The McGuire Dolls

2009024006.jpgby Jill Holt, Curator of Textiles

All is not as it seems at first glance. We received a collection of dolls in 2009 and I made the assumption that they were just dolls. Much to my surprise, I discovered that we had received a very unique and special doll collection.

Leota McGuire was born and raised in Okmulgee. She attended the University of Oklahoma where she received degrees in Home Economics and Fashion Arts. After graduation, she operated a dance studio as well as being a dress designer and artist.

With the poverty and hardships that were inflicted on the citizens of Okmulgee followed by the shortages and rationing of World War II, Leota McGuire decided to give back to the community.  After looking at dolls for sale at the Montgomery Ward Department Store, she realized that she could make them herself.

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She dyed muslin fabric to be used in creating the doll bodies and she developed a secret recipe to create the head. Using a mold for the doll head, she poured her mix of materials into it. Once the materials were dry, she would sand, carve, and paint the head with each one being unique. Yarn was used to make the hair with some curly, some braided, and some cut short. Friends and family collected scraps of fabric and leather which she sewed into doll clothes.  The dolls were distributed to children of the community whose families were unable to provide them with that luxury.

Another part of the McGuire collection is a set of small handmade dolls that commemorate the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip in 1947. The set includes the bride and groom, bridesmaids, best man, and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The generosity and ingenuity of Leota McGuire were greatly appreciated by the citizens of Okmulgee and I am pleased that many of these dolls are now in the collection of the Oklahoma Historical Society.

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