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Black doll shows draw a growing, savvy crowd


Alethea Churchman was having a ball. In the course of 15 minutes, the 4-year-old had had her picture taken with Santa, received a bunch of candy canes and won a Barbie doll as a door prize. She was spinning in circles so fast her mother could hardly contain her.

Alethea and her mother, Edith Churchman, had come to a black doll show in East Rutherford, N. J., to find something for Christmas.

"I want to expose Alethea to the ethnic toys that are out there," Mrs. Churchman said as she took Alethea's hand and they walked over to a vendor who was displaying Rastafarian dolls selling for $95.

But these dreadlocked dolls with their crocheted hats were just a few of the items being displayed at Linda Stewart's seventh annual black doll show. Victorian ladies, dozens of black Santas, contemporary glamour dolls, art objects, books and other black memorabilia were on display.

About 25 artists and craftsmen stood beside their booths in a room at the Meadowlands Sheraton Hotel last week. They came from as far away as Pittsburgh, Washington and Philadelphia.

Mrs. Stewart, the impresario of this show, doesn't care whether artists work in cloth, porcelain or plastic, but she does care about artists who promote a positive black image.

Her friend Malinda Saunders, an exhibitor from Washington, agrees.

"Black doll artists sprang up just to create dolls with a positive image and not ones that look identical to white people, either," Ms. Saunders said.

C.V. Bush, who had come to the show from New Brunswick to look for a doll for her 3-year-old daughter, Alexis, said she does not buy white dolls.

"Alexis can't relate to a white doll; she knows she's black and I wouldn't even think about buying anything else," Mrs. Bush said.

Diane Kirby's arms were full of dolls, Christmas items and figurines she had bought.

She explained that she is out every weekend, traveling to shows, flea markets and yard sales.

She pointed to a few exhibitors and said that many of their items would start growing in value in the next few years. Mrs. Kirby said that while Mrs. Stewart's shows are not among the largest on the East Coast, the exhibitors have much to offer.

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