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Why Flip Dolls? Still asking this question...
Back in 2016, I wrote a blog post here about flip dolls and it is still the post that gets the most comments on my website. I asked the question back then, why flip dolls? and it seems I am asking it still. Above is an example of a flip doll from 1901, a time when these Black "Mammy" vs young girl flip dolls were very popular. This one was made by Albert Bruckner, a designer who capitulated on the interest in flip dolls by creating a technique that allowed the doll faces to be printed on fabric and more easily reproduced. This doll was then mass produced and was very popular in its time, though it reinforced the unfortunate stereotype of the "Black Mammy."
This flip doll harkened back to the origin of flip dolls, at least in the U.S., of a doll that was made by slave mothers for their daughters during the slave era in the south of this country. See the article in the link above, for more details about this sad origin story. The image below maybe be closer to what those original dolls looked like, though there are not many images available.
I've been fascinated by flip dolls ever since discovering them many years ago and have wanted to transcend and "revision" their function into something more hopeful. To that end I have challenged artists to make flip dolls, worked with homeless women, teaching them to make flip dolls, made many of my own and more recently, used the two-sided nature of the flip dolls as a vehicle to explore the "shadow."
What is the "shadow"?
One of the most obvious characteristics of the flip doll is that it flips, that is it turns upside down so that what was once the top of the doll becomes the bottom. Not only that, the two sides are connected so that whichever side is up one way is upside down the other. When I thought about the ways that the two-sided nature of the doll could be used to explore story, I realized that it would be perfect to explore a particular type of story and that is the story of the shadow.
Throughout history, we have been fascinated by our shadows in different ways. In ancient times, the shadow was what lurked beyond the circle of light cast by the bonfire that we sat around to keep ourselves warm and to tell stories around. Hidden in the darkness beyond the firelight were the scary things that could harm us-mammoths, saber toothed tigers and all manner of "monsters." More recently, with the invention of psychology, we began to discover the "monsters" within ourselves. Though of course shadow was known through myths, fairy tales, and many other forms of writing, psychology made it more specific. And especially psychologist and writer, Carl Jung made it easier to understand what it might mean to have a shadow within ourselves, a part of our personality that was made up of all that we wanted to hide from ourselves.
Image of one side of an early handmade flip doll from United Federation of Doll Clubs DVD. She is an 11 inch doll with hand embroidered features. The DVD narration states that this doll may have been owned by a slave girl in the South. She is very well worn. (Note: I was not able to find the link to this video for this article but you can try contacting the United Federation of Doll Clubs to ask.)
Flip dolls and the shadow-homage to the origin of the flip doll
So, when I thought about bringing together the shadow and the flip doll in the form of shadow doll workshops, I was guided by a couple of intentions. First, I wanted to honor the origin of the flip doll, with its very simple materials, by encouraging participants in these workshops to make dolls out simple cotton cloth material. The women who first made these dolls did not have access to a wide range of materials. They used what was to hand and mostly that was scraps of cloth from feed bags, such as those used for grain or flour. And then these dolls were stuffed with leftover scraps or maybe remnants of cotton. These women did want the dolls to be soft, so that they would be comforting to hold.
In the shadow doll workshops that I lead, I encourage participants to use a simple cloth doll design to make their flip dolls, though they are free to also use their materials. Below is a flip doll created by a participant in the first on-line Befriending Our Shadow flip doll workshop, Naomi Zow, using a cloth pattern but with her own embellishments and story.
"Light/Inner Guide vs Shadow/Inner Critic" Two sides of flip doll created by Befriending Our Shadow participant, Naomi Zow.
Flip dolls-both shadow and guardian within one doll
Delving into one's shadow can be a scary thing. When we have hidden away parts of ourselves, it can be scary to start to look at them again. And often, the deeper these parts are hidden, the more we may have developed resentful and sometimes even angry feelings towards these parts. Yet, we know on some level that what was hidden away contains our power within it, so we know it is worth the work and the fear. But we need a guide along this journey.
The wonderful ability of the flip doll to contain opposites, grief and joy, darkness and light, comfort and fear, makes it possible to combine the shadow with its "opposite" in one doll. This leads to my second intention, to use the two sided nature of the doll as a way to allow both the guardian and the shadow to be connected in one doll. However the tricky nature of this work means that we have to be willing to accept the twists and turns in the road as we go forward. Sometimes what starts of being the shadow, the "monster," can turn into our biggest ally. I have seen this happen time and time again, both in my own work and in the work of participants in my workshops.
Below is a wonderful example of a cloth shadow flip doll from the second Befriending Our Shadow workshop. Joanne Delaplaine found that the "monster" octopus transformed into an ally in this doll.
Ms. Peacekeepr/Octopus Woman, two sides of a flip doll by Befriending Our Shadow participant Joanne Delaplaine
The journey continues...
I don't think I am ever going to get tired of working with, learning about and teaching others to make flip dolls. Last week was the start of the third version of Befriending Our Shadow, an intensive eight week exploration of the shadow within the intimacy of small groups. I am very excited about the wonderful, brave women who have shown up this time to take this class. I am looking forward to seeing what comes up for them and where their journeys take them. I feel very lucky.
Here's a little video about making a tiny flip doll in case you want to experiment yourself!
I've been making dolls for about ten years now. I believe that dolls serve as representations and reminders of the best part of ourselves. I am excited to share with you here my learnings about new methods and techniques for doll making and healing. So glad you are here!