‘Tea Party’ takes native American twist

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Jewett City - posted Mon., Feb. 21, 2011
Katerina and Cheyanne, both 8 and from Griswold, brought their dolls, Rose and Mia, to the Slater Library's annual tea party. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
Katerina and Cheyanne, both 8 and from Griswold, brought their dolls, Rose and Mia, to the Slater Library's annual tea party. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

Elegance reigned at the Slater Library Feb. 19, as girls and their dolls - dressed in finery - indulged in afternoon “tea.” It was a tight squeeze for the library staff and volunteers, as they circulated among the bookshelves and closely-spaced tables with teapots filled with Kool-Aid.

“We have 60 girls this year, and we always have a waiting list,” said Library Board Chairwoman Jan Demicco. “You’ve gotta sign up fast.”

Girls aged 4 through 10 enjoyed “tea” and cookies, listened to librarian Ann Grzelak read “Fancy Nancy’s Tea Party,” and learned about native American culture in a talk by Town Historian Mary Rose Deveau, who brought native American dolls from her own collection.

Deveau dressed the part, wearing a “buckskin” dress, a beaded headband and a medicine pouch. She described her attire and introduced each of her dolls to a rapt audience.

She pointed out one of her dolls, which carried a tiny baby on its back in a cradleboard. “Native Americans don’t call a baby a papoose,” she explained. “They call it a cradle baby.” She noted the dream catcher dangling from the cradleboard, intended to keep bad dreams away from the child.

Deveau drew delighted giggles from her audience as she stroked the spiky hair of her Navajo boy doll. “Don’t you think he’s the cutest thing?” she asked. Girls stroked the hair of their own dolls seated in their laps as Deveau spoke.

She showed them an Inuit (Eskimo) doll and its small white baby seal, which drew a collective squeal of delight from the crowd.

Deveau said she started collecting dolls at age 7, when her mother gave her a doll. She owns old porcelain dolls with cloth bodies, rag dolls made by her grandmother, and a stiff doll with rigid arms and legs known to collectors as a “frozen Charlotte.” Her collection includes upwards of 100 dolls, she said.

When one of the girls asked why she had so many dolls, Deveau answered, “Why do you have all these dolls? Because I love ‘em! Don’t you love yours?”

The library has been hosting the American Girl doll tea party for so many years that no one on hand for Saturday’s event could remember exactly when it started. It’s been an annual event for at least 20 years, they agreed.

Girls from ages 4 through 10 or so are invited to register for the event and to attend in their best dresses, bringing their dolls with them.

Though initially focused on the American Girl dolls, which are based on a popular series of historical-fiction books for girls, at Slater the staff encourages girls to bring their favorite toy of any type. “They may bring any doll, a Barbie or a stuffed animal,” Demicco said. “That way, we’re not eliminating anybody” who doesn’t have one of the pricey franchised dolls.

The format has stayed the same over the years: a sit-down “tea” in porcelain cups with fancy cookies to nibble; story time with one of the librarians; a doll presentation; and awarding of door prizes. Each girl left the party with a goodie bag, a door prize and a white carnation sprinkled with purple glitter.

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