The Val Gardena Dolls and the return trip to London

In our podcast ‘From the Forest to the Fantastical’ Simon uses allegories of adventures of Dutch Dolls and folk art toys. Through them, he tells the story of the toy industry and the aesthetic of ‘folk art’ and in Britain the ‘popular art’ of toy theatre, Punch and Judy and fairground art that today filters into modern culture and design.

A popular Pollock’s toy over the years (not including the toy theatres and paper cut-outs) is the Dutch Doll. Not in fact from Holland (possibly called that because they would have been exported via the Dutch ports) but from the northern region of Italy. Val Gardena, St Ulrich, South Tyrol – these place names conjure up the images of The Sound of Music and Heidi. Simon has some of his own stories that he tells about the magical and mysterious wood carving mountain regions on the border of Italy, Switzerland and Austria.

A story told to us by my father. Here is his version of events on how the dolls travelled to London.

The Wooden Dolls and how they came to Pollocks

How Marguerite Fawdry, founder of the modern Pollocks discovered a cache of Dutch dolls in the Italian mountains high above Bolzano is now a mystery. How this stock of wooden dolls was paid for in the days before internet banking is also a puzzle. How to bring back these wooden dolls to Covent Garden? John Fawdry and his school friend James were despatched to Italy to collect as many brown packages of dolls that could fit into their J4 Austin van. The boys slept in the van on the outward journey but on return half the packages were cleared out of the van to build a platform that served as a al fresco bed. 

After many an adventure, leaving a camera in a roadside café, a memorable steak specially cooked for the ‘deux petits monstres’ in the middle of a summer afternoon when the patroness should have been dozing in her backyard, and a terrifying journey under the Alps, the van was finally loaded.

The unreliable van broke down but a friendly Italian fixed it, explaining it had the same engine as the British tanks he worked on during the war. Another time, the brakes only just held on a vertiginous route down a South Tyrolese mountain with John on the footbrake and James clinging onto the handbrake. They survived to find the substantial chalet and the dignified grey-haired owner who opened the door of the huge barn to reveal hundreds of brown paper parcels tied with string. We had found what we came for.

The return journey may well have been unforgettable but it is now a distant memory for this was the late 1960’s.

The return trip to the Val Gardena

Those brown packages of wooden dolls were a popular souvenir from the Museum and the stock lasted 30 years! Eventually, the relatives of the original makers came and reclaimed their family’s archive and now twenty years on have re-established their own wood carving atelier. The dolls we stock in our Covent Garden shop are made now by artists working in the family tradition of the Val Gardena wooden doll. They have come home.

If you are interested in the history of dolls then do look our for the next episode of Holding Up The Queue ‘A Doll went out into the World’ to be released in August 2019