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Corn Husk Dolls


It's one of those rare fall days in Seattle ... the sun is actually shining, brilliantly, I might add. I'm doing the final edit on my new holiday novel, also set in Seattle and, of course, the sun is also shining in it.

But my mind has strayed this morning. I'm thinking about corn husk dolls, most likely because they make an appearance in the novel during a Thanksgiving Dinner. This morning, I'm heading out to gather my very simple supplies because I'm determined to have these harbingers of yesterday festoon my Thanksgiving table this year.

Do you know the story of corn husk dolls?

Corn husk dolls are one of the oldest dolls known to the Americas, most likely originating from the Iroquois and their Legend of the Faceless Doll. They were subsequently adapted by European settlers and have enjoyed a rich history in our land. The tie between its Native American and European American roots make the doll so fitting for the Thanksgiving table.

The Legend of the Faceless Doll:
The story tells us that the Iroquois people have what they call the three sisters, the “sustainers of life”. These sisters are called corn, beans, and squash. The corn Spirit was so thrilled at being one of the sustainers of life that she asked the Creator what more she could do for her people. The Creator said that a beautiful doll could be formed from the husks. The Creator set to work to form the doll. When finished he gave the doll a beautiful face, and sent it to the children of the Iroquois people to play with, and to make them happy.

The doll went from village to village playing with the children and doing whatever she could for the children. Everywhere she went everyone would tell her how beautiful she was, so after a while she became vain. The Creator spoke to her and explained that this was not the right kind of behavior, and she agreed not to be this way anymore. The Creator told her that if she continued with this behavior he would punish her, but he would not tell her how he would do it. She agreed not to act that way again, and things went on as before.

One afternoon she was walking by a creek and she glanced into the water. As she admired herself, she couldn’t help thinking how beautiful she was, because indeed she was beautiful. At this time the Creator sent a giant screech owl out of the sky and it snatched her reflection from the water. When she looked again, she had no reflection. This was the punishment the Creator put upon her.

When an Iroquois Mother makes a doll for her child, she tells them this legend which is to remind the child that it is wrong to think they are better then any one else, and they must know that the Creator has given a special gift to everyone.
 Do you have any memories of corn husk dolls?

While I've never had one of these handmade treasures, there is a family story about them. My Great Grandmother, Julia Becker Schell, a German from Russia American immigrant is said to have made these dolls every Christmas. She would sequester herself in the barn for hours on end, it is said, making these and other gifts to the delight of her children.

It is in that spirit of giving, and in keeping with our American heritage, that I intend to follow in my great grandmother's hand-prints, and make my own this year. If you're interested in learning how to make them, I'll post instructions on the Good Living website.

Enjoy the sun today ... even if it is above the clouds. The holidays are in the air!

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