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corn dollies


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A modern craft form based loosely on traditional figures made of straw, previously connected with harvest customs. Many references to harvest figures exist, under various names (Corn baby, Corn maiden, Kern baby, etc.), and the treatment of the figures also varied from place to place. Sometimes the image was large enough to be carried in triumph on a pole or in pride of place on the last load, but in others it was a more decoration than for its representational features. Some were hung up in farmhouse or barn till the following year, others were displayed in the church at the harvest festival, while some places had a tradition whereby the figure could be sent to mock a nearby farm which had not finished its harvest. Some were rough and ready, others well crafted. Corn figures, like harvest customs in general have not received the detailed attention they deserve because writers have been content to adopt the discredited Frazerian theory of corn spirits and fertility and have thus needed to enquire no further, so their distribution and function remains unclear. The custom of making corn figures had virtually died out in England well before the Second World War, but was revived in modified form, by a number of enthusiasts, under the generic name of ‘corn dolly’ as a rural heritage handicraft in the 1950s and 1960s. Minnie Lambeth, the wife of the Curator of the Cambridge Folk Museum, was one of the leading lights of the new movement, and she produced the first practical manuals. A Golden Dolly: The Art, Mystery, and History of Corn Dollies (1963, enlarged 1969) and Discovering Corn Dollies (1974). The craft ‘corn dollies’ have evolved far beyond the original traditional styles.

Iorwerth C. Peate, Folklore 82:3 (1971), 177–84;Porter, 1969: 123–4;Folklore 79:3 (1968), 233–4: Folk-Lore 15 (1904), 185.


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