I first came to hold in my hands and appreciate kokeshi dolls when I was quite young.
By the time I met my great Aunt Elizabeth, who was born in Baltimore, Maryland, she was known to anyone outside of our family as Sister Mary Gloria. In 1928, she entered the Maryknoll Sisters, a Catholic missionary organization focused on “(serving) the needs of the people – the poor, the ailing and the marginalized”. Aunt Elizabeth was missioned to Fushun, Manchuria during the violence and upheaval of the outbreak of World War II and later to Kyoto, Japan.
My family was the fortunate beneficiary of many beautiful gifts from her time and travels in this part of the world. These included Japanese children’s books with her hand-typed English translations attached to each page, parasols made from silk and bamboo, scroll paintings, lacquer bowls and a dozen kokeshi dolls. These dolls were very special to us, and although they spent most of the time behind glass doors in a cabinet, we were free to take them out whenever we wanted to admire them.
An uncanny parallel that I now make between my Aunt Elizabeth and the kokeshi is the calm, kind, humble yet all-knowing expression and demeanor they both exude.
I now am the keeper of the original collection and it continues to grow.