Most of us have heard of Holly Hobbie, but perhaps Sarah Kay and Betsey Clark are slightly less familiar. All three artists specialised in drawing greetings cards, lending their names to the characters they drew, which were later issued in doll form.
The Betsey Clark character is an old-fashioned miss, quite distinctive with her pointed, elfin-type face, teardrop-shaped eyes, high forehead and wispy blonde hair caught up with a thin ribbon into a bunch on top of her head.
Pictured right: Betsey Clark doll
She is a poor waif, with patches on her clothes and oversize shoes. This adorable child was created by her namesake, Betsey Clark, who lived in Amarillo, Texas. Betsey showed early promise for art and design, winning awards for drawing while still a child. In the early 1960s she began work at Hallmark cards, producing greetings card designs which depicted her so-called Whimsical Waifs. These soon caught the public’s imagination. Later, various dolls featuring her characters appeared, to the delight of both children and adults. Additionally, the German company of Goebel were commissioned by Hallmark to produce a series of Betsey Clark figurines for collectors. According to a collector’s site on the internet, Betsey proclaimed that she loved to ‘work off in a little bitty corner, with the drapes pulled around me’. She died in 1987, but her enchanting characters live on.
A range of Betsey Clark dolls was issued by Knickerbocker in the 1970s. Amongst them was an 8″ tall vinyl-headed, soft-bodied girl, dressed in a pretty pale blue outfit of patterned dress and striped apron. Her apron bore two patches. The pale colouring of the dolls’ features and clothing reflected the delicate hues in Betsey Clark’s illustrations, and the attractive box featured a picket fence, topped with a robin, with the Betsey doll standing behind. A verse on the box read, ‘Betsey’s the very best kind of a friend, whenever you need her, she has time to spend. You can tell her your troubles when something goes wrong, and wherever you go, she likes going along! She can make you smile brightly when you’re feeling glum, when you tell her your secrets, she’ll keep every one! She can make almost anything more fun to do, and she’s coming to stay and have fun times with you!’ Betsey was also available as a small all-vinyl doll and as a rag doll, while in 1985 a delightful 6″ porcelain collector’s doll was created. Betsey Clark dolls seem more difficult to obtain here in Britain than those of Sarah Kay and Holly Hobbie, which is a shame as they are very cute with their wistful faces and large, sad eyes.
Artist Sarah Kay seems to be something of a recluse. Apparently, she shuns all publicity, preferring to talk through her delightful portrayals of little girls in old-fashioned summer dresses and mob caps. Often confused with Holly Hobbie, Sarah Kay’s creations tend to wear clothes featuring spotted fabrics, while Holly Hobbie uses patchwork and small floral prints.
Pictured left: Sarah Kay doll
She lives in Australia, and trained at art college before joining an advertising agency. When her daughter Allison became very ill, Sarah needed something to soothe her worries, and began to work on a series of drawings featuring carefree children in an idyllic, old-fashioned country setting, gaining her inspiration from her own childhood, spent on her grandparents farm. The drawings were noticed by the Valentine Greetings Card Company, and were produced as popular cards and stationery.
Pedigree decided to manufacture dolls based on the little girls in the drawings, producing a range during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Some of the most delightful had vinyl faces with round, painted eyes and softly coloured lips. A few freckles were scattered across the bridge of the nose.
Pictured right: Sarah Kay Pedigree doll Sweet Thoughts
These dolls had rooted hair and soft bodies, and stood 13″ tall. They had names such as Gentleness, Tenderness, Sweet Love, Sweetness, Cheerfulness, Happiness, Joy, Affection, Kindness and Sweet Thoughts, and each wore a different colour or pattern; for instance, Gentleness wore mainly green, Tenderness blue, Sweet Love red and so on. Several versions were available including rag dolls in assorted sizes, and Pedigree also marketed a nightdress case, shaped like a Sarah Kay doll, under the Burbank name. Sometimes the dolls wore bonnets or mob-caps, while others had straw hats. In their 1979 catalogue, Pedigree proclaimed, ‘The most beautiful rag dolls ever. High quality material. Detailed replicas of world famous greetings cards.’
The House of Anri, founded and maintained by the Riffeser family over several generations, is famed for its creative range of wooden figurines, which are made at St. Christina, located in the Dolomite mountains of South Tyrol, Italy. Amongst their products are ornamental models of Sarah Kay characters. These delightful pieces are hand-carved from Alpine maple and are extremely popular. Several kinds of Sarah Kay jointed wooden dolls have also been carved, including Martha, a sweet little girl, 14″ tall, made in a limited edition of 750. She has the trademark freckles across her nose, and is dressed in a typical Sarah Kay outfit of cotton frock and bonnet. As you might expect, these painted, wooden creations are expensive, but they are extremely beautiful and collectable.
Most famous of the three designers is Holly Hobbie. During the 1960s, people became intrigued by her designs featuring a little girl, facing sideways, dressed in a long patc hwork frock, with a large bonnet totally obscuring her face. This pose tended to create an urge to see the expression which lurked beneath the brim. Grannies, especially, adored this nostalgia theme, imagining it was their granddaughter lurking under that floppy bonnet, and the whole concept happily coincided with the fashionable look of the day – long, floaty dresses, small prints, Laura Ashley, country style, femininity and pastel shades.
Pictured left: 1975 Knickerbcoker Holly Hobbie doll
Holly Hobbie created her designs for the American Greetings Card Company for many years, featuring children in idyllic settings, each illustrated by a motto such as ‘Life’s greatest blessing is a happy heart’, ‘Happiness is found in little things’ or ‘Start each day in a happy way’. The designs appeared not only on stationery items, but on products such as kitchen towels, oven gloves, plates, cups, aprons, bed linen, china ornaments, trays and, of course, as dozens of different dolls. Many of these were rag dolls, as befitting the nostalgia theme. Today, Holly Hobbie lives in Conway, Massachusetts, and is a successful author/illustrator of picture books featuring the adventures of two pigs called Toot and Puddle.
Dolls representing Holly Hobbie have been made by several companies over the years, including Knickerbocker, Tomy and, most recently, Ashton Drake. During the 1970s a Holly Hobbie made from a very soft thin rubbery vinyl was issued by the American Greetings Corp. This doll had barely-there features, a round head, straggley hair and tiny eyes. She looked rather strange. Knickerbocker created a whole range of rag dolls in various sizes, and, as well as Holly Hobbie, there were friends such as Amy, Heather, Carrie, Robby and Grandma. Amy tended to wear green, Heather pink or beige and Carrie, red. Robby was a little boy in blue striped dungarees, while Grandma, naturally, was an old lady doll.
Pictured right: Tomy Party Days Holly Hobbie
As well as the rag dolls, vinyl types were available – one unusual one stood just 6″ tall, but wore an enormous skirt. Underneath the skirt was a three-roomed dolls house, complete with Holly Hobbie-style furniture and accessories, such as a gramophone with a horn, a rocking chair, a butter churn, a kitchen dresser and a round table. Tomy introduced a range of Holly Hobbie dolls in 1989, featuring some beautiful rag types 16″ high, dressed in pastel-coloured dresses, each bearing a message such as ‘Make each day a sunshine day’ and ‘A gift from the heart is the best gift of all’. The box stated ‘Every day is a Holly day’. During the 1990s, Holly Hobbie was revamped again, this time by Knickerbocker, appearing as a vinyl, soft-bodied doll with a snub nose, cheeky smile and masses of curly hair. She wore a long patchwork frock and matching bonnet, available in several colourways. Smaller versions were sold too.
The recent Ashton Drake issue of porcelain Holly Hobbie dolls was probably the most delightful representation of the character ever produced. Created by Dianna Effner, and standing 16″ high, they represented the four seasons. Autumn, the first to be released, showed the little girl in her famous patchwork dress and bonnet clutching a flowering twig. The next in the series, Summer, had Holly dressed in patriotic red, white and blue, holding the American Flag, while Winter had her in a red dress and Spring wore green. These dolls had delightful expressions – a combination of a shy smile and a cheeky grin – and the detailing on the costumes was excellent.
Pictured left: Ashton Drake Holy Hobbie doll
Holly Hobbie, Betsey Clark and Sarah Kay are sweet characters who maintain an aura of enchanted childhood days; warm summers and innocent pleasures, a time when life was simple and uncomplicated. Their namesake-creators could never have dreamt that dolls based on their drawings would bring so much pleasure to so many people.