Desire doll

Desire-19535This month, I’ve had the pleasure of making a special doll who represents one of my family’s ancestors. The “Desire Doll” personifies Desire Howland Gorham, who was born in Plymouth Colony in 1623 to John Howland and Elizabeth Tilley, who both came to America on the Mayflower.The doll was raffled to raise funds for my sister Anne Mavor‘s ground breaking art project, I Am My White Ancestors: Self-Portraits through Time. Her project involves much more than a genealogic study with a list of names and dates. She is striving to understand our ancestors’ motivations in a historical context. I am glad to be a part of Anne’s fundraising efforts and applaud her thought-provoking vision.

~ About the Desire Doll ~
Hand made by me, Salley Mavor, 4″ tall, stands on a weighted stand, extra sturdy bendable body, hand stitched, clothing made of wool and cotton, basket is made from coiled thread-wrapped wire, includes signed tag. This doll uses techniques taught in my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk: New Adventures. This is a rare opportunity to have a one-of-a-kind, more involved and detailed doll, as I usually only make them for gifts or for personal/family projects.

Anne’s art installation addresses issues of immigration, colonization, slavery and war through the personal stories of 10 to 12 of our European ancestors, going back through the centuries, as far as she can research. You can find out about Anne’s project here. Desire-1445


Anne as Eugenia Buchanan (1823-1898) in Orangburg, SC

Anne describes her exhibit this way:
I Am My White Ancestors: Self-Portraits through Time is a multi-media installation that uses my family history to explore the conflicted story of European Americans. It will consist of 10-12 life-size photographic self-portraits of me as my ancestors, printed on fabric panels and accompanied by short audio diaries from each ancestor’s perspective.

This idea grew out of my interest to understand how my heritage impacts me as a white person living in the United States. I was curious to examine issues such as immigration, colonization, slavery, war, and what life was like in Europe. I wanted to know how similar or different I might be to my ancestors, and what I could learn from their lives. Claiming connection to my family history is also one step towards taking responsibility for the past.


In a recent update about her project, Anne wrote, “My research continues to turn up gems of information. I just learned more about the life of Desire Howland Gorham who will be my 17th Century self-portrait. She was born in 1623 in Plymouth Colony. Her husband John Gorham was an officer in King Phillip’s War, the last stand of Chief Metacomet and the Narragansett Nation against the English settlers in 1678. After the war, the victorious English soldiers each received parcels of former Indian lands, while the surviving Indians were enslaved or shipped off to the West Indies. Gorham died following the war and was buried on the stolen 100 acres he won on Poppasquash Neck in Rhode Island. Desire never lived there. After her death, her slave Totoo requested in his will that he be buried at the feet of his beloved mistress. War, slavery, and theft, contrasted with deep human connections.”




16 thoughts on “Desire doll

  1. Sally, you are truly incredible! I would love for you to now do a book on historical figures. My ancestors were also in the Rev War. I appreciate your sharing your wonderful creations.

  2. I love this post. Being of N.A. Indian and British Isles descent I am really intersted in the history and the way your sister is researching and portraying your ancestors. I’ve been especially interested in the historical land theft both in the US and Canada and the fact that it is still going on is abhorrent. I love your little people and have been using the technique from your wee folk book to tell some of our legends and stories. Thank you so much you wonderul Mavor artists/sisters. helen

  3. Your doll is beautiful. The care and thought that you put into her is amazing. I just love your work. Reading your blog is a pleasure. Thank you for the time you take to share your work. You are truly an inspiration to others.

  4. I was born Julia Howland Connolly in Salem Ma in 1953. My maternal grandmother was Mary Hoppin Howland (married name Roberts). Fun to think we might be distantly related. 🙂
    -Jules Means
    Beverly Ma

  5. Sally, I adore your needlework. Would you be able to do a post on how you have been able to focus on one thing for so long? Focusing has made your body of work incredible. I saw your work face to face when you were in Fresno, California last year, it’s even more amazing to see a series and I can revisit in your book Pocketful of Posies.

    • Thank you so much for your comment, Donna. I’m glad that you were able to see the originals, as seeing the 3-dimensional pieces is a different experience. As for focusing on one thing–It helps to have an obsession, ha,ha!

  6. From the first time I saw your dolls I fell in love with them your work is amazing thank you for your stories I didn’t know they had a history I will try to make some as soon as I feel better thank you so much have a good Christmas

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