The Springfield Science Museum is currently showing the holiday exhibit It's a Wonderful Life: A Doll's Story, which showcases dolls from different cultures around the world. The exhibit will be on display through January 8, 2006.
The exhibit offers some insight into the various cultures that are represented by the dolls on display. Porcelain dolls from Asia are dressed in traditional silk embroidered kimonos and posed along side authentic Asian garments. The Japanese friendship doll known as 'Miss Oita" was given to America by the citizens of Japan as a sign of trust and friendship in the early 1900s. "Miss Oita" is dressed in a silk kimono with elaborate stitching and an array of colorful designs. Victorian England is represented with dolls wearing the royal garments of Queen Elizabeth. Other character dolls include Uncle Sam, King Tut, and a tin wind-up doll of Charlie Chaplin. As visitors move through the exhibit, they encounter dolls of Africa and Native America. These figures served as more than just children's toys. African dolls were used in ceremonies and believed to hold spiritual powers. The African dolls on display include animals such as elephants and giraffes carved from wood and small dolls made from clay. They are displayed with various ceremonial African tools. The Native American dolls, made from leather, wood, and even cornhusks, were used to teach children how to care for themselves and others. The dolls are displayed with actual Native American moccasins and clothing. Also on display are Eskimo, or "Inuit," dolls dressed in seal skin coats and fur boots. The small figures represent life in the Arctic and the culture of the people who lived in these frigid areas. Authentic seal skin boots and bags are exhibited with the dolls. American dolls include a figurine of a Springfield man. Dressed in a top hat and coat, this small figure is said to be what a typical middle class man living in Springfield during the early 1800s might look like. He is shown with several other dolls made from a material called bisque, which replaced the porcelain china previously used for dolls. The bisque dolls have a very fair complexion with colorful makeup to highlight their cheeks, eyes, and hair. At one end of the exhibit gallery, visitors encounter a snow-covered forest scene full of New England woodland creatures. The scene includes a small mock pond surrounded by cottontail rabbits, squirrels, a loon, a porcupine, a black bear and its cub, a moose, and even a cougar. These wild animals, along with many others included in the display, can be found in the forests of New England. The snowy scene brings them all together to give visitors a closer look at what might be roaming in their backyard.