Topsy-turvy doll, 
US, 1890-1905
Mixed fabrics, paint
New-York Historical Society, Gift of Katharine Prentis Murphy

This topsy-turvy doll was made around the time that the Supreme Court infamously ruled in favor of legal separation of the races in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). In The Souls of Black Folk (1903), W.E.B. DuBois declared that “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line.” This line between black and white would soon be widespread in trains and schools, as well as stitched into a child’s toy.

Leo Moss and the (Re)making of Black Dolls

The meaning of any doll extends far beyond the surface, but for these examples made by Leo Moss, this is especially true. As a handyman in Macon, Georgia, Moss would take home scraps of wallpaper and use them as papier-mâché to sculpt layers onto manufactured dolls he found or traded for. 
He remolded the hair, features, and even the facial expressions of the dolls, finishing by tinting the skin with boot dye, until they resembled himself, family members, or neighbors.    

CAT scans and X-rays of the dolls reveal Moss’s layering process and even reveal items like long-silent voice boxes hidden within the cloth. 
Scan photographs courtesy of Steve Eilenberg.

Leo Moss (d. 1936), Undressed doll with tears, 
Macon, GA, ca. 1933
Manufactured body, mixed fabrics, papier-mâché, glass

Leo Moss (d. 1936), Dressed doll with tears, 
Macon, GA, ca. 1922
Manufactured body, cotton, papier-mâché, glass

Leo Moss (d. 1936), Doll in suit and bowtie, 
Macon, GA, early 20th centuryManufactured body, mixed fabrics, papier-mâché, leather, glass

Black Dolls, Black Pride