By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published March 8, 2018
ATLANTA—To Margaret Alsup of Cumming, her nun dolls were like friends.
And in looking for a permanent home for her beloved dolls, in December 2017 she donated her 75 carefully and meticulously created nun dolls to the Archdiocese of Atlanta’s Office of Archives and Records.
Educated by the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon, Alsup sewed the dolls’ traditional habits by machine from authentic materials provided by Catholic sisters whose congregations are represented.
“There were people in my life that I think are kind of in them,” she told the archivists who arrived to transport the dolls.
The collection, Alsup’s second one of nun dolls, had been in attic storage for nine years yet remains in excellent condition. She sold her first collection in the 1970s to fund a trip to Israel.
The dolls all have porcelain faces and range in size from 15 to 32 inches. They have rosaries and medals, and habits in a variety of fabrics. She started the second collection in the 1980s.
“They’re very, very detailed. The habits are so well made,” said Angelique Richardson, director of the office of archives and records.
To each doll, Alsup attached a handwritten card about the doll’s order, the date of the congregation’s founding and how the order has served the church.
It was a project Alsup, now 85, undertook over the span of many years.
“I just kept at it, you know, doing little things,” she explained.
She first became interested in compiling a collection of nun dolls after helping a stroke victim make clothes for dolls. After the woman died, her husband gave many of the porcelain doll faces he had hand-painted to Alsup out of gratitude.
Religious orders from around the country would send her something for the dolls in the mail, including discarded habits from which to fashion a smaller version.
“I always sent them a reward,” she said smiling.
For a Mother Cabrini doll, a sister “tatted a little bonnet for me,” she added.
She would order doll shoes and religious items, and authenticity was important.
“They all have real rosaries—no fake stuff and real medals,” said Alsup.
She first tried to locate a buyer for all the dolls, but not many people are still collecting today, she said. Alsup decided she wanted them to go to the archdiocese instead, so they would be appreciated.
Richardson said it’s been fun to see people’s reactions when they come to the archives office and notice all the dolls together on a table looking across the room. Visitors try to find the orders of the nuns who taught them or the ones who are family friends.
Richardson said Alsup also donated the reference books she used to research the various congregations, including “A Guide to the Catholic Sisterhoods in the United States.”
The archives office will soon have a small display case set up in the lobby of the archdiocesan Chancery in Smyrna, as well as in the archives, with a few dolls on exhibition.
Every Sunday, the office of archives will feature a #SisterSunday image on its Facebook page (www.facebook.com/archatlarchives)—one doll a week for 75 weeks.