MARCH 30, 1930

INUPIAQ DOLLY SPENCER BORN—DOLLMAKER, NEA FELLOWSHIP RECIPIENT

Born in Kotzebue, Alaska, her family lived in temporary camps, in summer and fall, moving to gather food, fish, and hunt seals and foxes.  They had over 45 dogs that provided dogsled transportation and pulled their boat from the shore.  At age 10, her mother taught her to sew.  If her work was not done well, she would rip out Dolly’s stitches and make her redo them.  Dolly also learned how to prepare sealskin for sewing by scraping the pelt’s underside and removing the hair.  Her schooling ended by seventh grade when her mother took her to Nome where she worked as a dishwasher, camp cook, and baker.  Spencer soon married and had children.  She began to make dolls from the scraps remaining after making parkas and mukluks for her children.  Spencer carved each doll’s head and then sewed clothing that preserved her memories of Inupiat life and would educate the general public.  Spencer was honored with an NEA Fellowship in 1996.  Dolly died April 6, 2005. 

Source:  “Dolly Spencer,” National Endowment for the Arts, 1996.  Retrieved 1/22/2020, https://www.arts.gov/honors/heritage/fellows/dolly-spencer
Photo:  National Endowment for the Arts, 1984.  Public Domain.  

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