Beth Morris Nance: All about the love and memories

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 30, 2019

By Beth Morris Nance

Every day at the N.C. Museum of Dolls, Toys and Miniatures in Spencer is filled with wonderful surprises.

It’s great to meet people who come from all across the U.S. to visit. Each day we are open, we encounter visitors who either remember their childhood after seeing a toy displayed or come bearing gifts — childhood items they want us to display so others will have the opportunity to see playthings as a window into the past.

On a recent Saturday, I was working in the museum and was introduced to Missy Brown, a relative newcomer to Rowan County. Not long after settling in at Trinity Oaks, Missy met museum board member Kathy Gregg. The two ladies hit it off and became friends. After getting to know Kathy, Missy was certain that she wanted to donate her precious childhood treasures to the museum, a place where she knew they would be preserved for others  to enjoy. 

One doll in particular was quite a rare find. This unassuming brown-haired composition doll was created for one year only (1978-48) by legendary doll artist Dewees Cochran, whose dolls were featured in many magazines in the 1930s through 1950s. Born in Dallas in 1892, Dewees settled on the East Coast after receiving her education from Philadelphia’s School of Industrial Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. 

She was considered an insightful and innovative artist and is credited with creating the first “portrait dolls,” a concept based on her belief that children would enjoy dolls that looked like them. Their parents and grandparents would purchase them in specialized stores, she believed. 

Eager buyers flocked to department stores in big cities such as New York and Chicago to purchase them. 

Missy’s doll, marketed as “Cindy,” was given as either a birthday or Christmas present by a relative who also enjoyed sewing the wardrobe of clothes that came with the doll. The doll has been in Missy’s possession since the 1930s. 

With Missy’s blessing, the 15-inch doll made from composition covered with latex (a new and innovative process at the time) enjoyed a full spa day. This special little dolly got a bath, had a few body repairs and had her ”real human hair” washed and set. Kathy also spent quite a bit of time cleaning the homemade outfits that accompanied the doll. 

What makes this doll so special isn’t just its rarity or its age. It’s the story and the love that Missy shared with this doll that was her companion for many years and allowed her to create memories with her family as they created its wardrobe.

When Missy was older, her children played with the doll and then it was carefully packed away until it came out of storage to be presented to the museum.  

At the N.C. Museum of Dolls, Toys and Miniatures, we preserve stories of childhood, we share dolls, toys and miniatures, we educate about all manner of doll- and toy-related topics, and we do it with mostly volunteers and contributions from the community. 

Remember, there are fewer than a dozen doll museums scattered across the U.S. Take advantage of visiting this little treasure, which has called Rowan County home for the past seven years. 

Besides our new acquisition, come see and enjoy all the displays. The nonprofit museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday or by appointment. 

For more information, call 704-762-9359 or visit