Unique Doll Collection Makes An Impact
By Dan Brown
When Mattie Sanders started collecting dolls more than 25 years ago she wanted to tell a story.
“I wanted to give kids a sense of respect,” said the retired Berkeley Middle School guidance counselor. “I would see kids so ashamed of who they were or where they came from …
“I wanted to do something that could reach out to just one child and tell them, yes you are special and yes you can be proud of who you are.”
The exhibit – “Dolls Imitate Humans” – was presented by the B.R.I.G.H.T Historical Organization and was on display in the Berkeley Middle School cafeteria last week.
It contained more than 2,000 dolls that represent the human condition and celebrates diversity in the family.
All of the dolls Sanders collected and named herself, and each doll, from the homemade Sanders created to the latest version of Cabbage Patch babies, has a name and a story.
“Every one,” she said. “Each doll has a name and a story. The collection has become so big that I can’t tell them all.”
Sanders has been collecting dolls for over 25 years.
Initially starting as a hobby, Sanders’ collection quickly grew from several dolls to several hundred. For many years she has visited schools, churches, and other community organizations where she uses the dolls to teach self-esteem.
Until last week Sanders would take portions of her massive collection, enough to fill two storage units, to small groups such as school classrooms and Sunday school. The expo at BMS was the first time she’s been able to display all her dolls at once.
The enormity of what people are seeing generally renders one speechless, or reduces commentary to “Wow!” or “Holy Cow!” or something a little more colorful.
For Sanders it’s a chance to reconnect with old friends – her dolls. As she guides visitors around the many display rows she tells their stories as if each doll were the only one she owned.
“My favorite doll is Cassandra,” Sanders said, displaying the doll she made from scratch. “I would take her to classrooms and I’d find a child there and really try to connect with them. In this case there was a little girl who was also named Cassandra, and her face just lit up when I told her my doll had the same name.”
Sanders’ message is empowerment and respect. Respect for others just as much as respect for yourself, and an empowerment that says nothing can keep you from your dreams in life except yourself.
“I have kids I visit who live way out in the country and they are ashamed of where they come from,” she said. “I try to teach these children that each and every one of them is special and no one should ever be ashamed of their family or where they live.”
Sanders utilizes a unique cataloguing system that lists each individual doll, the name and the doll’s story on the computer. It takes her about two days to set up a display, from setting up tables and arranging dolls, to the various messages she would like to convey.
Tearing it down is another story.
“We have to be out of here by noon,” Sanders said. “There’s a luncheon coming in here behind us.”
According to Sanders she can have a display row of approximately 500 dolls taken down and packed in about an hour. “I’ve done it so often it becomes an easy routine,” she said.
By Dan Brown