This Sunday, paper doll expert Patti Fertel will speak on the history of paper dolls throughout the past two centuries as a part of DACO’s An Ohio Childhood exhibition. (Submitted)

Ephemeral And Beloved: Paper Dolls Through The Ages At DACO

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If your young mind ever transformed a refrigerator box into a rocket ship or a time traveling machine, you know precisely the power of imagination and how it can turn cardboard – or maybe even paper – into something a little bit magical.

This Sunday, Oct. 16, paper doll expert Patti Fertel will speak on the history of paper dolls at 2 p.m. at the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio (DACO) as a part of the organization’s ongoing An Ohio Childhood: 200 Years of Growing Up exhibition.

“As it became more inexpensive and easier to print paper in the early 1800s, children’s books and playthings made of paper became more popular,” said Fertel, who started collecting paper dolls in 1974 and joined the larger paper doll collecting community when she moved to Columbus in 1979. “Paper dolls reflect how childhood has changed throughout the century. In the 40s, you had war scenes; in the ’50s, you have scenes from situation comedies like I Love Lucy or The Donna Reed Show; and what the dolls are shown with reflects the toys and occupations of the decades in which they were made.”

For Fertel, who has an undergraduate degree in Art History and a Master’s in Social Work, paper dolls are about more than collecting unique antiques.

One of Fertel's dolls that is currently on display at DACO. (Submitted)
One of Fertel’s dolls that is currently on display at DACO. (Submitted)

“Paper dolls are ephemeral, and anything made of paper that lasts is pretty unusual,” said Fertel. “They were meant to be played with and thrown away, but people really valued them. They have also always been very inexpensive – even our parents and grandparents played with them. You can still find paper dolls from over a hundred years ago, and anything that is over 100 years old and has survived is really kind of amazing.”

When Fertel’s fascination with the ultimate ephemeral toy began, she started to not only search antique stores for old paper dolls, but toy stores for new ones; as at the time she had a small child.

“There has almost always been Disney paper dolls – right now you can buy Frozen paper dolls; and American Girl Dolls makes paper dolls too,” said Fertel. “There have always been paper dolls reflecting what is popular at the moment – cowboys, brides, babies, cartoons, comics – anything.”

A portion of Fertel’s enormous paper doll collection is on display as a part of the Ohio Childhood exhibition at DACO in the lower level gallery.

Registration for Sunday’s presentation is preferred, but walk-ins are welcome. The cost of attendance is $8 for non-members and $5 for members.