These Florida Dolls Wear Many Colors

Around 1935, if you lived in Indian River County, Florida and you were dear to my mother, sooner or later, at Christmas or birthday, you would receive a very colorful American Indian doll.

The thousands of wetlands, then known as the “marsh”—west of Vero Beach in Indian River county—were the home of the proud Seminoles. These people could perform sartorial magic with hand-crank sewing machines, and were masters of balanced geometric design. They understood the natural fibers around them, particularly palmetto palm husk fiber. This bore a resemblance to the mane of a well-groomed, roan horse. Brightly-colored cotton cloth was expertly sewn by these artisans into intricately designed strips. From these materials, with the palmetto palm husk fiber forming the body, these talented women produced florid Seminole dolls, ranging in height from six to approximately 14 inches.

The author's daughter received this Seminole doll in the early 1960s from her Dad on a trip to Miami, Florida.

The author’s daughter received this Seminole doll in the early 1960s from her Dad on a trip to Miami, Florida.

On Saturdays, the Seminole women came into town from their wetland empire and sold these dolls, walking from one automobile to the next, as they were parked around the town square. These Native Americans soon learned that in the back seat of one of the most careworn automobiles would be my mother. While the scene for a sale was not always promising, they had long ago discovered that this lady, obviously of small means, would have discovered somewhere the coins with which to complete a purchase.