Meet Polly: The Polly Sumner Doll Reproduction Project, Part 2
Written by Lori L. Erickson, Associate Director of Collections, and Janet Cordell, Artist
In 2022, former Bostonian Society Executive Director Richard C. Wiggin and Agnes Connors donated funds to create a replica of the 250-year-old Polly Sumner doll, an object in the Revolutionary Spaces museum collection. Collections staff chose Arkansas-based artist Janet Cordell to make the replica. After traveling to Boston in August to research the original toy, Cordell headed back to her studio to begin work on the reproduction.
Museum staff decided that the reproduction should reflect Polly’s current state. Her original owners had replaced her Colonial-era clothing and swapped her wooden arms and legs with stuffed leather. Since staff could not be entirely certain how she looked when new, they focused on replicating her appearance when she was donated to the Bostonian Society in 1919. Using the doll’s measurements and consulting reference photographs, Cordell made detailed drawings and cut patterns to guide her carving, rather like a sewing project.
She made prototypes of the body and head before settling on the right piece of wood for the final version.
As she carved, Cordell noticed that the new Polly appeared to have a heart in her chest, fitting for a tribute to a doll well loved for almost 250 years.
Since Cordell is a wood sculptor, and because research suggests the original Polly doll was made entirely of wood, Cordell used linden wood for the replica. However, she did add texture to the hands and feet to imitate leather.
With some searching, Cordell located a match for the black glass balls used for Polly’s irises, which she then glued in. Finding matching colors to the original doll, she carefully painted the skin, hair, and eyes of the reproduction. With paint, she mimicked the black leather boots and even added details to replicate stitching on the arms. A coat of lacquer was the final step.
Polly’s current garments were likely made around 1900. Cordell focused her search on natural textiles since synthetics would not have existed. After some trial and error, she settled on shantung silk for the dress and gray organza for the ruffles. She used antique silk lace trim, cotton voile, and eyelet for the undergarments.
Traveling Back Home to Boston
Cordell put the finishing touches on the new Polly doll in late March 2023. To ensure the new treasure would be properly cared for during her journey to Boston, Lori flew to Arkansas to courier the doll, carrying her by hand on the plane. On April 13, Lori arrived at Cordell’s studio and was thrilled to see the artist’s beautiful handiwork.
After arriving safely in Boston the next day, staff installed the doll in a display, just in time for the launch of Richard C. Wiggin’s book celebrating the original Polly Sumner doll.
Polly II now resides at the Old South Meeting House, part of an exhibit commemorating the 250th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party entitled Polly Sumner Doll: Conventional and Controversial Cargo. She hopes to welcome many visitors over the coming years and looks forward to seeing you soon!
To learn more about the history of the Polly Sumner doll, click here to read Meet Polly: The Polly Sumner Doll Reproduction Project, Part 1.