Antique Izannah Walker painted cloth dolls

by tealmermaid

Learn about the stunning antique dolls created by Izannah Walker and her sisters.

Who is Izannah Walker? Izannah Walker (25 September 1817 to 1888) of Bristol, Rhode Island was one of the earliest known female dollmakers in America. Her cloth dolls were all handmade by herself and her sisters, and each individual doll possesses a distinct and recognizable style. They are three-dimensional works of art in a similar style to that of contemporary portraits. Izannah applied for, and received, a patent for her unique doll design in 1873 although her earliest dolls appear to pre-date the patent by some thirty-odd years.

Izannah's doll making process

Izannah began by forming the head and shoulders by applying glue to cotton fabric. This shoulderhead form was pressed into a mold until it hardened. Ears were appliquéd to the head to add dimension. At this point, another layer of glue was applied and allowed to dry. Then, Izannah painted the doll's head, often in a portrait-style likeness, before sewing and attaching the torso and limbs. Elbows and knees were properly jointed before painting the limbs to match the head. A fabric 'second skin' would be sewn over the torso to conceal the jointing.

As an entirely hand-sewn work of art, each finished doll was as unique as its original owner. She and her sisters are said to have produced over 3000 dolls during their careers, although very few have survived to the present day in any recognizable condition.

Collecting Izannah Walker dolls

Distinguishing characteristics of Izannah's dolls

Izannah Walker dolls can be recognized by their stockinette-covered painted heads with either wisps of hair or curls surrounding the face. All of the dolls have applied ears, and their hands have both thumbs and stitched fingers. Many of them have painted boots. Those that do not have painted boots instead have bare feet with stitched toes. The sizes of these dolls range from 15 to 24 inches tall.

Izannah Walker stamp
Izannah Walker stamp

The popularity of Izannah Walker's dolls

In recent years, the obvious beauty of Izannah's dolls has attracted quite a following. There has even been an Izannah Walker doll featured on a postage stamp in the "Classic American Dolls" series in 1997, which was issued in conjunction with a reproduction Izannah Walker doll.

In addition, there are several artists who offer either a kit to make an Izannah-style doll (with varying degrees of accuracy) or a completed reproduction doll. Fortunately the completed artist-made replicas are signed by the artist to distinguish them from the genuine antique article.

Izannah Walker dolls and replicas for sale

izannah walker cloth doll antique reproduction 8 1/2" wendy la...

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Fixed price: $225.00  Buy It Now

OOAK Izannah Walker Style Doll reproduction, 19in.

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Current bid: $390.00  Place bid

Izannah Walker Inspired Doll by Shari Lutz

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Vintage 1983 Jan Farley Handmade Rag Doll w Tag, Izannah Walke...

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First Day postal cover by Fred Collins
First Day postal cover by Fred Collins

Further reading

You might also enjoy these articles:

  • “The Art of Dolls 1700-1940” by Madeline Osborne Merrill in Doll Reader (April 1985): Includes photo of Izannah Walker doll.
  • "How Martha Chase Made Her Doll" by Marjorie A. Bradshaw in Doll News (Anniversary 1989): Explains her doll-making process, which is quite similar to Izannah's process.
  • “Dolls As Art” by Evelyn Ackerman in Doll News (Summer 1993): Includes a photo of Izannah's dolls.
  • “Special Exhibits” in Doll News (Fall 1993): Includes a photo of Izannah's dolls.
  • “The Search for Izannah Walker” by Monica Bessette in Doll News (Spring 1994).
  • “Walker Dolls: A Family Affair” by Monica Bessette in Doll News (Summer 1998).
  • “Izannah Walker – Godmother to Cloth Doll Makers” by Susan Hedrick in Soft Dolls & Animals (Summer 1998).
  • “Early American Stockinette Dolls: Part 1 -- Izannah Walker and Martha Chase Dolls” by Judy Beswick in The Cloth Doll (Fall 1998).
  • “Lavinia Mae” by Shari Lutz in The Cloth Doll (Fall 1998): pattern part I for making a 24" Izannah-style doll.
  • “Lavinia Mae” by Shari Lutz in The Cloth Doll (June 1999): pattern part II for making a 24" Izannah-style doll.
  • “Lavinia Mae” by Shari Lutz in The Cloth Doll (November 1999): pattern part III for making a 24" Izannah-style doll.
  • “Lavinia Mae” by Shari Lutz in The Cloth Doll (May 2000): pattern part IV for making a 24" Izannah-style doll.
  • "Endearing Dolls, Enterprising Women" by Lori Santamaura in Antique Doll Collector (July 2003).
  • "A Walker Wish" by Linda Edward in A Dream Come True (UFDC 66th annual convention book).
  • "Those Incredibly Endearing Dolls of Cloth" by Lynette Gross in A Dream Come True (UFDC 66th annual convention book).
  • "Studying Dolls at The Strong National Museum of Play" by Patricia Hogan in Doll News (Spring 2016): Includes a photo of the museum's Izannah doll collection.

Do you collect any antique dolls?

Updated: 04/21/2017, tealmermaid
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


blackspanielgallery on 03/30/2017

Interesting. I wonder if perhaps the uniqueness inspired the Cabbage Patch dolls, and the movable joints must have been an innovation for the time.

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