They Live with 425 Dolls . . .
THE 425 DOLLS IN MRS. GARDNER'S COLLECTION are hung on the walls and stacked in baskets throughout the house. Mr. and Mrs. Gardner sit on the living room couch surrounded by the dolls. In the upper left corner of the picture are the twin dolls which belonged to twin girls. If her parents had bought her a doll she promised never to have a beau. They didn't get it for her and now she has all the dolls a house would hold and a husband too.
Mrs. Fidella Gardner of Willow Springs is a small, vivacious woman who is the epitome of the pioneer women who settled our land. With her rich brown hair parted in the middle and drawn up in braids on each side of her head, she reared nine children then settled back to enjoy life as only a woman of her caliber could in a most extraordinary way.
FAMILY LIVES IN HOUSE CROWDED BY DOLLS
- By Janice Watson
In the last 15 years, Mrs. Gardner has collected or made 425 dolls. She takes almost any common substance--bone, potatoes, stone, nuts---and shapes from it the head or body of a doll.
The ingenuity she shows in making these dolls is reflected in her intricate carving of hands and feet and facial features.
When her husband's favorite white horse died, Mrs. Gardner removed the horse's hip bone and from it carved the head and neck of a doll. She sewed and stuffed a cotton body and carved the hands and feet from stone.
DOLL FROM BONE
"Chief Yellow Hand", another of Mrs. Gardner's dolls, has long black brades made from the mane of another horse. His head, hands and feet are of stone which when varnished become the dull bronze of an Indian's skin.
The shriveled face of the Chinaman was once an Irish potato. Mrs. Gardner carved the features then left the potato to dry. The potato was later varnished to keep it from decaying.
"Only it's mama would ever love it," was the remark of Mrs. Gardner's daughter when she saw the Negro "mammy" doll which Mrs. Gardner had shaped out of a coconut. Using varnished chewing gum to shape the mouth and nose and broom straws for the teeth, Mrs. Gardner created a striking resemblance of the classic image of the old Southern "mammy."
Other dolls in Mrs. Gardner's collection have faces made from black walnuts, hickory nuts, gourds and ink balls.
MAKES DOLLS; SAVES $5
Mrs. Gardner tells of the time when she attended a revival and heard a man from Alaska speak. He had with him his eskimo dolls which he was selling for approximately $5. Not wanting to pay that much for the doll, Mrs. Gardner secured a pair of children's ear muffs which were decorated with faces and
BESIDES THE DOLL AND DISH COLLECTION Mr. and Mrs. Gardner have their own menagerie at their farm. They raise ducks and chickens and have a dog, cat and canary as pets. The Gardners stand before their home with their cat, "Sandy," and the dog, "King." Mrs. Gardner explained that the cat got her name because there was a sandbur in her fur when they got her.
THE FROSTED LION HONEY DISHES ARE TWO OF the oldest pieces in Mrs. Gardner's collection. She explained that the lid from one of them was broken many years ago. Other items in Mrs. Gardner's wide selection are stacked on the cabinet.
then she shaped a body for the doll with brown material and white fur.
Planters which may be purchased in the five and ten cent store become beautiful china dolls under the skilled hands of Mrs. Gardner. A local carpenter cuts off the base of the planters and Mrs. Gardner fills in the top of the head with tissue paper, covers it with chewing gum and varnishes it. The bodies are made of cotton and the feet and hands are ceramic.
The roots of an old sycamore tree which once grew near Mrs. Gardner's home have been used to shape parts of many of the dolls.
Many of the dolls in Mrs. Gardner's collection are antiques; other, more modern, are the gifts of her many friends.
A black carved nun doll literally came up out of the sea. A friend of Mrs. Gardner's who was serving in the armed forces found the doll after it had washed up on the beach at Richmond, Va. When Mrs. Gardner received the doll, it had one foot and part of its hood missing. Mrs. Gardner replaced both and cannot remember now which foot is the original and which she made.
Two of the most prized dolls in her collection are the big, lovely twin dolls which once belonged to twin girls. The dolls were given to Mrs. Gardner by an aunt of the girls many years after they had been discarded.
Mrs. Gardner still has a doll with a metal head which belonged to her youngest son. She said that the dolls first came out when she was ten years old. There are about five or six of these dolls in her collection.
BELONGED TO SON
Also included in Mrs. Gardner's collection is a Japanese doll which her grandson sent her from Japan and a rag doll which her mother made for Mrs. Gardner's sister two years before Mrs. Gardner's birth.
"The most modern doll in my collection," Mrs. Gardner says, "Is my Beatle doll with long black hair." She also made this doll.
Mrs. Gardner says that her interest in collecting dolls stems from her childhood. "When I was about six years old I used to go to the general store on the corner and look at the big doll in the showcase." She cannot remember ever asking her parents for the doll and she knows she never got it, but the memory of it has made her an avid collector of dolls.
As a child one of her most prized possessions was a small Plaster of Paris doll that cost only 15 cents. "Iwould give a pretty penny to have a doll like that one in my collection now, "she added.
When she was 12, Mrs. Gardner promised her mother that if she would get her a big doll she would never date a boy. Two years later as she reminded her mother of this promise her father overheard her. He asked her mother about it and then determined to buy a big doll for his daughter.
PROMISED NOT TO DATE
But the doll never materialized and a few years later Mrs. Gardner had her first date. Mrs. Gardner does, however, still have a china doll that her father bought to compensate for the big doll.
Besides the dolls Mrs. Gardner has a large collection of dishes, cooking vessels and "what-nots."
Perhaps the most valuable in her dish collection is a frosted lion honey dish. This dish dates back many years before her birth and is valued by antique dealers today, she said.
Several pieces of camphor, satin and Japanese glass also grace Mrs. Gardner's collection. She has a plate from the set of dishes that her mother received when she was 14 and several pieces from her own wedding dishes.
Prominent in Mrs. Gardner's collection are a large number of salf dips and toothpick glasses. Several pieces of carnival glass are also prized by Mrs. Gardner.
"These dishes are more valuable than the finest china," Mrs. Gardner said of her several pieces of ironstone. The largest piece of this that she owns is a square vegetable bowl.
Mrs. Gardner also has several brown stoneware bowls which are more than 120 years old.
Concerning her dish collection, Mrs. Gardner told of the time that her son said to her, "Mom, please don't bring home any derned old dishes!" She added, however, that he now often brings her a dish for her collection.
"Mother, you've got to get that thing out of sight." was Mrs. Gardner's daughter's reaction to the three gallon whiskey bottle which Mrs. Gardner owns. The bottle was given to her by a friend in Willow springs who found it in a second hand store
Mrs. Gardner is also an avid collector of many other things. She has a valentine which her husband gave her 54 years ago and her wedding bouquet from her 50th wedding anniversary.
She prizes her father's ink well which she longed for so many years her sister finally let her have it. Another of her most prized possessions is her mother's shell comb which is engraved with her initials.
Besides these things, Mrs. Gardner also has a duck carved from stone, a large, rusted blanket pin, a solid iron clock, a turkey duster made from the tail feathers of a turkey Mrs. Gardner killed, a number of shell combs and hairpins and the wild cherry rolling pin that her father carved for her mother shortly after they were married.
Concerning her collection and her love of life, Mrs. Gardner draws from one of her many original poems to say,
"All the great beauties and wonder of nature Around my path doth unfold. And through the years carry me around I still keep young at heart though growing old."
MRS. GARDNER IS NOW MAKING A FAMILY TREE QUILT. It will have on it the names of all of the Gardner's children and grandchildren. Among the many other quilts Mrs. Gardner has made is one which is centered around an embroidered Indian head. Blocks with different colored maple leaves surround the head.
"MOTHER, YOU CAN'T KEEP THAT THING IN HERE," Mrs. Gardner's daughter exclaimed when she saw the three gallon whiskey bottle. but Mrs. Gardner has. There is no way they know of determining how old the bottle is. Behind Mrs. Gardner is one of the several cabinets of dishes that she has.