cornhusk doll with hat

From Play to Art: The Cornhusk Doll

Author: Brittany B. Joachim

Corn for Play

A common sight at many historic sites or places, the corn husk doll provides a great hands-on activity for people of all ages. These simple dolls help guests learn about a toy that children of all races created. Over time, this once simple toy evolved into a folk craft skill. That was especially true during the craft revival period in the Appalachian Mountains.

The origin of the corn husk doll is unclear, but many different Native American tribes created them. With corn being native to both Central and North America, it is unsurprising that many tribes made these dolls. There is no clear documented evidence of when Europeans and Africans learned how to make these dolls once across the Atlantic, but we know children played with them. For the poor and enslaved, these dolls proved cheap toys to create. While children continued to make these dolls, a turn happened at the beginning of the 20th century with the craft revival movement.

cornhusk doll making
Making corn husk dolls at Riverfest 2019





Corn for Art

While craft or handicraft revivals happened across the country, the Southern Highlands in North Carolina was a noted place in the state for the revival. It was here people start to see the corn husk doll take on a new meaning, from toy to art. One woman, in particular, stood out during this movement, Frances Nicholson, aka the Corn Shuck Queen. Along with her dolls, she made bags and hats. Some corn shuck artists filed patents for their particular style, as Margaret C. Revis did. These patients showed financial opportunities in the corn shuck art era. Today, you can make your doll at home or reach out to folk artists and have one made especially for you.


corn husk doll with baby
a decorative corn husk doll with a baby





















Corn Husk Doll”. National Park Service. Accessed on 5 November 2020.

Cornhusk Crafts”. Digital Heritage. Western Carolina University. Accessed on 5 November 2020.

Craft Revival: Shaping Western North Carolina Past and Present”. Digital Exhibit. Hunter Library, Western Carolina University. Accessed on 5 November 2020.


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