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Antique Izannah Walker painted cloth dolls

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Izannah Walker dolls

Who is Izannah Walker?:

Izannah Walker (25 September 1817 to 1888) of Bristol, Rhode Island was one of the earliest known female dollmakers in America. Her cloth dolls were all handmade by herself and her sisters, and each individual doll possesses a distinct and recognizable style. They are three-dimensional works of art in a similar style to that of contemporary portraits. Izannah applied for, and received, a patent for her unique doll design in 1873 although her earliest dolls appear to pre-date the patent by some thirty-odd years.


Izannah's doll making process

Izannah began by forming the head and shoulders by applying glue to cotton fabric. This shoulderhead form was pressed into a mold until it hardened. Ears were appliquéd to the head to add dimension. At this point, another layer of glue was applied and allowed to dry. Then, Izannah painted the doll's head, often in a portrait-style likeness, before sewing and attaching the torso and limbs. Elbows and knees were properly jointed before painting the limbs to match the head. A fabric 'second skin' would be sewn over the torso to conceal the jointing.

As an entirely hand-sewn work of art, each finished doll was as unique as its original owner. She and her sisters are said to have produced over 3000 dolls during their careers, although very few have survived to the present day in any recognizable condition.

Collecting Izannah Walker dolls

Distinguishing characteristics of Izannah's dolls:

Izannah Walker dolls can be recognized by their stockinette-covered painted heads with either wisps of hair or curls surrounding the face. All of the dolls have applied ears, and their hands have both thumbs and stitched fingers. Many of them have painted boots. Those that do not have painted boots instead have bare feet with stitched toes. The sizes of these dolls range from 15 to 24 inches tall.

Izannah Walker stamp

The popularity of Izannah Walker's dolls:

In recent years, the obvious beauty of Izannah's dolls has attracted quite a following. There has even been an Izannah Walker doll featured on a postage stamp in the "Classic American Dolls" series in 1997, which was issued in conjunction with a reproduction Izannah Walker doll.

In addition, there are several artists who offer either a kit to make an Izannah-style doll (with varying degrees of accuracy) or a completed reproduction doll. Fortunately the completed artist-made replicas are signed by the artist to distinguish them from the genuine antique article.


Izannah first day cover
First Day postal cover by Fred Collins

Further reading

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Izannah Walker links



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