‘The Doll Dressmaker Is In” declares a small red-and-white sign that catches your eye as you wander through what local town crier Kenny Podmore calls “Sidney’s hidden jewel.”
The towering Englishman is referring to the Sidney Historical Museum, the subterranean blink-and-you’d-miss-it historical showplace at 2423 Beacon Ave. that got all dolled up for curator Ginni Stieva’s exhibit featuring 400 dolls of all shapes, vintages and sizes, most from her own collection. Stieva, executive director Peter Garnham and museum volunteers are hoping Best Loved Dolls of the Past 100 Years will continue to do what the annual Lego exhibition has achieved — put this fascinating historical oasis on the map for a wider audience.
“What does this have to do with history? Absolutely nothing,” laughs Garnham, reflecting on the Lego exhibits that have attracted 100,000 visitors, paving the way for shows like this.
“We had a mother come in with two teenage boys and she said: ‘If I’d asked them to come and visit a historical museum, they would have thought I was mad,’ but these are a major hook.”
Even those who aren’t doll-lovers have marvelled at the dolls populating display areas that zigzag through the museum. They include a 1920s Raggedy Ann, Shirley Temple, Chatty Cathy, Storykins Cinderella, Flatsy, Knickerbocker Holly Hobby, Strawberry Shortcake, a Dorothy Hamill doll with skates, Groovy Girls, Barbies, baby dolls, American Girls, Bratzillaz and even some action figures, including G.I. Joe.
“I’m more of a train guy,” quipped Sidney Coun. Mervyn Lougher-Goodey, a fan of the railroad replicas in the museum’s 6,000-item permanent collection. “Dolls? Not so much for me, but it’s a tremendous attraction.”
Acting mayor Steve Price said the exhibition is as worthy an attraction as the museum established in 1971.
“You’d be amazed at the interest people have in dolls, especially antique dolls,” he said. “The museum’s quite important for people in town, significant enough that we fund it.”
The doll dressmaker — steam iron, sewing supplies and tiny patterns at the ready — is Isabel Jones, a retiree who worked for 25 years at the Canadian Museum of Civilization.
“I thought I was done, but when I came here and I was invited to see the reserves at the back and went into the storage room, where it was dim and cool and smelled like a museum, I turned around and saw this Edwardian shaving cup with a beautiful pink rose on it,” she said. “I knew I was home.”
Noting they decided to do the doll show “as a lark,” the volunteer reveals a tiny clothesline full of American Girl doll dresses on loan from “Madame Stieva” — Ginni’s mother.
“This is an opportunity for me to make wonderful fashions I can no longer wear, but still enjoy,” Jones said.
The youngest woman in the room is Elise Brunckhurst. She’s only 21, but old enough to recall her own doll memories.
“I had a few Barbies, but I was pretty rough with them,” the museum assistant confesses. “A few are missing heads now. I used to play parachutes with them.”
The nostalgia factor was part of what Stieva hoped to inspire, also using the collection to encourage visitors to explore the community supporting the exhibit with promotional tie-ins.
“Our intent was to capture people’s imagination, the remembrance of what they loved as a kid,” she said. “I hope people will walk through and go: ‘Hey, I had one of those! I loved that doll.’ ”
The admission-by-donation exhibit ends July 30.
For more information: sidneymuseum.ca