Celebrating awesome black dolls in Philly

By Fern Gillespie

This Saturday, May 29, I will be joining black doll collectors from across the United States who will be flocking to Philadelphia to buy, sell, discuss and celebrate awesome black dolls.

It’s the 21st International Black Doll Show and Sale, the brainchild of Barbara Whiteman,  founder of the Philadelphia Doll Museum and co-author of “Black Dolls: Proud, Bold & Beautiful,” co-written by Nayda Rondon. The theme this year is “Awesome Dolls,” and showcases some of the most original, creative black doll artists in the nation such as Goldie Wilson, Patricia Cobb, Fannie Robinson, Gregg Ortiz, Daisy Carr, Adrene Bracey, and many others.

As the former director of PR and marketing for Huggy Bean dolls, a passionate black doll collector and, for a short period, a black doll craft artist, I’ve considered Barbara Whiteman  as the ‘go-to” person on black doll trends. For collectors of unique, artistic black dolls, her show is a must. The photos of the bisque dolls above and the American-made dolls below are from the doll museum website.

“This event is considered by doll enthusiasts as the ‘mecca’ of black doll shows,” observed Whiteman. “Doll collectors and doll lovers are overwhelmed by the multitude of black dolls displayed by doll exhibitors, and doll artists.  The first black doll show was held at the African American Museum in Philadelphia in 1987 during February Black History month.  No one could have predicted the explosion and love of black dolls in the hearts and of so many persons, young and old.”

Over the last two decades, Whiteman has witnessed ardent Black Americana and doll collectors who become so inspired by the black doll show that they evolved into doll artists. “People have said. ‘I’d like to try to make that, but I never made a doll, so I don’t think I have the talent.’  But once they got started, you could see people blossom,” she said. “So you do have some collectors that are artists. So, in some cases collecting dolls, can lead to making dolls.”

There is a popularity boom in collecting black dolls. “You can see the rise of people who have been collecting dolls,” said Whiteman. “here are more black doll clubs on the rise. We look at the shows as a great stair step for people who are interested in collector or novice type of view. They started looking at dolls as not only toys, but as art.”

This summer, a New York City show will combine black art with black dolls. On July 10, the New York Black Doll and Art Show will be held at the Riverside Church in Harlem. “This show is an extraordinary event,” said Sharon Alexander, director and co-founder of blackdollshows.com. “One venue, one show and a diverse selection of world-class black dolls and art.”

Philadelphia’s show will feature a doll competition, a doll puzzle contest, raffles and door prizes. It will be held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, 12th and Arch Streets, from 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Admission: $7.00 Adults, $5.00 Seniors & Children under 12 years. For more information, call the Philadelphia Doll Museum at 215-787-0220.


Fern Gillespie is a New York-area public relations consultant, features writer and craft artist. She is currently gathering stories about Black women crafters for her book project “Handcrafted With Soul: African American Women  Who Have Turned Crafts into Cash.”

She will be writing about the doll artists at this weekend’s show.

1 Comment

  1. Hi – thanks for a great article/announcement – oh, how i wish i could be there.

    I am a black doll collector and doll maker (not too many, or too recently). As I am aging and my health deteriorating some, I am planning to sell my doll collection on eBay fairly soon. I want to be sure they go to someone who cherishes them as I do. I am afraid they’ll get tossed or lost in the shuffle otherwise.

    Some of my dolls are very unique, most one of a kind, antique or vintage homemade cloth dolls, or combination of materials. A few are really special. I hope to get them up for sale in July. If there is anyone interested, if you send me your email address, I will be happy to notify you when I list them.

    You can email Pat at desertaz@earthlink.net.

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