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Legend of the Corn Husk Doll

There are varying stories as to why corn husk dolls have no faces. One explanation is the belief of roaming spirits and their ability to possess the dolls by going through the eyes. Another reason is that only the Creator can put a face on anything.

The following is one story as to why corn husk dolls have no faces:

"For a long, long time the Iroquois have referred to the corn, beans, and Squash as the three sisters or the sustainers of life. Of the three sisters, the Spirit of the Corn, was so pleased at having been given this distinction that she asked the Creator to think of something special that she could do to be of further assistance to the people that had so honored her. The Creator suggested that she make a doll from her husk and so she did. She fashioned a lovely cornhusk doll with a strikingly beautiful face. She instructed the doll to entertain all the little children of the villages. The lovely corn husk doll did as she was instructed. She traveled from village to village telling wonderful stories and playing happy games with the children.

All of the people grew to love the corn husk doll, and they expressed their joy in smiles and laughter. The people frequently complemented her on her great beauty. All was well at first, but as time went on and more and more people told the corn husk doll how lovely she looked, something began to change. The corn husk doll began to spend less and less time with the children and more and more time gazing at her handsome reflection in the waters of the many lakes, rivers and streams. She began to think only of herself.

Eventually, the Creator called her to his lodge. On the way there, she stopped by a pool of water to admire her reflection and in doing so kept the Creator waiting for her arrival. When she finally did enter the Creator's Lodge, he reminded her of her responsibility to the children and cautioned her against spending her time in self-admiration. He warned her that if she did not change her ways, he would have to do something about it. The doll assured the Creator that she would remember His words and she returned to the children of the villages. Before long, however, the people reminded her of her great beauty. She began to spend less time with the children because she became too busy admiring herself.

The Creator summoned her again and just as before, the doll succumbed to the temptation of stopping to gaze at her reflection. When she finally arrived at the lodge of the Creator, He told her of his disappointment in her behavior. He reminded her of how she had neglected the children because she had become too preoccupied with thoughts of herself and her appearance. He reminded her that she had been created with a purpose and that purpose was to bring happiness to the little children. He told her that He would have to control her vanity since she couldn't do it herself. Then, the Creator instructed the corn husk doll to leave His lodge and look at her reflection in a nearby pond in order to better understand His decision. She left the Lodge, and walked to the pond, and looked into the waters. Now she
understood. She no longer had a face. The Creator had taken it away."

From that time on, the Iroquois do not put faces on their corn husk dolls as a reminder that vanity can be an obstacle that prevents us from accomplishing our appointed tasks. The people are also cautioned against placing to much emphasis on superficialities.

Wherever corn was grown as a crop, children, in both Native American and Colonial American families, used husks to fashion dolls. Follow these simple instructions to create your own unique doll. Cornhusk dolls have been made by Northeastern Native Americans probably since the beginnings of corn agriculture more than a thousand years ago. Brittle dried cornhusks become soft if soaked in water. And produce finished dolls sturdy enough for Penobscot children's toys.

In addition to their use for amusement, some cornhusk dolls are used in Sacred healing ceremonies. A type of Iroquois cornhusk doll was made in response to a dream. The doll was then discarded, put back to earth to carry away the evil of the dream. Both boy and girl dolls are made using the corn silk tassel for hair. Feet and body are stuffed with leaves and tied while arms and legs are made from braided or rolled husks. Dolls measure anywhere between four and ten inches tall. Sometimes a face is drawn, or red dots are painted for cheeks; but more often than not the doll's face is left blank.

The dolls are often dressed in cornhusks, animal hide or cloth but some are made without clothing. Personal equipment is produced for many dolls, and this helps children practice to prepare the things needed for everyday life. Girl dolls would be given cradle boards, hoes, sewing kits or other women's things, while boys could be provided with bows and arrows, canoe paddles and warrior's gear.

Materials Needed:

a bucket of water
bags of cornhusks - most easily purchased (dried, cleaned and in uniform sizes), at a local craft store


****Before beginning, soak cornhusks in a bucket of water until they are soft and pliable.****

Take four cornhusks .

Using a small piece of string, tie the straight ends together tightly.

Trim and round the edges with scissors.

Turn upside down and pull long ends of husks down over the trimmed edges.

Tie with string to form the "head."

Take another husk, flatten it, and roll into a tight cylinder.

Tie each end with string. This forms the doll's arms.

Fit the arms inside of the long husks, just below the "neck."

Tie with string, to form a "waist."

Drape a husk around the arms and upper body in a criss-cross pattern to form "shoulders."

Take four or five husks, straight edges together, and arrange around waist.

These form a "skirt" for the doll.

Tie with string.
Tie legs with small strips of husks. Finish off the doll by tying small strips of husk around the neck and waist to hide the string. Small scraps of cloth may be used to dress the doll.

Modern decorating ideas:

MAKE A SKIRT for your corn husk doll out of a fresh piece of husk.

Simply wrap around the waistline and tie off with a piece of twine or colored yarn.

You can decorate your skirt beforehand with markers or crayons.

COLORED YARN can be bent in the shape of a smile or ears and glued into place for instant facial features on your corn husk doll.

COLOR YOUR CORN HUSKS by soaking them in food coloring to make colored clothing or skin for your cornhusk doll. Soak husks for thirty minutes in a large bowl containing warm water and several drops of your desired color. To make vibrant browns, soak husks in a large bowl of coffee or tea.

MAKE SHOES by dipping the feet of your corn husk doll into a small bowl of acrylic paint. Allow to air dry and repeat, if necessary.

USE SMALL DOLL CLOTHES to decorate your corn husk doll.

SEQUINS, BUTTONS, GLITTER and other craft supplies can be glued to your corn husk doll to make jewelry, eyes, colored clothing and more.

INSERT A PIPE CLEANER into the back of your corn husk doll to put it on display, help it bend into a variety of positions, or to hang it.

Klamath Corn Husk Doll

INSTANT HAIR FOR YOUR CORN HUSK DOLL can be made with more corn husks, or corn silk, yarn, or twine. Attach with glue.

WATERCOLOR PAINTS will soak into corn husks, and give a deep, rich color to your doll.

A DOLL HAT can be made from a plastic bottle cap.

A PERFECTLY ROUND HEAD can be made for your corn husk doll by placing a few cotton balls inside a piece of husk, instead of rolling husks. Decorate first, and then attach to the body using the above instructions.



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Comment by Saladman on July 31, 2014 at 8:37am

Skye, thanks for sharing...I could not find photos for the instruction part of this post. In my experience, I have not heard your creation story about the first corn husk doll, however, the prasctical side of me, and the father, understand that for the child, the doll is not faceless. The "blank" expression allows the child to have a doll that can be happy at one moment and sad the next. It is like an imagination machine and a blank slate allows the representation to be hag or maiden at will. The story is great, however, the blank face is also extremely practical for play.

I have never heard Creator spoken of or referred to as "He", as you did in your text. My personal understanding of Creator is that, like in the Aramaic Bible, the deity is Mother-Father in nature. Most human beings that struggle with gender identity would appreciate they or them as preferable pronouns as opposed to "his" or "her" and I am always trying to "get clear", whatever that means, with my language.

Thank-you for the post and it sounds like you will be well-armed for the coming story telling season.

Blessed BE, Tony


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