This 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.
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.”