Dolls: Playing with Identity

August 18, 2022 to June 18, 2023

Dolls date back to the oldest civilizations, and people have used dolls to help grow and connect for hundreds of years. Learning through play and storytelling is an important part of the human experience. Playful learning with dolls encourages the use of imagination and communication and helps develop social skills, empathy, and a sense of belonging.

People are fascinated with these varied and expressive replicas of ourselves. Visit Dolls: Playing with Identity at Vesterheim and consider how dolls have been or could be a part of your story.

Dolls make an interesting study of history and social life. They show how values and attitudes continue and change over time, and they give lessons on adult roles, gender roles, careers, and ethnicity.

As popular culture, dolls have influenced people’s identities and relationships. To play with a doll is to play with a present or future self.

The exhibit will also feature Norwegian costume dolls as an expression of ethnicity. Two doll artists will be featured – Rønnaug Petterssen (1901-1979) and Hild Næss Hildahl (1902-1997).

Rønnaug Petterssen made a variety of dolls from pressed felt or plastic and was a leading maker of Norwegian costume dolls from 1934 to 1979. Many Americans acquired Rønnaug’s dolls through visits to Norway after World War II.

Hild Næss Hildahl emigrated from Kragerø, Norway, to Roseau, Minnesota, two years before the German invasion of Norway. She loved to share the folklore and culture of her home country, so she would present programs for church groups in northern Minnesota. She also performed at Nordic Fest in Decorah (1967, 1968). She illustrated her presentations with tiny dolls arranged in scenes. Olaf Hildahl carved the wooden parts of the dolls and Hild sewed, knit, and crocheted the rest. This will be the first time Hild’s dolls have been shown in Decorah in more than 50 years.

This exhibit is supported by generous gifts to the Vesterheim Annual Fund from Daniel and Mary Ann Thurmer and their children, Jenelle, Johanna, Hans, and families, in honor of their parents.