- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 21, 2004

Dolls of color were put on parade yesterday during Echo Gallery’s Sixth Annual Black Doll Show in the main hall at Union Station in Northeast.

Passersby, tourists dashing for departing trains, collectors and folks just out for a leisurely afternoon stroll stopped to oooh and ahhh at the showcase of hand-crafted dolls from 23 nationally renowned artists.

The three-day event, one of the largest black doll shows on the East Coast, drew about 25,000 enthusiasts last year. It ends this evening at 7.

“Women have been collecting dolls for centuries — it’s a mothering instinct,” said ceramist Barbara Queen, organizer of the event and owner of the Echo Gallery located in the station’s East Hall.

“But, today, it’s an investment. Serious collectors look for those unique dolls that come with certificates of authenticity — limited-edition dolls. Many pass their collections on to their children. Then, of course, there are a lot of women who collect simply because they love dolls,” said Ms. Queen, who lives in Lanham and has a soft spot for rag dolls.

Ms. Queen probably will bring one of her rag dolls to the Black Doll Collector’s Luncheon today from 1:30 until 3:30 p.m. at B. Smith’s in Union Station. Funds raised from the event, priced at $65 per ticket, will enable doll makers to participate in the annual show. The luncheon is open to the public and promises to be a fun-filled afternoon with entertainment, artist’s lectures and door prizes.

“Bring your favorite doll along with you,” a smiling Ms. Queen said.

While Ms. Queen beamed, a crowd gathered around doll maker Regene Radford as she explained her “Aboriginal Family,” to onlookers. The dolls, made of black porcelain with hazel, green, blue and gray eyes, embody the true Aborigines, she said, referring to the native Australians.

Black porcelain, however, has since been discontinued, which makes her dolls even more valuable, Mrs. Radford said.

The former D.C. postal worker turned fashion designer in 1980 and doll maker 16 years later said her dolls start at $5,000 and can go as high as $1 million. At one time, Mrs. Radford, 55, said she was mocked because of the ink-black color of her dolls, but that didn’t deter her from continuing her use of black porcelain. There was a time, she recalled when she couldn’t sell a $50 doll. Nowadays, the same doll sells for $5,000.

“I was educating people about the Aborigines and teaching history,” she said.

“I’m the first woman to use existing molds and create dolls using my own interpretation. So, they become art dolls. They’re highly collectable,” said Mrs. Radford of Staunton, Va.

Valerie Mobley couldn’t take her eyes off of Mrs. Radford’s creations. The Capitol Hill resident, on an outing with family members yesterday, was awed by the artist’s work.

“I brought my nieces here to see the Black Doll Show and they’re all really beautiful, but this exhibit is the best. It’s the coloring [of the dolls] that sets them off. The blue blackness of their skin, contrasted with the color of their eyes and the reality of their faces — makes them incredible,” Ms. Mobley said.

Nearby, Carrie Lyles of Cheverly chatted with doll enthusiasts about her creations. Her dolls do not have facial features and that’s the way Ms. Lyles likes it.

“I like people to look at them and they can imagine the dolls to be anybody they want them to be,” said Ms. Lyles. The fiber-filled dolls are made on a wood base, with fabric-covered faces and synthetic fiber for their hair. Their clothes often are constructed from vintage quilts.

After Ms. Lyles retired from the D.C. government in 1990, making dolls created a fun outlet for her. She stays on the go, traveling to doll shows around the country.

“I always loved dolls but a little shop called ‘Wonderful Things’ inspired me to make my own. … To me, this is not a business — it’s a hobby. All of my dolls are one of a kind and I have a lot of customers in this area. I enjoy being here at the train station because you meet so many different people and it’s a beautiful place to be,” she said.

The Rev. Alethea Smith-Withers, pastor of the Pavilion of God church in Northwest couldn’t pull herself away from Adrienne McDonald’s area. The pastor admired Ms. McDonald’s creations made of buttons, cloth, beads, safety pins and bobbins.

“It’s creative, powerful, challenging — a new expression of that which has existed throughout time. This is art,” the pastor said as she admired the unique dolls on display.

Ms. McDonald, a costume designer who lives in Baltimore, has been making dolls for the past 13 years. Doll-making is a way to work through some her costume ideas, she said.

“Making dolls is like having art around that is animated — I think of them as talismans and amulets, something people can have a spiritual relationship with,” Ms. McDonald said.

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