The dolls’ mysterious maker, the plainly named, Robert Smith, was a farmer from Battle Creek, Iowa. Born in 1916, he died in 2002. Both his wife and daughter are dead and Smith left no heirs and no immediate family besides the 81 wooden women he liked to call his “Firewood Floozies.” But they are most often known as the Dollies.
On the top floor of the Plymouth County Historical Museum in Le Mars, Iowa are 81 wooden dolls. Each doll is 15 pounds and 39 inches tall. Smith ran a large farm growing corn, but he considered himself a type of artist. Smith began carving the dolls in the fall of 1976 in the winter when the frigid weather kept him inside. He would stop in the spring and then start again in the fall after the harvest.
Smith sketched each doll first and used wooden briketter from his farm to make every part of the dolls by hand except the hair, which he ordered from a catalog. Smith used a buzz saw to hack down the wood into large blocks and then trace them with his cardboard templates. From an article in the local paper,
“The rest is painless, Smith assures. Every one of the legs has a screw eye and the legs and arms bend in the same place where Smith’s own body bends. The doll feet have five toes just like Smith’s own feet, which he uses as patterns.”
Smith sewed each outfit, choosing the fabric for the clothing, and using the hand crank on the machine to perfect each stitch. He gave each doll shoes, accessories, a name and a story. (Sounds like RuPaul’s Drag Race, huh?) Take “Angel Fallon”, one of Smith’s favorite dolls. He even pierced her ears. The story that accompanies her reads,
“Hello! My name is Angel. Since I moved to my own apartment here I’ve been having this problem with rats in my kitchen. It could be worse because they all eat out. At first they were eating my cooking, too, but by now the survivors know better…My stomach is made of wood so I can eat anything.”
A doll with a blue mini skirt and knee high boots holds a cigarette.
“I hate housework. Mama says I must learn all the house-keeping arts to be happy and successful in life. When I tell her I don’t need that because I’m going to be a model or actress she says, ‘Little girl your head must be made of wood to think that way.’”
Smith said that their personalities just manifested on their own out of the wood in his hands.
“I think it’s fun to make each doll a figment of the imagination, to be like a plastic surgeon.”
The last doll was finished on May 5, 1998 and Smith went into a nursing home. The dolls “live” on the top floor and the museum plays Hello Dolly for them on loop. I know. It sounds like the beginning of a horror movie…