What does the 1850 census have to do with textile conservation? And this rag doll? Meet Aunt Grace! She’s the Dollyvers’ cook. The Dollyvers are a collection of 24 rag dolls, reportedly made as portraits of the family of the artist, Laura Turpin, in the 1890s. The dolls are currently undergoing treatment in the textile conservation lab so our conservator has been doing some research about the history of the dolls and the artist.
It hasn’t been easy to match the dolls’ names to actual people in Turpin’s family tree, but we hit a jackpot with Aunt Grace! Grace Watkins, a black woman, age 55 (highlighted), is listed in the census of 1850 as a member of the household of Mary Turpin, age 63, in Ohio. Grace would have been a free woman in Ohio, but the family had moved from Kentucky sometime before 1850. We don’t know why or at what point Grace joined the household, only that she was a beloved and long-standing member of the family. Grace Watkins lived to be nearly 100 years old and was buried in the Turpin family plot in 1887.
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