The historical character line of American Girl dolls was released in 1986 and became wildly popular by the mid-1990s. These 18-inch dolls and their accompanying books aimed to teach aspects of American history from the perspectives of 8- to 11-year old girls living in certain time periods. During the 1990s, five dolls were featured in the collection: Felicity Merriman (1774), Kirsten Larson (1854), Addy Walker (1864), Samantha Parkington (1904), and Molly McIntire (1944). Now, with retired dolls included, there are a total of 15 historic characters with stories spanning from 1764 to 1974.
In Meet Allison, an American Girl, I recreate the wardrobes, accessories and stories of the American Girl dolls and use self-portaiture to study women and girls from different points of American history. I meticulously replicate and construct my costumes by hand, and photograph myself in locations that are historically accurate to the American Girl stories. As my views of history, domesticity, and life from a female perspective have evolved from childhood (I grew up playing with four of my own American Girl dolls), I carry a more holistic understanding of the societal constructions of the American Girls’ worlds.
This year, 2019, I am making a major shift to the foundation of my work. Since the advent of this project, the age of my characters has always been ambiguous; am I their age, between 8 and 10? Or am I the age of myself at the time I take my portraits? During my recent research on European and American women’s roles in the 19th and 20th centuries, I landed on a solution: why not imagine the lives of these characters as young women, 22 - 24 years after their stories ended, placing them at the same age I am now. What would Kirsten, Josefina, or Samantha look and think like in the late 1870s, 1920s, and 1840s, respectively? How would the contexts of major cultural impacts like the Civil War, WWI, Prohibition, and Westward Expansion have affected their lives? Using primary and secondary texts on women’s history, politics, economics, theology, and social change, I am beginning to construct the visual prologues to the American Girls’ classic stories.