How I Rescued a Doll and Overcame My Lifelong Antipathy toward "Barbie, the Doll"

Luisa's Story

Alison McMahon Johnson

Luisa had some sort of amnesia, and all I knew at first was that she at one time came here from Bolivia; perhaps her life in Bolivia was so traumatic that it is best left forgotten. She seems to be about 40, when life really begins to be fun to live! In her 40's: we're not sure of her age yet, but her behavior as we learn it will enable me, through the process of forensic astrology, to determine a birthdate at some point. Libra is most definitely a part of her makeup.

After an extended period of homelessness and a rather impersonal washing, her hair was a mess; to compound matters, she had her right arm in a sling and was unable to care for it. Coming up on Halloween, she started to think that perhaps a temporary solution to the problem would be some sort of elaborate tribal headgear until she had gotten herself well-enough established to visit a beauty salon.

In October of 2003 all I knew was this: "She's of African and Spanish descent. She doesn't say much of anything -- she's from Bolivia as far as I can tell, and I'm not sure if she speaks English and Spanish both, but I know she reads both English and Spanish, but she says nearly nothing, though she always has a pleasant smile on her face."

In order to save myself from having to reroot her hair, I tried the Ali Baba Spa ("We Work Wonders") treatment on her -- a vaseline wrap sitting in the sun for a day or two, followed by a boiling water straightener, a shampoo and conditioning. Then, in November, came our first "field trip," to drop off books to go overseas, which you can find leading up to the Book Crossing Diorama. On our way, we found just the salon we'd been looking for:

October 2003: Well, things were certainly looking up for Luisa. She still had those old black boots she loves so much, but did they ever look sharp with her new leopard-skin fur coat and newly-treated hair.

She really started blossoming right around then, and we discovered that she was quite a lover of art and architecture, as well as literature, when we went with my mom to visit the Fort Worth Modern Art Museum. She loved the reflecting pool concept in Tadao Ando's design:

and modeled one of the hand-knit sweaters I made, using her and Barbara as fitting models. It was shortly after this trip that we discovered that she had a loose disc in her neck and she underwent several surgeries over the next two months, the upside of which was that the pain medication, as it does in Alzheimer's patients, started bringing back her memory, which continued returning with the lessened stress on the nerves of her neck as it healed. We found out that her name was Luisa Luna and that she had been born in Sucre, Bolivia and that she had family here looking for her. They had naturalization papers for her, a process that had been in the works for years, so 2004 is really looking up for her. She is chuffed as all get-out to have become a citizen and wears her US Passport necklace proudly.

3 January 2004:At relatives' Luisa meets Brandy:

...and then later in the month trying out a new Mexican Mariscos restaurant nearby:

sometime during the month, I ventured into Toys R Us for the first time, looking for some champagne goblets I heard they had for dolls. They turned out to be grey plastic and not what I had in mind, but I was waylaid by the shoes, for Luisa. I left there with enough shoes to do Imelda Marcos and Jacqueline Onassis proud, thinking "Imelda made me do it! Imelda made me do it! Which one of my dolls is Imelda?" It was about a month before I realized that it was Luisa's middle name, Luisa Imelda Luna, who, in addition to loving those old black Bolivian boots of hers, loves to have shoes to match each outfit. Here she is modelling a turquoise chub and one of the items I made for a "No-sew" Doll Costuming Contest, which was a load of fun (and in which I came in second with a macrame creation).

February 2004: Discussing books over tea with Barbara, who's resting up from her long stint packing books in the diorama (as seen below left):

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The Background to the Story:

April 2003:
My cat got lost -- or stuck. His middle name is "Don't Call Me Late for Dinner," so when I don't see him at dinnertime, I worry. Only once before did this happen, and it turned out he had been stuck for three days high up in a Palm tree above our garage in Los Angeles. We talked him down as far as we could and left his brother out for the rest of the night to keep talking to him, and the next morning he was down, a little the worse for wear, but down.

This time, I went out with the dog, calling around the neighborhood and beyond. Down an alley we hadn't been before, we came upon a cache of discarded dolls, and, although we came home catless, we had fifteen dolls in the bags I carry with the dog. I did what any woman would do with several bags full of dolls that had been out in the rain and elements for some time: I threw them in the washing machine with hot water. Since I didn't have any particular fondness for Barbies at that point, in they went too -- they are nearly indestructible, which is a large part of their enduring charm, I have since come to find. (...and my cat's brother brought him back again the next day)
When the Barbies came out of the machine, they had bad hair of a degree rarely seen in civilized society, due to the hot water tumbling they took. I also discovered much later that both of them had heads loosely attached to their necks -- another result of the hot water tumbling. I put them aside and decided to cut them up and do rude things with them. However, before I did that, I decided to finish crocheting a wedding gown I had started years before and had had no fitting model for. It was during that process, of putting the dress on the doll and thinking and handling it, that I decided that perhaps I could repair the hair -- cut it and set it -- and so set about looking around on the internet for information about how to set and style Barbie hair. During that time, I decided it would be fun to make a Frida Kahlo doll and set out looking for a brunette Barbie -- not as easy to do as I had thought -- and settled for a My Scene Nolee as a likely candidate.

Summer 2003: Well, it was no time before I had fallen in love with the My Scene Dolls as canvases for face repaints, having started with the one and looked into materials and techniques for that. I began to find great possibilities within the doll world for alternative uses of dolls, for dolls as art, and there I was, but still with an antipathy toward "Barbie, the Doll." One group I became involved with had a "Travel Doll Project" that was a wonderful outlet for what I had already been doing with Furbies -- photographing them as traveling companions (which they were) with lives of their own. The only hitch was that I couldn't use any of my My Scene repaints because the leader of that group has a great antipathy toward them (and me, now too; just my luck to run into the only person in the United States that thought G.W. was doing "a darned good job" in New Orleans!) as some sort of alien beings (and they are Roswellish, but with a repaint, very pleasantly petite-looking).

How could I participate? It looked like so much fun and was right up my alley, but how could I be dragging around a wide-eyed vacuously grinning tall skinny doll ("Barbie, the Doll")? Well, I did have the one African American one and, besides her hair, she really was quite pleasant-looking: larger lips, a square jaw, and nicely proportioned eyes. I could handle that. "Say," I thought, "I could take her around places that were once taboo for black people, politically incorrect places," thinking of the possibility of taking a picture of her by the plaque recently uncovered in city hall labeling drinking fountains for "whites" and "coloreds" (and nearly removed in shock and shame until it was decided that that was indeed a part of history, not a shameful present, and should be left there as a historical marker. It did happen -- in some of our lifetimes, but is long long ago for people under 35) ... and so Luisa and her story were born, and we haven't done anything "political" yet -- as it turns out, she is interested in the arts, as I am.
All the Dolls I've done, play with, am working on.... (always under construction)
Page 1 of Featured Dolls
Page 2 of Featured Dolls
Page 1 of Doll Clothes
Page 3 of Featured Dolls(not open yet)
Page 4 of Featured Dolls: Alison's Wonderland Fur Salon for fashion dolls
Page 5 of Featured Dolls: Alison's Wonderland Fur Salon for fashion dolls
Book Crossing Diorama:
About the Diorama: The Diorama itself: how it was made; how it looks in scale to the real world.
Luisa's Story: You are here.
The Sepulveda Girls: (not up yet)
Pinky Sepulveda Goes off to Harry Potter Camp, Summer 2004

Above, we have a picture of Luisa doing another Book Crossing drop off, in a theatre, the next person to have it (Barbara, who grew on me throughout the construction and completion of this project) boxing up a bundle to send to soldiers stationed in the Middle East -- both to meet their wish lists for books and to give them a chance to communicate back via books and the internet -- and being read there by a serviceman, who I hope will contact Luisa as a result of the books sent abroad.
NEWS UPDATE 1 February 2005:As you may know, the gentleman, Mathias, did write back to Barbara and Luisa and even dropped in for a visit after Chinese New Year, and spent St. Patrick's Day with the group. Later, John Adam began corresponding with the Ladies as well. When we heard the news from Iraq today, our hearts sank at the image we saw.

We reallly didn't think it could happen, but in the back of our mind was a dread, and now....
Is there no end to this?

AP Story

New York Times(?) Story

The ladies are all pretty down at the moment, but they do have their spiritual advisor, former Marine Joe Rightfoot, who may be able to do something to help John out of this horrifying situation.

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