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Not the name of a punk band from Nebraska, at least as far as I know.

We were staying at the home of an acquaintance last weekend while attending the Festival of Faiths in Louisville. It was a beautiful place, tastefully (and minimally) decorated, looking out on a broad Ohio River bend near Westport. You couldn’t ask for a nicer place to stay for a weekend, but this isn’t about the house but rather something that was in it.

On a long, narrow table against a wall there was an assortment of toys, games, books, puzzles and other child entertainment equipment that might be found in a lakeside cabin or weekend getaway. Atop this table was a small community of corn husk dolls, the first I can ever recall seeing. They were fascinating.

Corn Husk Dolls #1 (©2010 Richard X. Moore)

Growing up in the Midwest means that I’ve seen my share of corn husks, and ears and stalks and cobs, for that matter. When they weren’t growing or standing dead awaiting harvest, they were lying on the dark soil, waiting to be plowed under. I thought I knew a lot about corn, for instance, how easy it is for corn stalks to trip you when you’re running toward a dog on point.  It turns out that I still had things to learn.

I now know that corn husk dolls are virtually ubiquitous autumn craft items. It shows how attentive I am when I go to craft fairs. If you Google “corn husk doll,” you’ll get more websites filled with instructions on how to make them than most people would ever care to read.  Some of them are probably better than others, but I’m not in a position to recommend any.

A few of them also share the history of corn husk dolls, certainly among the first dolls made in North America, well before European settlement.  People say that the dolls originate in what is now the Northeastern United States, but corn itself comes out of Mexico, so I’m not sure that makes much sense to me. At any rate, the tradition of making corn husk dolls was co-opted somewhere along the line by us white people and continues to this day.

Corn Husk Dolls #2 (©2010 Richard X. Moore)

According to Native American legend, they aren’t supposed to have faces because way back when they were punished by the Creator of the Universe for vanity. The Creator must not punish people in the same way, because everyone I know has a face, even the vain ones.

With a little time to kill, I struck up a conversation with them. I’m glad I met them, really. I learned something I probably should have known already and connected with people who are now gone, vanished somewhere back among the waves of time. I feel like I’ve spent time well that could easily have been wasted.


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