Friday, November 8, 2013

Sepia Saturday: Kreepy Kewpie

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.




This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt shows a couple at the beach posing with a stuffed animal known as Korky the Cat.  Even though I have plenty of beach photos, I’m seizing the opportunity to feature something almost as kwirky and kreepy as Korky.

It’s a Kewpie doll. 

UUnknown girls Harrisonburg, VA in album of Violetta Davis Ryan 1920s
Two friends of Violetta Davis
on the steps of Spotswood Hall
Harrisonburg Teachers College 1923
(now James Madison University)


The photo of two young girls with a Kewpie doll is in a photo album belonging to my grandaunt Violetta Davis Ryan.  Who they were and whether they were in costume are a puzzle.  They look too young to have been Violetta’s college friends.  Maybe they were students she befriended while student-teaching. 

 image from dollkind.com


Even more puzzling is what that girl is doing with a Kewpie doll.  And how can she look so lovingly at it?  I’ve never been a fan of the Kewpie doll.  Something about those tufts of hair, wide side-glancing eyes, and overly-sweet smile make the doll look like its hiding a devilish secret.  










The girl in the photo seems to love it though.  After all, the Kewpie doll was a popular toy in the early 1920s and is still quite collectible among doll enthusiasts today.


Unknown girl Harrisonburg, VA in album of Violetta Davis Ryan 1920

The Kewpie doll was the creation of writer and illustrator Rosie O’Neill about 1909.  At first the Kewpie was a comic strip character, a baby Cupid complete with blue wings.  Then came the Kewpie paper dolls.  Expanding on that idea, O’Neill traveled to Germany to assist a toy manufacturer in the production of bisque dolls.  By the 1920s, the more affordable and durable composition dolls were manufactured and sold in the United States. 

Most likely a composition doll is what the girl in Violetta’s photo is holding.  The straight legs indicate the doll is one of the early models.  All Kewpies were sold without clothes, so any dresses or coats were added by the proud owner.  If the doll weren’t dressed, the trademark red paper heart would be visible on its chest. 

What do you think – kreepy or kute?



Be a doll and visit my friends at Sepia Saturday for more stories of quirky photo props and beach scenes.

45 comments:

  1. Kreepy, I agree, at least without clothes, but there was a tradition at the Royal Sydney Show that people who went there bought kewpie dolls on sticks that were rather more attractive, because they were dressed in gauzy ballerina style, and little girls loved to wave them around. There is even a well-known Australian play called "Summer of the Seventeenth Doll".

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    1. The Kewpie doll took many forms, from what I've read. Ballerina style on a stick sounds good to me.

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  2. I had a Kewpie doll. I don't recall being overly fond of it. However, your post makes me wonder whatever happened to it.

    Dee

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    1. Who knows -- you might have had a valuable one that fetched someone else a good little sum. That would be my luck.

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  3. I've never seen a Kewpie doll but it is rather kreepy.

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    1. The idea of blue wings is too much to bear.

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  4. I kind of like them. :) Someone back home had one; I found it in a drawer when I was a little kid. I liked it better than the Cabbage Patch Kids that were so popular when I was young.


    Happy weekend!

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    1. You have permission to like them. The Cabbage Patch kids had funny little faces too. I had a Pitiful Pearl that was not a pretty doll but I found her endearing in a pathetic way.

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  5. Sorry Wendy, kute! I never ever had one, and only see them in antique stores, but I can see the joy a little child might have owning one. Then again, I'm a big fan of dolls and clowns, well not the kreepy klowns out there. I really enjoyed all your information about them though, much I didn't know. I do wonder too about the one girl's is it a costume? I even googled Rosie to see if she ever dressed like that. It does seem odd, and I'm very curious!

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    1. That's ok Karen -- I still like you. I'm not a fan of clowns in any form.

      I wonder about the costume, assuming that's what it was. The headpiece seems to be a creation designed to LOOK like a nurse's cap.

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  6. Perhaps the one on the right is studying to be a nurse, and the kewpie doll was practice for helping to deliver a baby? I think they're pretty creepy too, but not as creepy as some dolls I've seen, and don't even get me started on clowns.

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    1. I had that same thought, Kat. But that didn't seem to be Violetta's field. There was a course of study that trained women in household matters, but Violetta was in education.

      Ever since I saw one of those Chuckie movies, I think twice about big smiling dolls wondering if they come alive at night.

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  7. Love the rolled-down black stockings on the gal as she appears in both pictures. Obviously something was going on there which centered on the doll. I don't think the Kewpie is either kreepy or kute. I may have had a cheap plastic version of it, but don't remember liking or disliking it. My favorite was a Sparkle Plenty doll with long blond hair.

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    1. Yeah, what's up with those black stockings??

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  8. I'm voting with the creepy crowd! Most dolls give me creepies, anyway (those cabbage patch monsters were dreadful!)...there's something a little twisted about all of 'em. Give me a good old teddy bear or a cocker spaniel.

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  9. Cute to me! I knew about the Kewpie comic strip but not all the other info..

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    1. I can see why people think the Kewpie is cute -- I'm sure that face is supposed to be sweet-looking.

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  10. Creepy. I had the same thought that the Kewpie doll might be a practice doll for a nursing class. But for what useful purpose?

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    1. I thought the photo screamed "nurse" too so maybe a skit? If these were Violetta's students, I wonder why they were at the campus instead of at their school.

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  11. I always thought a kewpie doll was like a voodoo doll that you stuck pins in!
    I've learned something but they still have kreepy konnotations for me!

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    1. No, I'm pretty sure there was never a voodoo connection.

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  12. Yes I prefer Barbie...........or we had her less expensive cousin, Cindy doll.

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    1. I was a big fan of Barbie and played for hours on end with her.

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  13. I remember as a small child getting a kewpie doll from the Adelaide Show each year. They were always on a stick and had a tulle skirt, wings and glitter on their haeds.

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    1. You and Jo have the same experience, it seems. Cool!

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  14. I think the Kewpie illustrations are a lot cuter than the dolls. I don't think the hard, stiff ,naked babies are very appealing.

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    1. I've never seen the comics or paper dolls.

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  15. I seem to remember cupie dolls made of celuloid that could be won at fair stalls? Or did I make that up?

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    1. No, you didn't make that up. You're recalling the little ones make in Japan (without rights to do so, I believe).

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  16. I am not sure if we had Kewpie dolls over here, but I have only seen one in books. I did enjoy your different "take" on this week's theme. .

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  17. They’re not my choice I must admit, but I can see the appeal. I prefer a doll with animated limbs.I’ve always been fascinated by dolls and dollmaking so it was interetsing to read a bit about the history.

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    1. Movable limbs are a must. I remember when bendable knees were invented -- that was a marvelous development. A doll could sit like a real person.

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  18. It is a unique looking doll. Its not one I'd like to cuddle. I never liked those cabbage Patch dolls either although I remember people making a big fuss to get one or more in time for Christmas.

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    1. No, the Kewpie doesn't look cuddly.

      Oh yes, we were among the parents desperate to get TWO Cabbage Patch Kids. And we did it!

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  19. What a great picture! Two of them! And kind of a puzzle. The girl in glasses is dressed up like nurse or maid? Another girl seems too grown up to play dolls. Maybe it was kind of a sketch they were dressed up like that for? As for Kewpie - many thanks for the story! 3 years ago I bought modern version of it (cheap made-in-China one) in large supermarket in Moscow. I liked it for "vintage" look and striped bathing suit it was dressed in. It is really great to know what stands behind things were are dealing with.

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    1. I agree -- the girl looks too old for that doll and too old for that big bow in her hair too.

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  20. Yuk! But then I'm not a doll person, Interesting history though and the photos are fine.

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  21. Oh! So that's where the name Kewpie came from! Cupid...Kewpie. Now I get it. I never had one of those dolls, although I had other kinds of dolls when I was a kid.

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