All Dolled Up

Queretero, Mexico

Hands down, without a doubt, if you were to be asked, ‘What is the most popular doll in the world,” your answer would probably be “BARBIE.” Duh! Sort of a no-brainer on that one. For 59 years, Barbie has been queen of the doll world. A fresh new Barbie doll is bought about every three seconds worldwide. Now that is popular, with a capital P!

But if I were to ask you, “What is the most popular doll in Mexico?” Would you know? I sure didn’t until we visited the city of Queretaro, Mexico.  Bet you’ve never heard of the Otomi “Maria” dolls, also called muñecas de trapo (rag dolls). These wonderful dolls aren’t quite as old as Barbie, but they have a lot going for them. They are all handmade, promoted by a famous artist’s daughter and have become the national symbol of Mexico. Eat your heart out Barbie!

A Doll with a Past

Rag dolls have been around for a long time in Mexico. Families would save old pieces of fabric and clothing and give them to the mothers and grandmothers of the town to make dolls for the children. The “Maria” style of rag doll started in the municipality of Amealco, which is just south of Queretaro. The indigenous people that live there are the Otomi. 

So you may wonder, “With such humble beginnings, how on earth did these dolls become so popular?” Well, here’s how. 

Man, Controller of the Universe, fresco mural painted by Diego Rivera on display at Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City  

Have you ever heard of Diego Rivera? He’s one of the most well-known artists in Mexico! Well, Diego was married quite a few times…4 to be exact. Perhaps his most famous wife was the incredible Frida Kahlo. Sigh! I love Frida! But I digress.

Rivera, with his second wife, had a daughter named Guadalupe.  

Guadalupe Rivera Martin has written several fascinating books about the history of Mexico, as well as, her father’s work. She also has a deep philanthropic love for the Mexican people. In the early 1970s, she started a program to help local women in the Queretaro region to make extra money. Previously they had been limited to selling candy on the streets. Guadalupe taught groups of women her style of making rag dolls, which included buttons and movable parts. 

And, just like Barbie, they became POPULAR!

The design has changed a bit since the 70s, but the town of Amealco produces one hundred thousand dolls per month and hosts 500 doll-making workshops per year. Seventy percent of the region’s population is dedicated to making rag dolls! The sizes of the dolls range from 3 to 45 centimeters tall. These precious dolls are now considered the symbol of Mexican culture worldwide.

Certificate of Authenticity

I’ve never been a doll collector, unless you count my spiffy, super-colossal collection of comic strip bobble heads that I sold in our estate sale, prior to our travel adventure. Gosh, I loved those bobbles! But I do know that serious doll collectors, or collectors of anything for that matter, always require some sort of authentication. 

Remember when the Cabbage Patch dolls were all the rage? Each doll came with adoption papers. I always thought they were kind of creepy, but today they could be worth thousands of dollars. An original Barbie, with the zebra-striped swimsuit, in mint condition could be worth upwards of $25,000 to an avid doll collector. 

The Otomi dolls aren’t that costly yet, but they are popular enough to be copied. So, to make sure you have the real deal on a Maria doll, here’s what to look for.

  • The Maria girl dolls will have looped, colored ribbons as a head piece, and braided pigtails
  • The face consists of a triangle red nose and a v-shaped mouth
  • The best dolls have faces that are sewn on or painted
  • Likewise, the best dolls will have movable arms and legs
  • The doll’s dress should have an element that is hand embroidered

In 2014, the state of Queretaro petitioned to have the Maria doll recognized as originating here and only dolls made in the state are deemed authentic. A ruling of authenticity is very important to Amealco, since it is one of the poorest in the state.

As much as I wanted to, I just couldn’t justify buying one of these adorable dolls. It’s not a practical thing to tote around as a traveler. However, I can justify a new warm-weather shirt! Yay! I’m stylin’ now!

Each Otomi doll is a true work of art. Crafted with skills passed down from generation to generation, showcased and championed by a truly philanthropic lady, the Marias are true world ambassadors for all of Mexico. Pretty impressive for a rag doll, huh? ¡Así se hace México! (Way to go Mexico!)

Epilogue: Recovery Doll

Last week while we were still in Queretaro, Mexico, I shared with John’s sister, Pat, the research I had done on the Otomi dolls. She Immediately fell in love with the pictures that I sent to her exclaiming, “I want one!”

Next week Pat is scheduled to have much needed hip surgery. So, yesterday we mailed to her this cutie:

I named her Maria Patricia (Pat’s “un-shortened” name is Patricia Marie!)

Pat, even though we can’t be there with you for your surgery, we’re sending this special “get well” dolly in our place. May she bring you joy, special healing and lots of smiles. She was made with a lot of love…know that you are loved. ~John & Anel

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