Pinky Whelan -- a former antiques dealer -- has a knack for combining history with holiday decor at the Los Altos History Museum, where she has served as one of the founders. For the museum's current exhibit, Whelan is displaying more than 60 unique Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls, in the lobby of the museum and in the J. Gilbert Smith house located next door.
It all began when Whelan's friend Diane Simmons adopted her first Raggedy Ann doll at a thrift shop. Fascinated by the inscription "To Alely, love Grampa and Grandma," written across the doll's chest, Simmons saw something special. Based on this enchantment, she began "adopting" a collection of Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls over a 40-year period.
Recently Simmons uncovered the collection, which she called "her orphans," while cleaning out her attic prior to her relocation to Mississippi. Whelan suggested she showcase the collection of dolls at the museum.
This past August, Whelan individually hand washed and ironed each doll's clothing in preparation for their museum debut.
"It was just crazy. I thought, 'I think I'm losing my mind!'" Whelan said, laughing as she described the process of carefully cleaning each delicate doll.
In the upstairs area of the J. Gilbert Smith house, visitors can read three separate stories about the possible history of the dolls, although docents could not point to which exact story was the most accurate. Each story suggests that Raggedy Ann creator/author Johnny Gruelle's daughter, Marcella (who passed away at the age of 13), was his muse.
A book called "Raggedy Ann Stories" was written by Gruelle in 1918, following the creation of the doll in 1915. Two years later, the sequel, "Raggedy Andy Stories," introduced her brother, Raggedy Andy. By 1935, all dolls were imprinted with an "I love you" on the chest.
Many friends of the museum have also donated Raggedy Ann and Andy books and dolls to the exhibit.
Despite the fact that each of Simmons' dolls in the main museum bear resemblance to one another, no two dolls are identical.
Most Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls boast red-and-white striped stockings but Whelan pointed out that one of the dolls is actually homemade: a doll with brown yarn hair, colorful flowered stockings and leather shoes. Most of the American-made dolls wear some interpretation of a red gingham-printed ensemble but two of the dolls are dressed in green gingham, which Whelan said originated in Ireland. One of the dolls is missing its button eyes, although it almost appears to be in a deep slumber with a lush set of embroidered bottom eyelashes still intact. Whelan seemed particularly smitten with a doll located near the bottom of the tree, which is wearing a tiny handmade dress that Simmons wore as a child.
The exhibit has attracted guests of all ages. Four-year-old Georgia Horn said that she currently owns a small pair of Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls, which she received from a family friend. She shyly admitted that her favorite parts of Raggedy Ann are her stockings and hair.
Mary Brown, a Mountain View resident, said that she had fond memories while visiting the exhibit. Her daughter received a Raggedy Ann doll as a gift in 1966. When her daughter began treatment for amblyopia, a condition which caused decreased eyesight, her doctor suggested that an eyepatch would help strengthen the vision in one of her eyes.
"I had to figure out a way to get her to wear the eyepatch," Brown explained. "So I put one eyepatch on myself, one on Raggedy Ann and one on Andy. She asked me if she could play too. I told her we were playing pirates. That took care of the problem. From then on, she had no problem wearing the eyepatches."
Inspired by the candy-heart-shaped "I love you," inscribed on the chest of each Raggedy Ann and Andy doll, Whelan said that the exhibit is expected to last until after Valentine's Day.
"I don't know if Diane is going to get rid of them," Whelan said of the dolls' future. "I think she is just loving showing them at the museum. I think everybody will be happy to see their smiling faces!"
What: Raggedy Ann and Andy exhibit
When: Through Feb. 26, 2017, Thursday through Sunday, noon-4 p.m.
Where: Los Altos History Museum, 51 S. San Antonio Road, Los Altos
Cost: Free; donations welcome
Info: Go to Los Altos History Museum