Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
January 15, 2000 - Issue 01

Dolls on Exhibit
By Derek Wilson
World Staff Writer

Dollmaker Margaret Flanagan cradles a tired toddler stomp dancer.

Margaret Flanagan has 85 babies to her credit, and that's only in the past five years.

A Broken Arrow resident, Flanagan creates life-like soft sculpture Indian baby dolls, which have won hearts all over the continent and in other countries as well.

Flanagan is a Cherokee who has been making her dolls for only five years. Though she has been doing art for most of her life, she only delved into Indian art when she started doing the dolls.

"I've always loved to make things," she said in a typically-Indian hushed tone.

Though she has been making dolls for 20 years, it is only during the past five that she has focused on Indian babies.
Amazingly, Flanagan is legally blind and has only a six-degree field of vision.

Flanagan started out making dolls that resembled celebrities.

As her dolls were astonishingly life-like, she began to make driving companion dolls, which could be placed in the passenger's seat of a car on long journeys so it would appear a solo driver was not alone.

"It got to be a real chore to put out life-size dolls," Flanagan said. "I got to where I just didn't like doing it anymore."

Also, she was expecting her fifth child, so she quit doing the dolls.

Years later, after her sixth child was in school, she decided to start making Indian babies.

"I don't know why," she said. "I have this passion for Seminole patch -- I love it. It's beautiful.

"I had some Seminole patch on hand, and some fur and things, and I decided I wanted to make a little premie-size baby."

The baby received a lot of attention, so she made a regular-size baby that really impressed people.

The first eight of Flanagan's dolls were Christmas presents and after that, orders started coming in.

Occasionally, when she would shop for baby accoutrements, she would take the doll for sizing -- the people at the shops absolutely had to have one.

So, Flanagan began making them to sell.

Flanagan's dolls are so life-like, people are quite often fooled by them.

As a matter of fact, her dolls are anatomically correct, down to the last detail.

"I want them to be life-like: that's my goal," she said. "I like people to appreciate what I do. I really enjoy making them because they're all one-of-a-kind."

Flanagan even studies books and photographs of different tribes so that she can create a doll that belongs to a particular tribe.

She has done babies from Comanche, Kiowa, Shennecock, Apache, Creek, Seminole, Navajo and Innuit tribes; the latter of which is known more widely amongst whites as Eskimo.

In this part of Oklahoma, the most popular doll is the Cherokee one.

"There are so many people who are descendants of the people who walked the Trail of Tears," Flanagan said. "Everyone is proud of their heritage and a lot of people want to pay homage to that in some way."

Many people will even name the dolls after an actual ancestor.

Flanagan grew up in various parts of Oklahoma, including Tulsa and Delaware County, but she attended schools in Broken Arrow.

To make a doll, Flanagan cuts a pattern out of fabric, sews it up, stuffs it and covers it with panty hose.

The hair is made from the fur of fox and rabbit fur.

The dolls themselves take about two weeks to make.

The clothes are made of leather, usually deer or elk hide, and contain intricate beadwork, which can sometimes take three weeks to complete.

"Most tribes did used to use deer hide or elk hide," Flanagan said. "Of course, the Five Civilized Tribes and other tribes were wearing fabric by the mid-1700s but most people, when they order a doll, they want the deer hide."

Flanagan uses a needle and thread to sculpt the faces, which is extremely difficult.

"Most people, when you say soft sculpture, they think, 'Oh, Cabbage Patch,'" she said. "This is far from that."

Flanagan as a special artist will attend the Special Exhibit of International Dolls, which will take place in March in Albuquerque, N.M.

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