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Mini-episode: The story of the corn husk doll

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This episode was recorded during the 2022 Upper Mattaponi Pow Wow.

I’m Deborah Wilkinson, Upper Mattaponi. I’m a Program Manager in cyber security.

I’m going to do a demonstration of how to make a corn husk doll and provide a little of the back story of the corn husk doll and why they have no faces.

So, the legend of the corn husk doll is that when the Creator created the things of the Earth such as the plants and animals and all things beautiful, he created the Corn Husk as one of the Three Sisters and they are the sustainers of life. The three sisters are the corn, the squash and the beans.

The doll was meant to play with and entertain the children of the villages.

Well, there was this beautiful Corn Husk maiden and she was recognized by one of the elders of the Tribe. And the elder of the Tribe commented on how beautiful she was. Very long, shiny, silky hair. She had very nice, golden-colored skin tone. So, this maiden loved hearing about how beautiful she was. As she started to become more vain about her beauty, she lost focus on what her true responsibility was and she was becoming very conceited and stopped spending time with the children. And she had been warned by the Creator, a couple of times that her
responsibility was to play with the children of the village. And after the warning she would do that for a while but then she would once again get lost in her beauty.

The Creator, what he did to her as punishment, he decided to wipe the faces of all of the Corn Husk people. So, now they have no faces, they’re all created equal. After this she was able to then focus again on her responsibility and it was also a lesson to make her more humble.

That is a summary of what the story is of the Corn Husk people and why now, Corn Husk dolls have no faces.

I’ve taken six husks, and you can use a different amount depending on the thickness that you want of your doll. I find that six is a good number and pick an even number of corn husks. So make sure you pick an even number, that’s pretty important. And when I select my corn husks, I try to get them to be around the same size and width or you can also trim them if you want.

I soak them in warm water first. You can use cold water but it just takes longer for them to soften.

Once I have my six husks, I first tie a knot from the top of the corn husks, about an inch down. And what that does, that will help create the head, because what I’m going to do, I am going to now fold the corn husks upside-down and they will start to develop the head. I will use different kinds of strings when making my knots. I use like a wax linen string or I will use sinew as well. I find wax linen string works great because I don’t have to worry about it stretching like the sinew.

So, once I fold the corn husks over, I tie a string around the top and that becomes the head. So about an inch.

And now, I’m going to focus on making the arms. I’ll get a smaller piece of husk. You do need more string and then just tie a knot toward the end of each side to make the arm. I need to place the arms inside the doll. What I do is to remember when I fold the corn husks, take the arms and insert them within that fold, and that will start to develop the body of the doll.

Now, to finish the body, I’ll need another inch or so from the arms to tie another knot, and this will help create or form the body of the doll. A lot of times the husks aren’t even, so just use the scissors and trim the bottom. This will help them to be even, and you’re doll will be able stand up. Spread out the husks and they’ll dry. And you can add clothing, material to dress up your doll. You can use different types of regalia accessories such as beads, feathers. So it’s really up to you how you want ot make your husk doll, it’s really up to you.

This is the first corn husk doll I’ve ever made and I just made this one a couple of nights ago and I’m going to give it to my mother.

Music: Sounds of God’s Creation by Nathan Elliott.

This episode was made possible by a grant from Virginia Humanities.