Thu, Oct 13, 2011 - Page 13 News List

All dolled up

Barbie meets Paddington Bear, Doraemon and Mickey Mouse at Taipei Story House’s Story of Dolls exhibition

By Catherine Shu  /  Staff Reporter

Story of Dolls looks at the relationship between Taiwan’s manufacturing history and Mattel’s Barbie dolls.

Photo: Catherine Shu, Taipei Times

The tiny, Tudor-style Taipei Story House (台北故事館) is often described as resembling a dollhouse, making it an ideal venue to host an exhibition about dolls from the Japanese colonial era to the present day. Story of Dolls, which runs until Jan. 1, may suit school groups and young families well, but the exhibit is not just child’s play. It also seeks to explore the rapid socioeconomic and cultural changes in Taiwan over the last 100 years.

“During the 1960s and 1970s, Taiwan’s economic development began to take off,” says Monica Lee (李宇涵), the show’s curator. “You can observe it through the history of the doll-making industry.”

Each of the seven rooms in the former residence, which was built in 1914 and is a Taipei City heritage site, is dedicated to a theme. The front parlor is stuffed with teddy bears from around the world, while the two other downstairs rooms focus on Barbie dolls and delicate ceramic figures made in Gongguan Township (公館鄉), Miaoli County, during the 1970s and 1980s.

Upstairs, three rooms showcase dolls that Taiwanese families of different economic backgrounds might have owned.

Dolls made for export were closely linked to the economic well-being of certain areas. In what is now New Taipei City’s Taishan District (泰山), for example, nearly a third of residents were employed by Mattel, which set up its flagship Barbie factory there in 1967. The area suffered when the company relocated its operations in 1987.

Still, Taiwan’s growing prosperity in the 1980s meant that more parents were able to purchase toys that had previously been manufactured solely for export. Lowered custom fees also allowed an increase in the import of Western toys, including Mickey Mouse stuffed animals.

Exhibition Notes

WHAT: Story of Dolls at Taipei Story House

WHERE: 181-1, Zhongshan N Rd Sec 3, Taipei City (台北市中山北路三段181-1號)

TEL: (02) 2587-5565

OPEN: 10am to 5:30pm, closed Mondays. Until Jan. 1

ADMISSION: Adult tickets are NT$50. Groups of four or more are NT$40 per person; students and groups of 10 or more are NT$30


“You can see by looking at the material and the quality of the dolls and the amount of accessories that they each came with, just how much spending money families began to have as the economy stabilized,” Lee says.

The teddy bear parlor was created with the help of the Taiwan Teddy Bear Association (台灣泰迪熊協會). One case includes iconic toys like Paddington Bear and a Steiff bear with its trademark metal button in one ear, while a giant Harrods doorman bear stands in one corner.

Lee says the teddy bear room was selected as the first room guests see because both girls and boys play with the stuffed toys. Barbie collector Yan Hung-cheng (顏弘政) says the dolls can also stir up memories for adults of both genders.

The Miaoli-based restaurant owner, who started collecting Barbies a decade ago, loaned more than 40 limited edition dolls from his collection to Taipei Story House, where they are arranged like models walking in a fashion show.

All the dolls, including a wedding couple manufactured in Taishan, wear intricate, elaborate outfits — many hand-sewn with Swarovski crystals.

“I think that Barbies are the dolls that have made the deepest impression on both men and women,” says Yan, who displays his collection of more than 200 dolls at his Miaoli steakhouse, Tian Chu (天廚).

Japanese-style dolls are displayed in a second-floor sitting room lined with tatami mats. Hand-painted porcelain dolls in traditional wedding outfits were presented as gifts and proudly displayed in the homes of prosperous families as decorative items, not toys. While most of these dolls were imported from Japan, a few were handmade in this country. Limbless kokeshi dolls carved from bamboo rods are displayed next to their wooden Japanese counterparts.

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