up shoes and the little primitive envelope purse, which hung by a tattered strap around the doll's shoulder. She named her "EarthaLouEmma" and entered her into a local doll show, where she, of course, took first place! "I won't say that was her original inspiration... but it was her first Black doll dressed in country clothing."

Ms. DiMauro further explained that, "Mary and I both grew up in the South and, though this is probably not something you would want to include in your magazine (yes, we did!), anyone who grew up in the 40s & the South... and says they weren't raised racist is likely not telling the truth ...or perhaps they're in deep denial. At any rate, we've talked about it a little, and I think we both harbored guilt at the circumstances of birth which made our own lives easier than the life of a Black child growing up at the same time.

Ms. DiMauro continued by writing, "I guess I'd have to say Mary's inspiration for her dolls has been taken from mostly vintage photos. The vintage photo I mentioned (which, I eventually capitulated and gave it to her) [served as one inspiration for her]. "She only recently removed [that photo] from the frame and included it in a shadow box collage arrangement along with several small Black antique dolls and photos."

Getting to the heart of why Ms. Dimauro contacted us, she wrote:

"...Mary is 62 and was recently diagnosed with a glioblastoma, grade 4, which is a terminal brain tumor. This latest cancer is completely unrelated to the original breast cancer and has been a very hard blow for Mary. She is still able to recognize people, but is very confused, almost blind... and [has] all the devastating side effects that go along with this horrid disease. Mary has been my best friend for 20+ years, and I know how much she enjoyed the letters her "fans" sent her over the years. I thought it might be possible [that] you'd be interested in including something about her in your e-zine with the thought that perhaps some of these collectors and/or doll makers might be interested in knowing what has happened to Mary and, perhaps, they might want to send her a note or a card. She cannot see well enough to read, but I read her mail to her and she likes it, although it often makes her cry... but I know she likes hearing from people who have loved her dolls."

We found Ms. Van Osdell’s story inspiring and wanted to share it with the readers of BDE. We would like to personally thank Ms. DiMauro first and foremost for being a true friend who has stood by Ms. Van Osdell in her time of need. We would also like to thank Ms. DiMauro for her candor and honesty in sharing this story. The photos of Mary's dolls are also greatly appreciated as well as the information regarding each of them. Additional photos of Mary and her dolls with a detailed description of each can be viewed here. (If you view the additional pictures now, please return to this page to read the author's note, below.)

Author's Note:The purpose of this profile was to honor a talented doll artist who included African-American dolls in her doll creations. So many artists and manufacturers forget that dolls, as do people, come in all colors. Mary Van Osdell did not forget this. Another intent of this article was to encourage our readers and the fans of Ms. Van Osdell's work to send letters of encouragement and well wishes to her. Unfortunately, we were not able to accomplish this goal due to Ms. Osdell's untimely demise on March 29, 2002.

We at Black Doll-E-Zine join our readers in sending our regards to the family and friends of Mary Van Osdell. We know that she will be sorely missed.

If you are a Black-doll artist and would like to share your profile
with the readers of Black Doll E-Zine,
write us and request a questionnaire: (Zee) (Deb)

Index ||| Welcome ||| Mailbox ||| About the Editors ||| Collecting News ||| Profile of a Collector ||| Profile of an Artist ||| Doll in the Spotlight! ||| Doll Care Basics ||| Resources ||| FAQ ||| Closing Words